I grew up as one of those “when the church doors are open…” kids. I can’t really say I remember a lot about Wednesday’s other than playing chess with Russ, but I am pretty sure I was in church nearly every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.
In 2010, I became pastor of a church in rural Indiana about 45 minutes south of Fort Wayne. One of the things that stuck out as strange was the absence of a Sunday evening service. Soon I found out it wasn’t so strange. Hardly any church in a 20-mile radius had an evening service. On Sunday evenings we had youth group; or we just went to one of the strange churches with an evening service; or we just did what we normally did Monday through Saturday: watch PBS.
In August the wife and kids, and even I, moved back to northern Indiana. In the intervening five years, it seems churches in the area caught up with their brethren to the south-east. Most of the churches we have visited do not have a Sunday evening service. We visited one church that had over 200 in the morning service, and less than 20 in the evening service. The pastor of one church said they just liked it better to have family time Sunday nights. I guess if the pastor doesn’t want a Sunday evening service, there isn’t much point in having one.
All that to say, over the past five years I, we, have gotten out of the rhythm of Sunday morning and Sunday evening church.
Last night we set out to go to a church that I thought had an evening service. We got there and it was dark. We went by a couple of other places: dark. My wife reminded me of a church that had an evening service at 7. We had been driving around since 5:40 and we had five kids and a daddy who had not eaten since noon…but we made the trek. From Goshen, to Elkhart, to Goshen, to Wakarusa.
There, on a Sunday night, a missionary couple was speaking. There, on a Sunday night, were almost 200 people gathered to hear a missionary speaking: not bad for a town of less than 2,000. During the testimony and presentation of the missionaries, it hit me: what if tonight was the night? What if tonight was the night the Holy Spirit decided to call out one of my children to salvation or to missionary service? What if tonight was the night he wanted to open one of their heart’s to Christ or Great Commission service?
And we were at home. Reading a book. Surfing the web. Playing Small World. Watching Despicable Me: in Spanish now since we’ve seen it so many times in English.
The Spirit would just work some other time. Would He? “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
In all our evening driving, a question came to mind, “Does our forsaking of the Sunday evening service stand against our culture’s increasing ungodliness or simply mirror it?”
I am familiar with arguments. I know Scripture does not command us to have a Sunday morning and Sunday evening service. I will do you one better and acknowledge that Scripture does not even command we have a Sunday morning or Sunday evening service. The Word of God has given us freedom on when we meet, but how have we used it? We have forsaken a tradition of meeting together. Hebrews commands us to meet together “all the more’’ as we see the Day of Christ’s return approaching. Apparently Jesus has told quite a few of us that we don’t need to worry about that anytime soon.
But you have “life groups.” Oh yes. Where twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people all gather with other twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people to reinforce their peculiarities. Because, after all, what need does the eye have for the ear?
Maybe the way we did Sunday evening church was broken. Maybe it needed to be changed. Maybe it still does. But after 5-plus years of going without it, I am not convinced that simply going without it is the best remedy. Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. I think, if I have the opportunity, I should try to spend another 60-90 minutes a week with her. Christ has promised to bless the gathering of his people and the preaching of His Word. Why would I reject a blessing from such a One?