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WHY DOES RICK WARREN PREACH ON SUNDAY NIGHT?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, June 23, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).


Paul had sailed away from Philippi after the Passover. When he came to the city of Troas, he stayed there only seven days. Our text tells us that the church at Troas came together for services on “the first day of the week.” That is, on the Roman calendar, they came together to worship Christ on Sunday. That was the main day of worship for the early Christians already, even at this early date.

What did they do in that service? The text tells us that those who were followers of Christ in that city came to “break bread” and listen to a sermon. That is, they had a meal together, followed by the Lord’s Supper, and then heard a sermon.

Paul’s sermon was much longer than usual, but even so, there was nothing else very unusual about the service. They had a meal as usual, they took the Lord’s Supper as usual, and they heard a sermon preached, as was usual in their services.

“What are you driving at?” someone may ask. Simply this – it was customary for the early churches to hold services on Sunday night.

As a young man, back in the 1950’s, I observed that it was quite common, in fact it was the ordinary thing, for our churches to hold services on Sunday nights. There was a long history of that practice, going far back into Puritan times. And no one in those early days of my youth saw any reason to alter the pattern. But that has changed in the last few years.

Many young preachers are now telling us that the old-time Sunday evening service should be carted off to an antique shop, to be thought of only as a somewhat embarrassing reminder of an archaic and less efficient time. These preachers have been taught in their schools, perhaps, and have had the thought reinforced by their young preacher friends, that the Sunday evening service is nothing more than an anachronism, a thing so out of date that it is foolish to even consider having evening services in our “more enlightened” time.

However, I think they are dead wrong! Let me give you a perhaps startling reason for saying that.

Rick Warren has the largest Baptist church in Southern California. It may even be the largest such church in North America. Please understand that I do not agree with many things Rick Warren does in his services. While not giving a long list of my disagreements with these methods, I do however wholeheartedly agree with his emphasis on having church services on Sunday night!

Do you know how many evening services are conducted each Sunday night at Mr. Warren’s church? I telephoned one of his secretaries to find out. That secretary told me they have two full services every Sunday evening, one at 4:30 PM and another full service at 6:30 PM! But wait! I’m not through!

What astonished me most was what his secretary said next. She told me that Warren’s church also has two complete evening services on Saturday night as well! They have only two services on Sunday morning at his church, but they have twice as many evening services on any given weekend! They conduct only two Sunday morning services, but they have four evening services each weekend.

What should that tell us? Why, first, it should tell us that the evening service is hardly pushed into the background at the largest Baptist church in California! You may not like what they do in those services. You may dislike the informality and what someone has called the “infernal,” over-long musical programs, that drain away so much time from the preaching of God’s Word. I grant that you are probably right when you say things like that. I have no argument with you about that – in fact, I agree with you.

But Rick Warren must surely be one of the most clever young men on the church scene today when it comes to understanding people sociologically. I might even go so far as to say he is something of a genius sociologically. What do I mean by that? Very simply, I mean that he knows how to appeal to people. He knows how to lead them to get things done, at least on a sociological level.

To be sure, I’m an old man with many old-fashioned ideas. But when I see a mere youth like Mr. Warren reviving an age-old practice, because it works, I can’t help but think that the boy has an element of mother-wit, a flair for the pragmatic, a talent for doing things that produce results (though I may be annoyed with some of his methods). And although I will probably be criticized for the faint praise I have given him, I will plunge ahead anyway.

One of the things I admire in Mr. Warren is his capacity to look beyond the mentality of the “progressive” herd. Thus, he has restored the evening service to its once lofty position! While other “progressives” are jettisoning their evening services, Mr. Warren has quadrupled his – to four evening services every weekend!

Nor does he farm out the preaching to others. On the majority of weekends, I was told by his secretary, Mr. Warren preaches all six sermons himself! For instance, last weekend Warren himself preached at 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM on Saturday night. He also preached at 9:30 AM and 11:15 AM on Sunday morning. And he was back, himself, to preach at 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM on Sunday night. Knowing that preaching schedule, I don’t see how anyone can call him lazy! He is obviously deeply committed to preaching a great deal in the evening services at his church!

