how we came to have an afternoon service

Over on Chris Anderson’s blog, we were discussing various ways in which we try to elevate the tone for our communion service. In the discussion, I mentioned that we have an afternoon service rather than the ‘traditional’ Sunday evening service. I thought it might be of some interest to give a little background to our practice. It might motivate some innovation for others as well.

We have always desired that the services of our church be ordered according to our mission of soul-winning and disciple-making. The ministry drives our services rather than the services our ministry. At least, that is our ‘high sounding’ goal.

Some years ago (2/29/2004), my family and I were scheduled to be a part of a missions conference in California. As our schedule dictated, we decided to leave town on the Sunday afternoon. Our folks decided to move our evening service to just after lunch so that we could get away and so that we could all enjoy a potluck fellowship dinner between our morning services and the afternoon service.

Our ‘one-time’ event was so popular that ‘Seminar Sundays’ were born. From that time forward, we made the fifth Sunday of the four five Sunday months in the year a fellowship Sunday, with our service order as follows: Worship at 10 am, Bible study/Sunday school at 11:30 am, ‘Soup and Sandwiches’ at 12:15 pm, and an Afternoon service at 1:15 pm. That is essentially the schedule we follow today.

In our ‘Seminar Sunday’ period, I would devote the preaching/teaching in the three services to the same topic. The goal was to give a more in depth teaching session for that day on a topic that might not come up in an expositional series through a Bible book, our normal style of preaching. For example, I preached three messages on Christian Music Philosophy on Oct 31, 2004, then two messages on the place and function of the local church Jan 30, 2005 followed by our annual business meeting that afternoon. In May of that year, we concluded our series on the Gospel of John with a ‘Seminar Sunday’.

In the fall of 2005, we began a major project: preaching through the Old Testament chronologically in 9 months. We all were reading the Bible together at the same pace, about 25 chapters a week, following a chronological schedule. I would use all three sessions on Sunday plus Wednesday evenings to preach overview messages on all 25 chapters of that week’s reading. We decided to make our ‘Seminar Sunday’ schedule our regular schedule to promote attendance at all our meetings for this series.

As we went on this schedule, we discovered two benefits.

  1. An increase of ‘connectedness’ – the building up of the body through every week table fellowship. The bonds built through this kind of fellowship are invaluable.
  2. Better attendance in the afternoon – we have seen an average attendance of about 75% of our morning crowd in our afternoon services (as opposed to 50% or less in evening services).

Of course, there are some negatives, the chief being the case of occasional conflict for shift workers who might be available for either a morning service or an evening service, but not both. The afternoon service is no advantage to them, if they have to work mornings they usually cannot make the afternoon service. For us, this has been somewhat of a problem in a few isolated cases. Usually folks like this don’t work the same shift every week, and the benefits of the compacted schedule seem to us to outweigh this disadvantage.

Since our Thru the OT series, we have continued our schedule (we completed a less rigorous Thru the NT series in 8 months and now we are in Romans). We have found that our Sunday’s are very happy gatherings of our people with a good amount of the rest of the day devoted to rest and family gatherings (or further fellowship in the homes of our church people). All in all, our schedule is something we recommend to all, if facilities and circumstances warrant it.

We first heard of this schedule through friends at Bethel Baptist Fellowship in Brooklyn, NY. In their situation, many of their people travel some distance by various means of transportation in order to attend church. It just makes it easier for those traveling 45 minutes or more to stay at church for lunch and have an evening service. Of course, this church is busy with evangelism in the afternoon following the service. They are more diligent than we are.

Larger churches may have some difficulty with such a schedule, but we know of a church larger than ours that is successful with it. The difference with Grace Baptist of Dacula, GA, is that rather than a common meal, each family either brings their own lunch or will go to a nearby restaurant for lunch, then returns for the afternoon service. Many of the families there eat together in one or another of the classrooms and someone is designated to make certain there is sufficient for visitors.

I have heard of another church that moved their morning services a bit earlier and take a shorter break between 2nd and 3rd services, sending all home about 1:30 pm. It is possible to vary the procedure in several ways for the benefit and blessing of all.

If anyone is thinking of trying this, I would suggest making a “one-time” trial or an every “fifth Sunday” approach for a while to see how your people respond to it. We have found it to be a great blessing in our ministry.