First, we need to answer an important question: why have a Sunday Evening Service? Lower attendance, all the extra work on the pastors and volunteers, the competition of sports, TV, and just plain “down time” are all factors that discourage churches from having Sunday night services. If we're going to have a Sunday Evening Service, we need to be able to explain why it is worth doing. I don’t think that saying “because we’ve always had one” is sufficient. There are, however, very good reasons worth considering:
1. This is the Lord's Day. Somehow, through popular depictions of "legalistic puritans" who want to suck all the fun out of life, as well as weird and off the wall "blue laws" that restrict all sorts of things on Sundays, we've lost sight of the deep beauty of the Lord's Day.
This isn't about whether we believe that the "Sabbath" is still in effect for Christians or not, and frankly it can be almost impossible to define what a "Sabbath" for a New Testament Christian looks like. But, God didn't set the precedent for rest in the Law. He set it by example in creation, and it is both good and wise for us to follow that example. That's what the Lord's Day is for! It's not about saying," you can't do this." Instead, it is about saying, "you can set aside the responsibilities of this world and focus today on those things that are made for resting in the Glory of God." Our time belongs to God anyway, does it not? Shouldn't that opportunity be one that Christians rejoice in?
Our culture would have us believe that we should "rest up" for the week by watching sports, or shopping, or something else that allows us to turn off our brains. Some people use Sunday as a "family day," but I'd encourage every Christian to simply remember who your eternal family is, and how you've been called by your Creator to that family. Christ came and died for the church, his bride, his body, his flock, a people for God's possession. How important do you think God's family is to Christ? You could argue all of history is about this community of people being prepared for the day they will be presented before God in glory and splendor. So, it's no small thing.
My thought is that we should rest by turning to God, encouraging one another, and bearing one another's burdens as we prepare for another week of being Christ's ambassadors in a world that rejects our Lord. Now, let me be clear. It's certainly not a 'law,' and it's certainly not 'necessary' for our salvation to come on Sunday evening. But I'd argue that it certainly is "good" and it certainly is a God-glorifying use of our time to join with our spiritual brothers and sisters as much as we possibly can. We're in the middle of a battle with sinful desires, and they press in on us everyday through our culture. We need time together with the flock! Can we say the same about the things we'd stay home on Sunday night for, or the things we would choose over meeting with the Body of our Lord and Savior?
2. The church as the body of Christ needs family time together. Typically, a Sunday morning service is more formal, and is attended not only by those in the church but also by others. There are visitors who may be looking for a church, non-believers who may have come for one reason or another, and those who, frankly, don't see the need to invest their time or their lives into the church the way the New Testament calls us to. We can do some things on Sunday night that would be great for the church as an actual family. It rightly should be have more of a "family atmosphere."
For instance, we pray together for the ministry of the church, and the ministry opportunities of the members. We have the opportunity to consider different missionary endeavors around the world, and perhaps even hear from different missionaries serving the kingdom.
Also, church members can interact with the pastor about any questions from the morning’s sermon, and we have a time where the preacher could give some further explanation. We even give books away! The service provides a time for the elders to communicate with the church about "family business” such as important matters relating to the vision of the church, or to big decisions the church is facing.
It is a great opportunity for families! We begin the night by singing a number of songs glorifying our great God and Savior. Having a time that is relaxed enough where the whole family can worship together, where parents can work with their children in sitting still and learning to love the singing, prayer, and preaching of the word, can be invaluable. And as far as preaching goes, we can focus on the Word of God as the Lord's Day ends, turning our hearts to His glory as we see him revealed in the Bible through a brief sermon.
I think by using this time wisely, a service to close the Lord's Day is a wonderful idea that we should invest in as a church. We always want to avoid doing things for the sake of doing something. We ought to have a clear vision on how our time can be best used for God’s glory, and we have that vision for Sunday nights. Let’s move forward as a family, taking things one step at a time!
To wrap up, these words from Isaac Watts describe our desires well:
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.