Why and How We Started a Sunday Evening Service
On the first Sunday of 2019, our church started a Sunday evening service. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that we “resurrected” it. Like many churches, our Sunday night service died a slow death years earlier. The funeral was over by the time I became pastor. For the next several years, most of us were content to keep it buried.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy having the second half of my Sundays off. I relished the opportunity to relax with my family before charging into another week of ministry.
But over time I became increasingly concerned about our lack of corporate prayer as a church. Plus a growing number of us wanted additional time for fellowship in a less formal, more interactive format for the sake of mutual encouragement—something we could all do together as a church family, not just in small groups.
This exhortation from Hebrews increasingly weighed on my heart:
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23–25, CSB)
Scripture says that we as believers ought to gather to encourage one another “all the more”—not less—“as [we] see the day approaching.” We are nearly 2,000 years removed from the writing of this exhortation and thus all the closer to the time of our Lord’s return. If this appeal was applicable to believers in the first century, then how much more so is it applicable to us?
WHAT WAS NEW
So on the first Sunday of 2019, we resurrected our Sunday evening gathering. We gave it a new name and location. We limited it to one hour and incorporated four components: congregational singing, personal testimonies, corporate prayer, and scriptural exhortation. Let me unpack each of these elements briefly.
New Name: We called it Koinonia, a Greek word meaning “fellowship” that appears first in Acts 2:42 and occurs 20 times in the New Testament. We wanted to emphasize our mutual commitment to this gospel-centered gathering. We are not here to spectate, but participate.
New Location: We chose a room that was large enough to accommodate all of us, but not so large so as to dwarf and divide us (i.e. our sanctuary). This kept all of us sitting together in a full room, thus creating a sense of oneness.
One Hour: Sticking to 60 minutes helped us to make the best use of our time. We deliberately chose to meet from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. so that elderly members who didn’t like driving after dark could still participate. This also encouraged members to have one another over for lunch and to return for our Koinonia gathering. Furthermore, parents of young children didn’t have to worry about keeping their kids up past their bedtime, and folks still had the better part of their evening to relax before beginning another week of work or school.
(1) Congregational singing: In addition to singing some of our favorite hymns, we were able to introduce new songs so that a core group of our members already knew them by the time we started singing them in our Sunday morning service.
(2) Personal testimonies: Most of our testimonies centered on certain attributes of God or opportunities to share the gospel. Concerning the latter, we prayed on the spot for people who had been evangelized and for those who were witnessing to them. This helped to promote and maintain evangelistic fervor among our members.
(3) Corporate prayer: Rather than praying merely for one another’s needs (which certainly has its place) as we do in small groups and other settings, we dedicated ourselves to pray as one body about one matter at a time. Each week, I created a list of specific requests clustered around four main areas: God’s person (his glorious attributes), God’s people (unity, holiness, etc.), government (federal, state, local), and the Great Commission (personal discipleship and evangelism, church-planting among the unreached, etc.).
(4) Scriptural exhortation: This is a brief address from Scripture (10–15 minutes) rather than a lengthy exposition (which we get through multiple other venues). This provides a wonderful setting for giving other men in the church an opportunity to “test their wings” in teaching by delivering a word of exhortation to the church. This builds up the church while training “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
A couple of years ago at Ligonier’s 2017 National Conference, someone in the audience asked, “Is there biblical warrant for Sunday evening worship?” One of the panelists, Robert Godfrey, remarked that a similar question was raised 400 years ago at the Synod of Dort (an international gathering of Calvinist pastors and theologians). On that occasion they were asked, “What should we do if nobody wants to attend the second service?” They responded by saying that the second service should be held even if only the preacher’s family is in attendance.
Thankfully, my family members aren’t the only ones showing up on Sunday evening! So far we are averaging 40 to 50. This represents approximately 20–25% of our members. So while there’s plenty of room for growth, we already have a solid core who are consistently enjoying the benefits of getting together “all the more.”
Sadly, for many Christians, the Lord’s Day has become the Lord’s hour. While Scripture does not mandate a second service on Sunday, we should ask ourselves, “How can we best use our time on the Lord’s Day?” To begin and end the day by worshiping with our church family is certainly profitable to us and pleasing to our Lord.