My Kenyan friend made an understandable mistake. Not long after arriving in the U.S., he was pleased to find a church advertising “Prayer Service, 12-1.” But the timing puzzled him. The length, he thought, seemed grueling, but perhaps ordinary Americans were very devout. But why was the service starting so inconveniently late? Only then did he realize that it was not in fact scheduled to run from midnight to 1 p.m.
That in turn raised the question of why so few Euro-American churches offer the kind of all-night services of prayer, worship, preaching and testimony that are standard across Africa and in many parts of Asia and Latin America. In the global South, at least, such vigil services have become a signature of emerging Christianity.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.