Sunday Evening Service - What is essential?

When I was called to stay here at Antwerp, given the blessing of the leadership, and was making my rounds meeting with people in the church to talk with them about me being the minister at this church, I met with one individual. This individual presumed I was meeting with them to ask them to support the campus ministry I thought I was going to just a few weeks before. (Isn't it crazy how trying to follow God makes us appear wishy-washy at times?) [sorry for the somewhat bad grammar but I prefer to keep this gender neutral].

Anyway, when I sat down and began talking with this individual about staying in Antwerp to be the minister, they shared that they would not have been able to support me being a campus minister. This person's reason? Because I was not a supporter of the Sunday evening gathering. I did not attend it regularly, and I was on record as saying that it was no longer useful at meeting any pertinent goal.

So here I was, possibly going to minister to the most unreached segment of American culture, the college student, and this person would not have been willing to support that ministry because I did not participate regularly in the Sunday evening gathering.

What's important? Ministering to the most unreached people group in America or attendance at the Sunday evening gathering? There would be good reasons to not support me as a missionary to college students. One could think that I would not be capable of ministering to them. One could think that too much of the money would go to overhead in the organization I was going with. They could desire to send their money to another missionary. Or they could say that they just did not have the extra money to support a missionary at this time. There are legitimate reasons beyond those.

But I would say that one's view of the Sunday evening gathering should play no part in whether we support a missionary or not. I do not know the view on the Sunday evening gathering of any of the missionaries that we support. If we make our criteria go so far down the list of what a person believes as to include their view on Sunday evening gatherings as an essential, then I think we have made a list that is much too lengthy. What would not be an essential with such a lengthy list?

I could not verify it, but the following seems to be the only reason that I could find on the origins of the modern Sunday evening service. Sunday evening church was started in the late 1800s, early 1900s, because people wanted to sit under artificial light. It was a new novelty, and people were willing to come and listen to a Gospel message because of it. I would say, go ahead and start a Sunday evening service if it would provide a gate for people to hear the message of Jesus. Whatever we can do that is not compromising the Gospel and will allow us to share the message of Christ, we should do that. We are already doing those types of things all of the time; the question we need to ask is whether they are effective. If not, we need to discard them quickly.

Sunday evening service did not originally pop up, as many state, to give farmers who had to work in the morning an opportunity to go to church. Although that could have been the reason used in some communities to maintain the ritual. We no longer believe attendance in mass is necessary for one's salvation. If someone has to miss the morning service because of work, health, or some other means, it does not mean they cannot get plugged into a small group or a ministry. They can still be part of the fellowship in practices that actually provide fellowship.

Once a practice that is not an essential loses its effectiveness at drawing new people in, we should focus on the tried and true things, like bringing the Gospel to them through loving actions. Maybe inviting friends over to our house and sharing an evening of fun. Maybe going out and helping someone with the extra two hours we have saved. Maybe spend time playing games with one's family. Maybe spending that time in prayer. There are certain things that never lose effectiveness, and these should be the things we are primarily focused on.

Frank Viola quotes J.C. Ryle in the beginning of his book Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices:
Experience supplies painful proof that traditions once called into being are first called useful, then they become necessary. At last they are too often made idols, and all must bow down to them or be punished.