August 10, 2020

How The MegaChurch Stole Christmas (Day Worship)

Some of America’s largest megachurches won’t be open on Sunday, December 25. After multiple services on Christmas Eve, they are giving their congregations, volunteers, staffs- and thousands of twice a year attenders- the day off to spend with their families.

I first saw the story of Kentucky’s two largest mega-churches cancelling services on December 25 in this Kentucky.com story. Similar stories have appeared all over America, such as the Chicago Tribune.

Get Religion has good coverage and a developing discussion.

Ben Witherington III – prominent New Testament scholar at Asbury Theological Seminary and a resident of the Lexington area- blogs in response. You won’t hear many seminary professors be this blunt with the megachurch.

I still have enough Calvin in my bloodstream to appreciate those who decide not to celebrate one day above another and skip the Christian calendar, even Christmas and Easter if they want to be exceptionally serious. Tom Ascol recently blogged some of Spurgeon’s thoughts on Christmas, and its safe to say that many reformation Christians could amen all of Spurgeon’s sentiments.

Obviously, God has no investment in the day we’ve set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ. I assume God knows the pagan roots of the whole matterm but I also assume we all know what we say Christmas means. There is a reason Christians “Christianized” the pagan holidays, and that was to put Christ in the place of the secular idols that claim to give meaning to life. God may have little interest in the calendar, but I have no doubt he is aware of the meaning we have given to the days we set aside to work, worship or celebrate.

BHT fellow Jim Nicholson, whom I count as a good friend, expressed his feelings (based on Witherington’s post and other similar posts on the BHT) this way:

Is anyone else here besides myself a PK? The reason I ask is, if my dad’s church had decided to not hold a service on Christmas morning, I would personally have kissed every deacon on the board, and their …ugly wives as well. This nonsense about the priority of the service is just that… nonsense. Nobody is going to die and go to hell just because Pastor Bob is sitting home in his PJs one day out of the year making poorly-filmed home movies of Bob jr. as he devours a few socks-full of refined sugar. I don’t get it. Everyone here seems routinely opposed to mega-churches. You’d think that the announcement that a few of them will close on Christmas Sunday would be welcome news. It’s not like any of you would admit that anyone attending those services was actually being fed at them, or that you’d admit that they were actually worshiping. You can’t have it both ways. If the megas are godless heritics preaching a watered-down gospel, then who gives a Falkland Island whether they close on Sunday Morning?

My favorite Catholic blogger, Amy Welborn, has the perspective of a convert to the Great Tradition.

Half of my family is Protestant- rather low-church southern Methodist. When I was growing up, it never crossed any of their minds to go to church on Christmas unless, as the piece notes, it fell on a Sunday. (The fact that it does fall on a Sunday this year makes this closing kind of odd, though) In fact, I don’t think their churches had Christmas services (early 60’s – 70’s). Growing up, for the most part, in the South, it was clear even to me that it really wasn’t until the 80’s or so that low-church Protestants (which would include evangelicals) started having Christmas services, and most of those were pageants and musicals. More than a few Catholic Churches in the south were often packed at Christmas, especially Midnight Mass, not just because of twice-a-year Catholics, but because of Protestants looking for somewhere to go to church, something their spiritual instincts told them they should do….Most fascinating, this push and pull that some American evangelicals are experiencing between their own spiritual sensibilities, American culture, and the deep river of Christian tradition.

BHT fellow leif rigney raised a typical viewpoint of many laypeople:

I suppose I really am apostate, because when I saw that Southland was canceling church on Christmas, I thought it was a good idea. And I still do, so it’s probably good that I’m not a pastor. I know that staying home and worshipping with the family cannot replace church altogether, but is there never an exception? Is the bruhaha about Christmas Day symbolic in nature? I’m not throwing down a gauntlet here or anything, I’m seriously asking: why is it not okay to stay home on Christmas Day and worship with your family in a cozy family environment? Why can that not be as significant a worship event as going to church? And if it can’t, can it ever? Is my church worship experience always superior to my family worship experience?…Is it not possible that commemorating the birth of Christ at home could actually make the experience more special and significant rather than less? Again, honest questions from a layman who couldn’t pastor a church if his life depended on it.

My response:

Certainly it is a matter of Christian liberty, particularly for the individual. But for the church’s witness in the pagan culture that has laid claim to Christmas for its own materialistic purposes, I think there is a wonderful opportunity to proclaim Christ. The Christian Year is a public witness, and Christmas/Easter are the two days we ought to be as open and inviting as possible to “Come to Bethlehem and see…”

I agree with BWIII that the church bears witness to Christ in its gathered worship. It can do that on Saturday or on Sunday or neither, but for the largest churches in the community to lay aside a time to exalt Christ as Lord of the culture in the name of “family time” does play, in my opinion, into one of the primary idolatries of this culture: family. The mega-churches have banked everything on Christ as a MEANS to family success, good parenting, etc. What about Christ’s claim that supercede even family life? Morning worship isn’t the essence of that claim, but there is something important here.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the choice to stay home, but I would hope every pastor would realize that this is the kind of cultural moment where we can do much by simply worshipping, and do much for our children by saying we are going to honor Jesus with the people of God in public worship.

