Over the years, it seems like corporate worship in many churches has been vanishing. The calling of the local church, first and foremost, is to gather for worship, but we do it much less frequently now than we did in the past. Sinclair Ferguson has a test he likes to apply to those who tell him that the worship at their church is excellent. He responds by saying, “The litmus test of the quality of morning worship is the quality of evening worship.”
Before we unpack his statement, let us take a minute to see how far we have come. Most of us who grew up in the church can remember going to church at least three times a week. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday nights were times set apart to worship our Savior. In the town where I grew up, the teachers in the public school used to give less homework on Wednesday nights because they knew this was the pattern for many of their students. Coaches would also release the athletes on time so they could go to church, and rarely was there ever another competing event scheduled on that night.
Those days are long gone. It eventually came to the point where churches began abandoning Wednesday nights. For some, they did not walk away from Wednesday entirely; they simply recalibrated them into nights set apart for other programs: small groups, youth groups, children’s ministries . These programs are, without a doubt, good things, but we must be clear, even with other programs in place, the church took a step back in deciding it was not going to meet for corporate worship mid-week.
As we all know, for many churches, the same thing eventually happened to Sunday evening gatherings. Now, many churches in America only gather as a corporate body once a week for worship. The course of 20-30 years has made a huge impact on what the life of a local church looks like. So, what did Ferguson mean when he said, “The litmus test of the quality of morning worship is the quality of evening worship.” For many churches that do have Sunday night services, usually only one third of the people attend in the evening, and this is a reflection on the morning worship. To put it in more general terms for churches that do not have evening services, what he meant was, if the worship is so great, why is the body satisfied with such a limited amount of it? The truth is, many churchgoers do not want more of it. Our lack of desire for prayer and the preaching of the word seems to be a symptom of our spiritual drowsiness.
How did we get here? If there is a spiritual malaise going on in a church, the blame cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the leadership. Most of the pastors, elders, and deacons I know did everything they could to keep the weekly services alive, but the people were not interested. The problem is not that we do not have Sunday evening and Wednesday night services per se’; the problem is that we are no longer hungry for worship.
I get it; there is no biblical mandate that says 6 p.m. Sunday is to be set apart for worship. I also understand that Sunday evening church services were a relatively new development in church history. Please do not misunderstand me. This post is not an indictment against churches that do not have these additional services. Christian liberty is a real thing. The church where I attend does not meet on Sunday evenings, and I think it is a pretty great church. Small groups and other gatherings have filled-in some of the gaps, however, I cannot help but lament how far we have come as a culture, and with this spiritual malaise in place in many congregations, we now face a new threat—another attempt of the enemy to quench the fire of worship in our hearts.
The lockdowns of COVID-19 have exacerbated the lethargy of many. Way too many churchgoers are more than satisfied with watching church from their couches, and this spiritual dullness will continue to hold sway even after the restrictions are removed. If the church does not get serious about corporate worship, the leadership and congregants alike, this cultural moment could turn into one more giant leap down the path of vanishing worship.
There is hope, however, because the Lord is using these lockdowns to stir a fire in many churches. It is a desire for corporate worship that will not be quenched by merely getting back to normal; it is a hunger for more. My prayer is the Lord will continue to ignite this fire in the hearts of countless brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. Instead of continuing to abandon our worship, may we begin to reclaim it for the glory of our great God.