Now, I said that I believe he has, at least, a flair for what works, although such pragmatism has its own problems. Rick Warren knows, and knows full well, that evening services are a key to growth in a local church. And he is dead right!

I have not interviewed Mr. Warren regarding his emphasis on evening services. But I can speculate. I can guess why he thinks they are so important. And I do not think his ideas are too far removed from my own thought on the subject.

And yet I do not think that Rick Warren preaches on Sunday night for a particularly spiritual reason. I think he does it because he is smart – a lot smarter than many who close their evening services. Rick Warren has four evening services, twice as many as he has Sunday morning, simply because he is intelligent! Here are four reasons I think he holds so many services at night.

1. Because many people now work on Sunday morning, particularly unchurched people. I know they shouldn’t work on Sunday. But they do anyway. In an increasingly secularized society, many businesses are open seven days a week. Most unchurched people work during the day on Sunday. Rick Warren knows that. I think that is one of the main reasons he has two services on Saturday night and two on Sunday night. He wants to provide church services for those who work on Saturday and Sunday morning. That’s probably why the church at Troas had services on Sunday night, as we read in Acts 20:7. The Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday, and the Jews worked on Sunday. So, to provide an opportunity for them to come to a Christian meeting, they met on Sunday night. The Romans also worked on Sunday, which was their “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). It made sense to have a service on Sunday night, so that unchurched people could come. Rick Warren knows that it makes as much sense now as it did in the first century to have church services on Sunday night (and on Saturday night).

2. Because young people want to do something on Sunday night (and on Saturday night!). There were young people in that service when Paul preached at Troas. One of them is given by name. The passage in Acts 20 speaks of “a certain young man named Eutychus” (Acts 20:9). The passage again tells us that he was a “young man” in verse 12. Whether we like it or not, few young people like him will be attracted to a church that has nothing for them in the evening. Churches that have services only on Sunday morning are geared toward little children and middle-aged women, not young people! I think Rick Warren knows that it makes as much sense now as it did in the first century to have church services on Sunday night, because young people want to go out at night. If the church isn’t open, they will go somewhere else! No wonder Rick Warren has so many young people in his church! I may not agree with some things he does with them, but those young adults are there nonetheless on Sunday night.

3. Because you lose a whole offering by closing Sunday night! Every preacher should know that you can’t pass the plate without receiving an offering every time you do. No matter how much people give in morning services, the Sunday night offering is lost when the service is closed. Churches that are closed on Sunday night lose many hundreds of dollars every weekend. I think Rick Warren knows that it makes financial sense to have church services at night, as well as on Sunday morning. I think that’s one reason he has four evening services every weekend.

4. Because people from churches that are closed on Sunday night will visit a church that remains open. Whether we like it or not, some of the best people in a church that is closed Sunday night will visit another church that is open. After coming for a while on Sunday night, many will leave their old church and transfer into the one they have been attending on Sunday night. I think Rick Warren knows that! I think that may well be one reason he has four evening services, two on Saturday night and two on Sunday night!


Many well-meaning preachers are adopting a half-way measure. They know they should have an evening service but, for the sake of convenience, they serve lunch after the morning service, and then have a second service directly afterward, with the same group of people who came to the morning service. I am not at all against having lunch after the morning service. In fact we do that in our own church. But we do not follow the noon meal immediately with a second service.

One man, who serves lunch followed immediately by a second service, said to me, “That way they get just as much Bible as they would if they came back later in the evening, and it makes it much easier for them not to have to travel back to the church on Sunday night.” This man has a good heart. But I think he is wrong. Let me explain why.

