As we prepared to reintroduce a midweek service this summer, a discussion arose regarding the appropriateness of offering multiple services. Two main arguments against this practice were raised: 1.) We are catering only to the convenience of people who want to attend church around their own schedules, and 2.) It divides the congregation.
This service is only a seasonal offering, taking place from June through August, so the impact is limited. During the summer months we have noted that many people camp and travel and are often not available for Sunday services - at least not locally. Now it is true that some take advantage of this so as to have their Sundays free for other activities, whether that is to sleep in or engage in some recreational activity. If the service was not available they might very well come on Sunday anyway. For those who camp they are less likely to get dressed up and seek out a church in their area.
One could certainly argue that if a person truly wished to attend church on Sunday, a way could be found even while camping or on vacation away from home. For some of our people the desire is to be able to be away and still attend their own church that week. Perhaps this is motivated by a wish to see people they know, an awkwardness of being in a strange church, or maybe it is motivated by the need to be in a place that offers worship in a liturgical manner, something which is increasingly harder to find these days.
I am not sure of all the reasons, and it probably doesn't matter in the end (as I have little control over this.) As I have told my people, my call is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. If there is a request to do this more often, I feel obligated to provide. It is what I am called to do. How does one ultimately argue with the request to have an additional time to worship? Of all the things we do inside and outside of the church in the name of 'convenience,' it would seem that the desire to have a time to worship is hard to turn down.
As to the issue of 'dividing the congregation,' I am not quite sure how to address this. Congregations can be quite 'divided' even when they gather in the same place and time. Some have observed that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. People, by nature, are inclined to associate and visit with people with whom they are familiar and with whom they feel most comfortable. They are probably not any more 'united' as a group even if they are all in the same room.
Yet how is the true unity of a congregation manifested? When we confess the church as the "communion of saints," we are also confessing our unity with the saints who have preceded us in death, as well as those still walking with us in this time and place. Unity is what we enjoy in and through Christ, even if we are physically separated by time and space.
Adding additional worship services, as I see it, is a rather practical solution to a church's attendance problems, and the easiest one at that. Even the 'church growth' gurus tell us that if we wish to increase the number of people coming to worship, the first step is giving them more opportunities to do so. It is also an economical way to temporarily deal with an overcrowding problem where the existing sanctuary is too small to accommodate all the people currently attending (if only I had this problem!).
The final decision on such matters falls to the voters, and one hopes that however one decides such things, the call to proclaim the Gospel and gather around the Lord's Table to receive His body and blood is kept in the forefront of any discussion. For too often in the church we decide things independent of the Gospel and the scriptural understanding of what the church truly is.