When I was growing up in Chicago back in the days of Sputnik and Gunsmoke, our 7 PM services at all four Roseland Christian Reformed churches were only slightly less well-attended than the 10 AM services. They were not quite carbon copies in form and structure, though not exactly teaching services as the Church Order regulated until sometime in the mid-1960s. I did hear in those services preaching on The Heidelberg Catechism and, with two notably daring and good preacher pastors, presenting sermon series on both The Belgic Confession and The Canons of Dort.
Remarkably, for a kid who would today have been diagnosed with ADD, I learned my stuff there—which is the goal of teaching, after all. Early on those two preachers highlighted the doctrines, but they also gave us youth and adults the freedom to ponder responsibly a few of the inflammatory sections in all of those documents; those two preachers in particular encouraged close examination of one’s faith commitment. I thank those men (that’s all there were in our pulpits those days!). They were fine servants of God who encouraged believers to give reasons for the hope that is in us, as St. Peter tells us.
But it appears that confessional preaching/teaching and the second worship services are both going the way of the dodo bird and passenger pigeon in most places in our denomination. Check out this article about second services by Matt Vande Bunte in a recent on-line issue of The Grand Rapids Press and then read on. (I hope the article remains available for a while.) Related to this is a thoughtful article by Paul Alexander of Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Huntsville, Alabama. Jeff Scripps, a CRC colleague in Sioux Center admits being attracted to Alexander's article in part because he used to catch toads after evening worship. Whatever turns your crank, I guess....
Here in St. Catharines, Ontario one Christian Reformed congregation has discontinued weekly afternoon services, using the time for small groups meeting in people’s homes. The small group participation is greater than second service attendance had been. Two other congregations—Covenant and Maranatha CRCs—have now combined all afternoon worship after doing that with summer services for the last six years. Attendance is steadily slipping, despite--may I say it?!--some pretty good preaching and teaching! A fourth congregation continues to hold its own afternoon service. Though the council realizes the trend toward disappearance, the services also attract a small, yet faithful group of worshipers.
I know this is not about numbers. I’m not even certain it’s much about faithfulness and seriousness of commitment. It is surely in part about many changing social dynamics mixed up with some spiritual commitment factors. For example, our congregation holds Bible study, youth groups, committee meetings, service clubs and more to such an extent that the church building is often used every day of the week for long hours. Other groups attend homeless shelters, sing in hospitals and seniors’ residences away from the building during times once occupied only by worship. People can only be in one place at one time and some are “at church” four times a week.
Then there are the cottages, the vacations, the mission and relief trips, the visits to children and grandchildren that take up weekends or weeks and change worship and Sunday habits. I’m not sure that Rev. David Engelsma’s comments in the Press article about RCA and CRC (among others) “great apostasy” are all that accurate. But he might be on to something partially.
A few parting questions to get some talk going:
• What are you doing with or about second services?
• Where do your youth and adults learn not just the Bible, but the historic creeds and confessions, Our World Belongs to God?
• We know we’re losing something—but are we gaining something valuable also?
• Are you fearful? Or confident?