The private transmission of “family values” apart from the full message of Christian discipleship has the potential to be something quite opposite of the Gospel’s counter-cultural message.

Think of it this way.

We are talking about the difference between telling your congregation they have the freedom to keep Christmas as they feel it befits Jesus (and some may be Puritans and not keep it at all!) and the decision by all these mega pastors to cancel services entirely.

That’s a significant difference in public witness. It is a pretty big pander in my opinion, esp if they are using the Christian year on Christmas Eve, but cancelling Christmas Day worship (which, as I said, should clearly be an option, not a duty.)

(To fairly represent leif, he has moderated his view a bit. Don’t count him as a fan of the megas quite yet.)

I’ve been talking about this all day with other Christians, and I’m still of the opinion that this is a bad idea. Maybe so bad as to approach being wrong. Not morally wrong, but sort of like some of our rules here at OBI: “Wrong time, wrong place.” It’s not that there isn’t some good to be done by giving this day to family time, but that the devaluing of one of Christianity’s “Holy days of obligation” down to an “inconvenience” simply qualifies as foolish.

There are places to exercise Christian liberty. There are times to accentuate the church’s message to the family. There are times to cancel services. There are times to give everyone the day off.

This isn’t it.

Why?

1) The cultural war against the Christian holy day of Christmas is intense. It’s not a time for America’s most watched and influential churches to raise a white flag and announce they are taking a long lunch hour. We can’t miss that our own practice of keeping sacred time is under constant attack. This is one time to say to the culture, “We’re not going to do what you want us to do. We are going to openly proclaim Jesus as Lord to his people in this place and time.”

2) This appears to be pandering. (Look it up.) Jim is right. The megachurches have caused a lot of us to be highly skeptical of what they are up to. Do they simply set the thermostat of their “gospel” to the preferred temperature of the cultural room? Do they do a poll and see what the majority of their boomer members want to do on Christmas, and then create their strategy? If they aren’t pandering, then let’s run the risk of making a few people unhappy for once, and say, “We are having worship, even though it may be inconvenient to some of you to participate.” I’d like to see some evidence that the megachurches are not pandering to the consumeristic, recreational idolatries of the culture, and this is a good place to start.

3) The scriptural hermeneutic of the megachurches seems to be quite unaware that the gathered congregation is the Christian’s primary family. Jesus often put his standards of discipleship in terms of choices between himself and family expectations. How do we communicate this to our children? Certainly its not all done on one decision about Christmas, but this is a day when our children are fully able to put some very important things side by side and draw conclusions. I have NO DOUBT that those excellent Christmas Eve services will do a lot to communicate Jesus, but if we are using the Christian calendar to make the point, opting out of Christmas worship on the Lord’s Day seems to communicate a lot about the relationship of church and family.

4) It is beyond doubt that there is a kind of idolatry of family that evangelicals regularly refuse to engage. It appears that when the choice is between honoring Christ in a meaningful tradition that thousands relate to, or giving place to the perceived needs of family life in middle class America, the choice is a very simple one for the megachurches. I believe the family precedes the church in God’s economy, but I do not believe the most basic acts of the gathered congregation should be evaluated primarily as they affect the contemporary idea of family. In American culture today, that’s a dangerous road, whether it is a megachurch or a house church.

5) Worship is one public witness that we can all embrace. Maybe Jim is right and the “worship” of the megachurch is best cancelled whenever possible, but let’s assume the “at least Christ is preached” principle. The public witness of Christmas worship is substantial. Can any of these megachurches not anticipate a large crowd of unbelievers on Christmas Day? This really puzzles me. On any Christmas service I have ever done- Sunday or not- there were more guests than any other day of the year.

6) I am particularly fascinated by the justification of “giving the staff and volunteers the day off.” I’ve been that staff member, and that volunteer. I guess I am one weird person, because I would vote against this. Now…I would support simplifying the service, going to a minimum staff, no choir, no nursery, no Sunday School, etc. I would be for a simple time of worship, informal fellowship, bring the kids in pj’s, etc. But I would feel we were derelict on one of the two days of the year every drunk in town expected us to be open.

7) In fact, I don’t really care if most of the staff isn’t there. They have vacation days. Take them. Leave the low men on the ladder to carry the ball. (I’ve done that, too. Many times.) Fine. But if you have an overworked staff and volunteers, maybe you need to revamp your seven-day-a-week church program and cut back on some needless training sessions and committee meetings. Why not deal with your “activism complex” by simplifying the pyramid of activities that most megas have built that hold their staffs and key leaders to ridiculous standards of commitment. Repentance from promoting a staff environment that causes baby to not recognize daddy doesn’t start with cancelling Christmas. It starts with the whole culture of the megachurch.

8) If I were a pastor, I wouldn’t nag my people about this. I wouldn’t bind anyone’s conscience. I would gladly assert the liberty of families to decide what they are doing on any Lord’s Day. There would be no lists of those who proved they were traitors. I’m not a believer in a strict Christian Sabbath or legalistic ideas about being at church. But if we are going to use the Christian calendar as a public witness and as a guide to our life as a congregation, then let’s play the game fairly. Have some option for Christmas worship. Make it plain that Christ, not culture, not family, not the agenda of the staff, has preeminence and the place of honor for God’s people.

