Why Not Sunday Night?

Blackwavelogo “Sunday night church” has fallen on hard times among some churches—usually for good reason. Often, Sunday evening assemblies featured one or more of the following:

  • A quarter-speed version of Sunday morning’s content. 
  • The least gifted praise-leader the church has that it will allow to serve in any such capacity. 
  • Communion for those traveling or unable to make it to Sunday morning’s assembly. 
  • The least cooked message in the preacher’s repertoire, if he can’t reheat Sunday morning’s message. 

Attendance at some of these gatherings has dwindled over the years, and thus many churches decided, wisely, to either give Sunday nights an honest Christian burial or to substitute small groups—to appease the Sunday night remnant by offering something on Sunday night. While I’m sure none of this sounds familiar to you ☺ it does to me. Yet, I have come to believe that next only to the absolute peak time slot on Sunday morning (10am or 10:30am), Sunday night (somewhere around 5pm) may be the best time slot available for a full-blown Sunday service. This is why when we started New Vintage, we have started with a Sunday evening service (5pm) in a facility and location we like instead of a 12pm, 1pm or 8am in a facility we don't.

I’m in a learning community at Leadership Network that studies and deals with issues facing larger-church pastors (800+ in attendance) under the age of 40. There are 12 of us, and all but 2 have Sunday evening assemblies. Of the 10 that have Sunday evening services, 8 of the 10 say Sunday evening is their most well attended service–even over the Sunday morning services. That shocked me at first, but given the demography of our congregations (young, warm-climate, etc.), it began to make sense.

When I began worship ministry for the University Church of Christ at Pepperdine back in the 90’s, I witnessed the Sunday night assembly grow from about 30 assorted church members to Stauffer Chapel’s capacity with college students. It all happened on Sunday nights—even as one of the other ministers had said early on, “I don’t care if Jesus was preaching on Sunday night in the chapel, no one would come.” The problem as I saw it was one of content and intent—not time slot. I still feel that way—because the time slot is excellent for a number of reasons. This is especially true for churches with 3 or more assemblies and church plants. Here are some reasons why:

  • It offers the feeling of starting one’s week with worship. When people go home, they feel spiritually calibrated and peaceful.
  • Worshiping in the evening has a different, perhaps more contemplative feel that facilitates better focus. 
  • In California and the tourism or Sunbelt states, many people are traveling, have obligations, or must work on Sunday mornings. I share the sentiment they should put God above all other things in life. However, I don’t believe the optimal time to reach seekers in particular is early on Sunday morning. I certainly think it can be done; it’s just not optimal. 
  • Sunday nights—you are competing with almost nothing. Football is over (on the west coast), soccer games are over, etc. People have returned from travels, college students have their homework finished, and people are dialing back in—their attention span is better. And, after worship concludes for a 5pm service, it’s a perfect dinner time to go out with someone (builds fellowship) and/or get the kids home for some homework and a bath before bed. 5pm Sunday night is also outside standard nap schedule for most small children.
  • If you are in need of a facility, you can generally choose any of the church buildings in America…and get them fairly inexpensively. On occasion, you may even find them for free.
  • Sunday can actually be a Sabbath day for people, with worship as the capstone on a day of rest…instead of the beginning or end of a frenetic day of God activity. 
  • Some people (including outsiders) just feel weird or wrong “going to church” on Saturday. They would prefer Sunday.  
  • If you are a church planter, you can use Sunday mornings to study other churches. 
  • If you have 3 or more services…it keeps your preacher and worship leader’s voices and energy level higher. Preaching two in the morning, going home, napping, eating, and then going over the sermon again will likely lead to a better sermon…and a lesser feeling of complete physical devastation.

Those are some of the reasons I love Sunday evenings for worship. There are some drawbacks—but none significant enough to rule out Sunday night worship as a viable—if not preferable option to Sunday morning services under certain circumstances. Something to think about.

Anyone else out there experimented with Sunday night venues, additional services, etc.? What's been your experience?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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2 thoughts on “Why Not Sunday Night?

  1. I have often thought that Sunday evening might be a better time for many people than Sunday morning. Yet I’m curious, have those you’ve been studying with made any mention of how Football season has an effect on Sunday evenings?
    Grace and Peace,
    K. Rex Butts