I’ve been a part of several churches in my 23 years of life. Some of them had two services on Sundays. Others had only one. Some were more contemporary. Others sang more hymns. Some had almost 1,000 members. Others had fewer than 100. But all, at one time or another, had dealt with decreasing attendance, especially at the evening worship service and at church events. Each time it led to a discussion of which activities should be cut, and the evening service usually was the main candidate.
In some ways I understand. If there aren’t a lot of people, it doesn’t make sense to have the pastor do the extra work of preparing another sermon. However, I think there are benefits not just to evening services, but to meeting together as often as we can.
While there aren’t any verses in Scripture that specifically say churches should have a certain number of worship services, there are some principles we can find. In Acts, for example, we find that the early church met together every chance they got. They met in each other’s homes, in the temple courts, and in other public places (see Acts 2:42-47). As their numbers grew, they split into smaller groups similar to a Bible study or Sunday school. One could even use this passage to make a case for church potlucks. I wouldn’t complain. Not only is the food excellent, but so is the fellowship.
In fact, fellowship has been one of the best parts of my church experience. When I was 3 or 4 years old, my family started going every Saturday to a group prayer breakfast in the home of elderly twin sisters. There were about 10 of us each week. We’d start out gathering around their table for a meal, usually coffee cake or a similar dish. Afterward we’d go to their living room and take turns praying for the needs of our church and our community. Those are still some of my fondest memories from when I was little.
I’ve found that evening worship services fill a similar role. While morning services tend to have more songs and more in-depth preaching, evening services tend to be more informal. It’s a time where church members can share their joys and concerns with the congregation. The sermon often will be on a shorter passage of Scripture or one of the creeds, confessions, or catechism questions.
In one church I attended, the pastor would set up a small lectern halfway from the front. In reality, he did it because the congregation liked to sit toward the back in the evenings, but it also added to the laid-back feel of the service. The pastor took hymn requests in the evening instead of choosing songs beforehand.
As I grew older and started attending different churches, I found that the pattern stayed about the same. The church I attended in college had a smaller evening service, which gave me the opportunity to visit with members I didn’t always see in the morning. Sometimes they’d have small get-togethers after the service as well. Some of my classmates who were bigger night owls than I was would go to the evening service if they accidentally missed the morning service.
After I graduated I moved to a new place, which meant finding a new church. This congregation takes attendance seriously. In fact, they still count how many members are present and publish the numbers in the sanctuary. Even so, they prefer quality over quantity. Moments of fellowship, prayer, and encouragement are built into both services, and the members participate eagerly.
That’s perhaps the most important part of attending church: receiving encouragement from fellow believers. The sermons, the singing, the fellowship, and even the potlucks all contribute to that. And with the difficulties being a follower of Christ can bring, who wouldn’t want to be encouraged as often as they can? The best way to do that is to meet with fellow Christians.