One of my friends was discussing this topic – ‘ what is the main purpose of a (Sunday) church service?’ – with a group of fellow Christians at work. A good question that ought to provoke us and shape our thinking. Here are my few lines.
My instinctive reaction is to start with Scripture and the Early Church gatherings. Here is what Luke records in Acts 2:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe  came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
When it comes to reading and understanding the book of Acts I think we need to look for principles rather than just ‘copy and paste’ patterns. They had to start meeting in homes for obvious reasons: lack of suitable property and the danger of persecution. Some would argue that small home fellowships is the Biblical pattern. I don’t hold that view. While ‘big’ isn’t the goal – there are very obvious advantages in gathering together in one place.
While it isn’t very clear how the gatherings took place – think length of time, amount of people present – you can see WHAT took place. And that is where my focus lies:
- they learned together – the receiving of teaching suggesting depth and submission to Scripture and godly leaders
- they were in awe together, as a result of the teaching of the Word – and I think this would have been experiential/emotional (was it praise and prayer?)
- they experienced the supernatural power of God together – signs – meant to capture the attention and point to Jesus
- they shared their burdens together and they spent time together – in a very practical way – relational support
- they had a good understanding of public gatherings (temple) and private gatherings (houses)
- they experienced conversion growth together – this was proactive use of opportunities (see ch. 3) and maybe just people observing what took place
My take on this is that Sunday gatherings are really important along Small Groups. I see them as the two wings that make the church ‘fly’. They are both necessary. I feel that Sunday gatherings should include the things mentioned above as principle applied in a contextual manner.
People argue about issues like having a service on Saturday Night (the US church scene adopted this) or whether we need to go to both services, or even have two services.
Regarding Saturday – there is something to be said about being flexible but beware of becoming consumer driven. Where do we stop… Sunday is a day off for most people. I know that many Christians talk about wanting to spend it with the family. I understand the issues and appreciate the sentiment. Sadly a lot of people end up watching TV, going to a gig or a game – hardly talking and encouraging the family. Humbly, here is what I would do, as a godly family man. I would set aside Saturday as a family, rest and fun day. I would set aside Sunday for receiving and giving in serving God. I would see it as the best investment I could make for my family. Let’s redeem Sundays – going to church should be something we long for, we can spend time in the afternoon reading/discussing Scripture or a good book, pray for people, visit the sick, etc.
Regarding the two services issue, for me it is simple. If something is good once it should be god twice. Or three times…. Parents can take turns. Friends can babysit. It does not make you an A+ Christian if you go twice to Church on a Sunday but I guarantee that if you are in a healthy vibrant congregation of Christ-followers, going twice, you will learn more, you can serve more and God has more opportunities to meet you in a special way.
I feel like I am staring at the barrel of gun now….