I am not supplying answers in this article but merely presenting “talking points”. I will review a little history of assembly life over the past 50-60 years as a starting point. In the 1950s and 60s Sunday Schools attracted children, DVBSs were common, and there were almost no restrictions on what could be done.
It was not uncommon for unsaved adults to show up at the Family Bible Hour, and a series of Gospel Meetings was a yearly occurrence in many places.
In the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s, Sunday School attendance declined but mid-week children’s clubs attracted a good number of children. Fewer people would just “show up” for meetings and it proved more difficult to get the unsaved out to gospel meetings.
The number and frequency of conferences and teaching series (week of meetings) decreased. Youth groups declined in number in many assemblies and in some places disappeared altogether.
Even in assembly life, there has been a shift in attendance and commitment. Not everywhere, but in many places numbers have declined at evening meetings, both Sunday night and mid-week. Sunday Schools are small in number and it is hard to run children and youth programs.
More assemblies are starting to re-evaluate Sunday night meetings and some are (or have already) cancelling the services due to lack of support. The older saints will come out mid-week or for special meetings, but the younger generation is nowhere in sight.
Reclaiming Acts 2:42
As this shift has taken place, most assemblies have adhered to the same pattern of meetings. The Biblical pattern is found in Acts 2:42 as the four fold description of assembly life. The early Church practiced these four activities. They probably functioned in a different format from what is common to us. Those saints most likely did all these things on a Sunday as an extension of their time together.
The pattern applied to the “assemblies” is to have separate times for these activities. The Breaking of Bread, teaching and prayer are spread throughout the week while most hope fellowship will happen. There is no hint in Scripture as to how (format) and when (time) these should happen.
The Lord’s Supper as a distinctive meeting is important to a local church. This elevates worship and gives the Remembrance of the Lord a central place in assembly life. It also gives visible expression to the Priesthood of believers. (See “What’s Up With Worship” – GFP).
Making positive changes
It may be time for some assemblies to look at how the other aspects of Acts 2:42 may be orchestrated. Corporate prayer could take place on a Sunday. I have heard of some assemblies where corporate prayer follows the Lord’s Supper.
Another I know of has a lengthy time of prayer one Sunday per month preceded by a fellowship supper. It may also be time to consider other means or formats for teaching, exhortation, and equipping the saints.
Losing good people
As our culture shifts we can bemoan the fact that things are not like they used to be, but that will not change the reality. Assemblies have lost people to other local churches that function in a different way. Some of this may be simply because it is easier to sit in a large congregation and not be overly involved.
However, it may be that there are facilities and programs beyond our ability, and perhaps our convictions, to provide. Some good families have left because other places do things differently. Depending on where these people end up, it may be due to the quality of the preaching. Often the preaching is expository in nature, and at a level that is consistent.
It may be the format – Sunday morning only and a mid-week home study, which focuses on the Sunday sermon. In some of these local churches, there is a high commitment to outreach, perhaps fostered by the numbers and the facilities.
I travel around various places and see the trends. Let me say, there is much in our “meetings” to encourage. The Lord’s Supper is still appreciated and a unique feature of the “assemblies”. There are young men who are serious about the Lord’s work, Bible study, and the local assembly.
The recent week of prayer in Kansas, the Men’s Conference at Guelph, the Rise- Up Conferences and other such gatherings give evidence of serious concern and involvement by the younger generation.
More opportunities for fellowship
At our assembly we have changed Sunday. We stay for lunch and have a conversational study that starts by 1 pm. The lunch gives an opportunity for fellowship. The study gives a chance for younger men to participate. The numbers are higher in comparison to the evening meeting and the attention of the saints is far better in a study compared to a sermon.
This schedule has not worked in some places but for us it solved a number of issues. Some of which are a second long drive in one day, night driving, and fellowship for those who are single.
As stated at the beginning of this article, I do not have the answers nor a “thus says the Lord”. It is good to stop and think and to consider other options. Consider the situation described in Acts 6, a new problem that was beyond their experience. The Apostles responded in a pragmatic and spiritual way as they looked for a solution to the problem.