A change of heart

This blogger is certainly not committed to the doctrine of web log infallibility and, from time to time, is wont to revise his position. The belief that one is utterly correct all of the time leads only down the road of error – building misunderstanding upon misunderstanding – all because it is anathema to admit one’s initial view was perhaps found wanting. To that end, I hereby wish to revise, but not entirely revoke, an earlier post (1).

I previously posted here on the preferable number of church services on a Sunday. Before I address the revisions let me state where I am unchanged. I remain convinced there is no scriptural requirement for a certain number of church meetings – the Bible is certainly not prescriptive on this matter. It is therefore wrong of us to look at those who hold more, or less, meetings than our own church and sneer at their practice. A church that meets several times on the same day is no more a church than those who meet only once or twice and, likewise, those who meet only once or twice are no better than those who meet several times. This issue is not one of scriptural commandment and should never be used as a measure of Christian obedience nor does it represent any sort of tiered system of God-pleasing practice.

This leads me on to where my view has been revised. I previously suggested two possible reasons for holding only one service. These were mere straw men and did not represent all valid arguments. Indeed, there are many sound reasons for a church to hold only one service – some practical, some cultural and some merely preferential. For example, in my current church network we have two ministers splitting their time between three separate churches. It is therefore not possible for them to take two services at all three churches. Alternatively, churches may have one longer service rather than two shorter ones offering an equal amount of teaching and fellowship but without splitting this into separate meetings. Sound arguments can also be made regarding the quality of services i.e. the more meetings we have the less time there is to prepare for them and the chances of the quality waning increases. Further, there is a debate to be had regarding how far churches should bend to the needs of the congregation (2). Rather than denouncing those who fail to attend two services on a Sunday should churches not ask why people are not coming and find ways to change their practice in order to address these issues?

In my initial post, I argued that two services found a balance between having a day to rest and a day in which to meet with the Lord’s people. However, I am now of the opinion that one service has several benefits. Many of my reasons for this are simply matters of preference. For example, it was often my experience that concentration in evening services was harder than in morning services (incidentally, I strongly suspect that this is one of the main reasons for poor attendance at evening services). This often had the effect that church attendance was seen as obligatory and services something to be endured rather than being beneficial and helpful. In truth, church services are pointless if they become a matter of obligation and a test of endurance. Inevitably, church services carry some compulsion of attendance but where members attend and, almost to a tee, struggle to concentrate or simply decide not to go at all it suggests a flaw in our church practice that needs revisiting in some respect.

It has also long been my view that fellowship is rarely cultivated at the back of church with a cup of tea. Rather, true fellowship is developed through friendships that continue outside the church building. By removing an evening service, we offer more time to members to open their homes to one another and truly cultivate fellowship in a way that often does not happen at the end of the meeting. Further, it is always a tall order to expect people to invite others to their home after a morning service, entertain them all day and then concentrate on an evening sermon later on. Either we encourage people not to have fellowship in order to concentrate on the evening service or we encourage people not to focus properly in the evening meeting. By not having an evening service we encourage more fellowship outside the confines of the church building and we remove concerns of over-tiredness on what is supposed to be a day of rest.

Culturally, we often get to know people over food and it would therefore seem natural for us to have food either before or after our morning services. Nevertheless, with an evening service looming this can be a tiring prospect – a service, followed by all day interacting with people, followed by another evening service. However, if we want to get away from the idea that church is the building and/or meetings we must foster ways to build a sense of community but If our meetings dominate everything we do our efforts will most likely fail. If attendance at meetings is obligatory then to introduce times of fellowship which, although less formal, are seen as equally compulsory we force our members to choose between the guilt of forgoing mandatory meetings or exhaustion (3). By removing the evening service we stop forcing people into this choice. There is no guilt attached to missing a non-existent service and we can encourage people more strongly to go out of their way to have fellowship with others – tiredness no longer representing a valid excuse to forgo fellowship.

So, the Bible does not give instruction regarding the number of times we are to meet together. Indeed, we are not to sneer at the practices of those who meet more, or less, than ourselves. I previously argued that two services on a Sunday was the best pattern of church practice (4) but I now lean towards the view that one service may be preferable. I should make it clear that I believe one service to be preferable only if fellowship outside the confines of the church e.g. fellowship lunches, individuals going to each others houses, etc is strongly encouraged. I do not believe it is preferable to simply remove an evening service for its own sake but rather believe removing an evening service and, in its place, encouraging real fellowship between members is a good a valuable practice.

  1. This revision has not been borne out of expediency. My initial post was written whilst I was a member of the church I currently attend.
  2. This was first raised under the comments section of my initial post by ‘huttononline‘.
  3. When church members feel they do not have friends in the congregation we may blame the fact that they do not turn up to ‘fellowship days/lunches’. Were they to go to these but miss the evening meeting we would castigate them for not attending a teaching service. Where people go to both and say they struggle to get things out of the service we blame them for coming to meetings in the ‘wrong frame of mind’.
  4. See here for reasons why.