You see, the purpose for a Sunday night service is not simply to give the morning congregation “more Bible,” good as that motive is. Rick Warren knows this won’t help a church grow. That’s why he holds so many weekend services at night, several hours after the morning service is over. Mr. Warren knows that you must have services on Sunday night:

1. Because many unchurched people work in the daytime on Sunday.

2. Because young people want to do something on Sunday night.

3. Because you lose a whole offering by closing Sunday night.

4. Because people from churches that are closed on Sunday night will often visit a church that remains open – and are likely to transfer into it.


Therefore, an early afternoon service will not help a church to grow. Only Sunday night services can help accomplish that!

I’m an old man now. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been through a lot. But God has always been with me. I have seen God-sent revival twice, in two different churches. Few preachers have gone through such an experience. I know there are other more spiritual reasons for having services on Sunday night. I have given several of these deeper reasons in my sermon “Closed on Sunday Night!” Click here to read that sermon (if you are reading this in manuscript form, go to www.realconversion.com and look it up on the sermon list).

But now I must take a few moments to apply what I have said to you young people, here at our church this evening.

Good Christians will want to be in church on Sunday night to learn more of the Bible, to worship God, to put God first in their lives, to be able to bring lost friends and relatives, who work on Sunday morning, to hear the Gospel preached, to have more fellowship with their brothers and sisters in the local church. Those are five reasons that good Christian people will want to be in church on Sunday night, as well as Sunday morning, just as those early Christians were in our text.

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).

This verse shows that it was the common custom of the early Christians to meet on the first day of the week on the Roman calendar. That is, they met on Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead, rather than meeting on the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturday. The early Christians met on Sunday, which they called “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). And our text shows that it was their common custom to meet on Sunday night. That is, they met together every Sunday night, as Matthew Henry well said, “in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, note on Acts 20:7). And, so, every good Christian ought to be in church on Sunday night in our day as well.

But there is a second application of this passage, which our deacon Dr. Cagan read a few minutes ago. A young man named Eutychus was there in that service. I know that Paul preached a long time that night. But remember that it was the only opportunity these people in Troas had to hear him. He left the next morning and never went back! It was the chance of a lifetime – to hear the Apostle Paul in person! It seems to me that a young man like Eutychus would have strained to hear the greatest preacher in the world!

I remember, as a young person, travelling a long distance to hear Dr. R. G. Lee preach his famous sermon, “Payday Someday” one Sunday night. I came in late that night, went far up in the balcony, and sat in one of the few remaining seats. I had been told that Dr. Lee was an outstanding preacher and that his sermon was one of the greatest ever preached in America. When the song service ended, Dr. Lee was introduced. How surprised I was when the tall, thin elderly man seated next to me stood up and walked to the platform to preach! I had been sitting right beside him and didn’t know it! Dr. R. G. Lee preached for, I believe, about an hour and a half. It was a marvelous sermon. I hung on every word! I can recall most of that sermon to this day, over forty years later! I could easily have listened to him for another two hours, or more!

It seems to me that this young man Eutychus would have wanted to do the same thing! No matter how long the Apostle spoke, it seems to me he should have strained himself to hear every word. After all, it was his one and only chance to hear the greatest preacher in the world! But he didn’t listen. He let his mind drift off to other things. Soon he fell asleep,

“and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead”
      (Acts 20:9).

Oh, God! I know there are some here tonight like him! Your mind wanders. You drift off into a semi-sleep. The crucifixion of Christ for your sins makes no impression! You have no inward compulsion to come to the risen Christ, no real desire to be saved by Him, no strong conviction of sin, no heart-felt longing to be converted! Soon you will fall, as Eutychus did. But you will not fall down from the third loft! Oh, no! You will fall down into the pit of Hell – into the everlasting flames,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

Our deacon Mr. Griffith sang one of the songs of Dr. John R. Rice just before I preached tonight. Here is the chorus of that song, with which I will close this sermon.


Then how sad facing judgment, you’ll recall with no mercy
That you tarried and lingered till the Spirit was gone,
What reproaches and mourning, if when death finds you hopeless,
You have tarried and lingered, and have waited too long.
   (“If You Linger Too Long” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. C. L. Cagan: Acts 20:6-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“If You Linger Too Long” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).