A while back, the preacher of the congregation I attend was asked about the scripturality of eliminating evening services. It seems that the person asking the question had heard of several nearby churches cancelling evening services because attendance was generally and relatively low, and thus wanted to know if this was a good, bad, or morally neutral. The preacher, to his credit, noted that such a decision is not inherently sinful or unscriptural. However, he still decried the various churches’ decision to cancel evening services on the grounds that worship services are always a chance to learn and be encouraged, and that we should thus take advantage of every last one of them. I wondered if there were any others who thought this way, and if they wouldn’t mind answering a few objections.
[Note: second services and evening services are used interchangeably throughout.]
How Did Second Services Come About?
This is, I believe, a very key question to ask since the answer is kind of interesting. Prior to 1940, the standard practice of the church of Christ, and even among various denominations, was to meet once on Sunday morning. There was no second or evening service, nor was there a mid-week Bible study. People simply gathered together in worship one morning a week, and that was it.
When WWII happened, though, there was a tremendous push by the federal government to prepare for war, which meant that factories producing weapons, armor, ammunition, ships, tanks, and other martial products needed to be at full production. This led to factories being in production mode twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even Sundays. This provided a conflict for some Christians, who felt compelled to join in the rush to produce weapons for nationalist reasons, even if that meant missing worship. To accommodate those whose loyalty to their earthly nation was greater than their loyalty to Christ’s spiritual kingdom, many churches offered evening services to those whose work schedule precluded from assembling with their brothers and sisters in the morning. Thus, the practice of evening services was the result of excusing the sin of trying to serve both God and Mammon (and, even worse, prioritizing the latter over the former). As such, those who defend the practice of second service should do so with the understanding that this practice was very much born in sin.
If A Second Service is so Valuable…
The original argument that the preacher made was that additional services are spiritually valuable. I assume this is a tautology since I cannot readily think of any way of measuring this assertion, let alone testing or falsifying it. However, this assertion does beg the question: if a second service is so beneficial, why not have a third or fourth service? Why not require that all Christians worship from 12:00:00 AM Sunday morning to 11:59:59 PM Sunday night? Would not this arrangement be the most spiritually beneficial one?
Of course, these questions exist merely to point out an absurdity. Namely, that the vast majority of people recognize the concept of diminishing returns. Yes, worship is good and beneficial, but there comes a point where each additional minute spent worshiping starts to lose value, and may even turn negative, which is why no church has a twenty-four hour worship service on Sunday. Having established that worship has diminishing returns, the next reasonable question to ask is: how do we know that we don’t experience significantly diminishing returns during second service? There is no way to quantitatively and empirically answer this question. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it.
Incidentally, I am familiar with a couple of congregations who cancelled their evening services. Both congregations were happier, and said their morning worship felt more meaningful. I do not have further data, but this anecdotal evidence suggests that the second service may not be as beneficial.
Are Human Beings Finite?
This is also another key question to ask, as its answer indicates that humans, being finite creatures, have a limited capacity for learning and encouragement. Paul himself noted that much study (presumably of the Bible) was wearisome to the flesh. Furthermore, it is tautological that there are limits to human emotion. As such, it follows necessarily that there are limits to just how much a Christian can learn during worship, and how encouraged he can become.
Of course, this truism is borne out to some extent in the aforementioned thought experiment about diminishing returns. There is nothing that so readily demonstrates man’s finite capacity as diminishing returns. In keeping with this observation, then, that man is finite, the following question must be asked: if man is finite in his capacity for learning and encouragement, why not try to maximize one’s feeling of encouragement and one’s learning in one service instead of two or more?
To put it another way, if worship is so encouraging, and such a good opportunity for learning, why can’t congregations reach their members’ capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service? Does this inability to satiate men’s finite capacities suggest some sort of failure? To state it yet another way, why is it that we don’t try to satiate men’s capacity for encouragement and learning in a single service? And are we failing one another if we don’t?
Summary and Implications
As is clearly seen, the second service was sinful in its conception and initial practice. It has been deified by some, but even its staunchest supporters will not agree to adding a third, fourth, or twenty-four service because they themselves recognize the diminishing value of additional meetings, even though they seem not to recognize man’s finite capacity for the benefits of worship. Thus, the defenders of second service are put in the untenable position of hypocritically defending a practice born in evil. Worse still, if they argue the spiritual primacy of having a second service, they are in effect condemning those Christians before them who never had an evening service. Therefore, it should be clear that evening service is unnecessary at best and corrupting at worst. Thus people should not only refrain from complaining or worrying about its demise, but should be actively encouraging it.