I recently had 3 brief tweets reminiscing about when churches had Sunday and Wednesday night services, and I bemoaned that they have been replaced by small groups.
To clarify several things: It is easy to “romanticize” the past, and I don’t want to do that. I am also not against change or adaptation to the times. Do a google search for something like “why did churches stop having Sunday and Wed night services” and you’ll find a few articles. This one shares some history about why such services came to be in the first place. Circumstances do change.
Even back in the day, Sunday and Wednesday evening services got less attendance. Perhaps half would come Sunday evening, and that would drop another half for the Wednesday night service. Not everyone can make it back for various reasons – such as employment. (Although I must say that I attended a church that had about a 90% return on Sunday evenings!)
Trying not to romanticize, I gained much more from Sunday and Wednesday evening services than I did from small groups. (Read that the right way – I am not insinuating that we come to church only to get for our self.)
But I definitely experienced…more genuine fellowship, more sharing of the spiritual life, more of a “connection” to the church, and more in-depth Bible learning with evening services.
I realize not all churches did Sunday and Wednesday evening services the same, but in my past, Sunday evening services were often deeper teaching from the pulpit. It may be the same topic as Sunday am, but expanded upon. Perhaps congregants could ask questions, depending on the particular church and the number typically in attendance.
Wednesday evening tended to be focused on prayer, perhaps even called “the prayer meeting.” The pastor might do a devotional, but the rest was devoted to prayer, and people prayed as the Lord led. (Unfortunately, in my past, only men prayed. See I am not romanticizing! haha.) But regardless, I appreciated the commitment to prayer, and the prayers were usually broad – about the physical and spiritual, and those both near and far.
I was recently reading something by Jack Hayford (remember him?) and he mentions that he sometimes did 60-90 minute sermons on special topics in the evening at his church! By the way, I do not have a Pentecostal or charismatic background but would listen to Hayford on the radio back in the day. He was a more balanced and thoughtful Bible teacher/preacher than I typically encountered from this camp. But did you take that in: 60-90 minute sermons!!
In my past, I remember “weeks of meetings” – where every evening for one week there would be special, in-depth Bible teaching, either from a guest teacher or a church elder/pastor.
Are you astounded? Once these things were more of a norm. I can even remember people getting excited about special meetings!
I have already blogged extensively on the small group concept. My experience has generally not been good, and many small groups are little more than social clubs and superficial in their spiritual nature. They can be difficult for pastoral staff to properly monitor, and things can go rogue. Small groups seem good in theory (and in a minority of cases can work well) but I have not experienced or observed much good in how they typically work out. We once had a pastor assure us that the small groups at his church were different, but we tried several – and they were the status quo of superficiality.
While things were not perfect in the past, I think small groups have contributed to a shallower Christianity and less commitment to growing in our knowledge of the faith. Most worrisome, shallowness has become so commonplace, that we don’t even recognize it!
We have grown accustomed to (and settled for) something that is so much less than what God intends for us as believers when we gather together.
I am not suggesting the “magical” answer is to abolish small groups and go back to Sunday/Wed services. That would be simplistic, and issues are multi-faceted. Not to mention that Sunday/Wed evening services can have their problems too.
Maybe we need a hybrid approach? To bring back either Sunday -or- Wednesday evening? Or to bring back traditional adult Sunday school classes?
While Sunday school classes can have the same issues as small groups, the Sunday school model is usually different – more structure, more focused on teaching/learning, and easier to monitor than off-site small groups.
I also think the “busyness epidemic” – that I have blogged about – comes into play. Years ago, I knew many who managed to make it to church 2 to 3 times a week, and now many can hardly manage to make it to the Sunday morning service. Perhaps one reason small groups are so superficial is that we simply don’t have time to “do life together.” We swing by small group each week, out of duty, but give very little of ourselves. We are too hurried and preoccupied to truly connect.
To bring it back to the start of the post, times do change. Perhaps the real issue is not evening services vs. small groups, but the underlying issues now faced by our culture?
Maybe we need some fresh ideas on how to best get people to connect and grow in their knowledge of the faith – in our day.
Thanks for listening to my (coherent or not-so-coherent?) thoughts. And I just got to laughing about trying to have a “week of meetings” now-a-days:
“What?! You want us to come to church every night for a week?!?! Ain’t got no time for that!”
But back in the day, they somehow did.
A related post from another blog: Where’s the Revival Now?