Perhaps one of the greatest blessings of the Christian faith is the blessing of the Lord’s Day, setting aside one day in seven to gather with God’s people for His worship. The conviction that the Lord’s Day ought to be set aside for worship is why at one time it was the near-universal practice of Reformed churches to gather for both morning and evening worship on Sundays.
Regrettably, the practice is no longer common in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). According to a recent project led by Justin Andrusk to collect comprehensive data on the prevalence of morning and evening worship in the PCA, only 238 of 1930 churches (12.3%) listed in the PCA directory report having both morning and evening worship services regularly.
The case for morning and evening worship
The Bible makes a strong case for gathering twice on the Lord’s Day. The Bible is bookended with the rhythms of morning-and-evening (Gen. 1; Ex. 20:11; Rev. 4:8, 7:15). Throughout the Old Testament, it was the practice of the Israelites to worship God morning and evening, as evidenced by morning and evening sacrifices (e.g., Ex. 29:39) and psalms for morning and evening worship (Pss. 92, 134). After the Resurrection, Christ appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week in the morning and in the evening (John 20). In connection with the Resurrection, the early church began to meet on the first day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism 59).
The historic practice of gathering for morning and evening worship continued with the Protestant Reformation. According to the Westminster Standards, the whole day is to be spent “in the public and private exercises of God’s worship” (WSC 60; Westminster Larger Catechism 117; Westminster Confession of Faith XXI.8). The Directory for the Public Worship of God of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church states that it is “highly advisable that a congregation assemble for public worship at the beginning and the ending of the Lord’s Day” (I.A.4.b). Similarly, the Directory of Public Worship of the Reformed Presbyterian Church North America records that “the session should carefully consider whether a second meeting should be held” (2.F-9).
Morning and evening worship in the PCA
While anecdotally, the view is held that morning and evening worship is not as common in the PCA as it is in other Reformed and presbyterian denominations (such as the OPC or the RPCNA), data on the prevalence of morning and evening worship in the PCA has never before been recorded. To collect this data, we visited every church website in the church directory and counted by presbytery the number of websites mentioning both a morning and evening worship service.
We find that of the 1,930 churches listed in the directory, 238 churches have both morning and evening worship (12.3%). By region, the practice is most common in the South (157 of 1167, 13.5%), particularly in the East South Central Census region, where 65 of 365 churches have both morning and evening worship (17.8%; see Table 1). By presbytery, the practice is most common in the Presbytery of Mississippi Valley (by count, 15 of 49 churches; see Table 2) and in Savannah River Presbytery (by proportion, 63.2%; see Table 3). While most presbyteries have at least one church with both morning and evening worship, 17 presbyteries do not have even one church with both morning and evening worship.
Of course, there are exceptional circumstances that may prevent a church from being able to gather twice Sunday for worship. Churches may not have their own facilities and thus may not have the space to gather again for evening worship. Churches, particularly newly planted churches, may be small in their membership or leadership, making it difficult to gather again in the afternoon or evening after dismissing for the day in the morning. For a healthy denomination planting new churches, it may not be achievable or even desirable to reach 100%.
What rate, then, is reasonable? It may be helpful to consider how widespread the practice is in sister denominations of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC; 349 churches) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA; 105 churches), though smaller in number, may be helpful comparisons since they both subscribe to a traditional form of the Westminster Standards.
The practice of conducting weekly stated meetings of evening worship is far more common in both the OPC and RPCNA. Sixty percent of RPCNA churches and nearly 62 percent of OPC churches offer both a morning and an evening worship service. To put this in perspective, the OPC and the RPCNA together have more churches with morning and evening worship (278) than the PCA (238), despite being less than a quarter of the size of the PCA, combined. Or to put it another way, nearly 1,000 PCA churches would need to start an evening service to catch up to the percentages achieved in the OPC and RPCNA.
We cast light on this issue not to cast shame or point fingers, but because we love the evening worship service. It is a wonderful blessing of our Reformed heritage, but lamentably underutilized in the PCA today. Perhaps not every church can have both morning and evening services, but we would love to see it become as widespread as it once was.
Elders in the PCA may consider how the charge of keeping the Sabbath is “more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors” (WLC 118) and how helpful a second Lord’s Day service is for encouraging members to set aside the whole day for public and private exercises of devotion. Siloing worship to a solitary hour in the morning may inadvertently cause us to reduce the Lord’s Day to a Lord’s Hour. But bookending the Day with worship may help saints make it a delight to spend the rest of the time in fellowship, private exercises of worship, and acts of mercy and necessity (WLC 117, WCF XXI.8).
Church leaders should also be wise in loving people through change. It is clear that the evening worship service is not widely known in the PCA. Introducing regular evening services will take patience and encouragement to teach members about the blessing of worshiping together morning and evening. Through our surveys of church websites, we were encouraged to see many churches offer a regular meeting on Sunday evenings if not a full service, including hymn sings, prayer meetings, or catechism classes.
If you are a member of a PCA church and your church does not have an evening service, we encourage you to speak to your elders about starting one. On the other hand, if you are a member of a PCA church and your church offers an evening service, we encourage you to avail yourselves of it. Your participation is an encouragement to your elders and a tremendous blessing to you. More importantly, it is another opportunity for you to gather with the saints in praise of God, as public worship is the most important activity in which churches engage.
Ultimately, love of morning and evening worship is caught not taught. David writes in Psalm 16, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” What better way to spend the Lord’s Day than in excellent company?
The authors are data geeks and PCA laymen who deeply appreciate morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day.