9) If I ever needed proof that megachurches are about young people and families with younger children, this is it. Try getting a church with a healthy contingent of real senior adults to cancel on Christmas. I’ve said it before: these people need a business meeting.

10) Can you imagine these same churches announcing they were closing on EASTER so people could spend time with their families?

I hope a lot of Christians look at this episode and take a second look at the Christian calendar. It’s not “Bible”, but it is a way of sanctifying time; a way of plugging into the “Great Tradition”. The abandonment of Christmas Day worship would have been unthinkable in past generations, not because family life was easier back then, but because of a sense that time and eternity somehow ran into one another on those special days, and we ought to definatively honor eternity.

In Dicken’s Christmas Carol, Scrooge sees Bob and Tiny Tim return from Christmas Day worship:

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

And Scrooge himself, with a changed nature…

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows: and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.

I’m glad for the churches who will still give Tiny Tim and Scrooge the opportunity to hear the message of Christ on, of all days of the year, December 25th.

Comments

  1. First time poster, long time reader. Consider how often Christmas falls on a Sunday. The last time was 1994. I took this all the way back to 1938 and it has only happened 10 times since then. (The pattern, if your interested is 11/6/5/6 years between, which means the next time will be 2011). If this were really about “family time”, we should find a more consistent Sunday.

  2. So, on a day when we believers remember how God sent His Son – that would be a family member, right? to empty Himself and be born human so that we could be given the right to becomes sons (children) of God – and heirs, if memory serves, – now let me stop a moment: God is, in a sense at least, expanding His family, opening it to adoptive children and passing out rights of inheritance – ok, so He is giving family rights and value (singular) to “non-members” and – to get to the point – some believers are going to close their church doors to dote on and enjoy their personal family on this day? Now I don’t mean to offend, but isn’t that the opposite of what God did?

  3. Phil Walker says

    Well, I’m a PK (at least, I was last time a Sunday Christmas came round) and I can honestly say that it never crossed my mind not to have a Christmas service. There again, I was brought up in a very conservative Welsh chapel, and I recall that in ’94 we had *two* services on Christmas Day, because it was a Sunday, and we *always* had two services on a Sunday.

  4. Ah, perhaps the folks who crave the actual worship on Christmas day will end up going somewhere that the Gospel is proclaimed. Maybe we will see some folks realize the shallowness of a “church” that would rather not celebrate Christmas. In that way, perhaps these megachurches are going to do a favor for the more traditional and smaller churches. We can hope. And I do hope.

    As for me, I will be there, bright and early, with my kids and my wife and my church family, worshipping Jesus, praising God, and celebrating the real meaning of Christmas before we go home to unwrap presents. While there is some merit in the idea of worshipping at home, how many people honestly manage an environment of worship on Christmas morning? We tend toward a spirit of frantic unwrapping and gleeful shouts of excitement over plastic toys and such. We can’t claim to be a very worshipful houseful on Christmas morn. We make sure we go to church to get in the right mood with a whole lot of other folks we love.

    -Patrick

  5. what is a PK?

  6. A Preacher’s Kid

  7. The problem with this story is that the church in the lead is having extensive Christmas Eve services. If their community is anything like the one I live in, those services will be packed out–and probably with people who won’t go to church any other time of the year but want to go to a Christmas Eve services. And we should be upset about this?

  8. My husband’s a pastor and we’ll be having church on Christmas . . . because that’s what we do on Sundays. We always have Christmas Eve services, but I think having a service on Christmas Day will be extra special. I’m looking forward to it, actually, and so is my husband. (I can’t speak for the 200 members of our congregational church.)

  9. No. They should do whatever they want. They are certainly free to do so.

    But when they coordinate a national statement and a public explanation, they are taking their roles as the nations largest churches and using those roles to influence millions of other Christians.

    You know as well as I do that if Hybels and Warren do it, then it is going to be seen as what must be done, and as God’s will for the church.

    The “Great Tradition” of Christian worship is 2000 years old. These people have already gutted it with their capitulation to everything in American culture. Is it wrong for those who value that tradition to say “This is a bad idea. Find a middle way?”

    I agree they will have Christmas Eve crowds. But if they want to remove Christmas Day from the CHURCH’s calendar, believe me that they are shutting out many others who would be there on Christmas and only Christmas. (How many Christmas parties of Christmas Eve? vs Christmas Day?)

    I think the megachurches have to be big boys and take their lumps. 1500 years of Christmas, and they decide to call it off….the rest of the “family” is going to have an opinion.

    No one, btw, is denouncing them.

  10. Mike,

    I don’t think the megachurches are coordinating a national effort. They are holding Christmas Eve services–not putting Christmas off the calendar. The story is misleading and people are getting more upset about the headline than the details of the story.

    I spent most of the day working on a story about church attendance reports based on counts, not polling, and have found it more upsetting than a megachurch cancelling Christmas. The reports based on polls show 40% of Americans are involved in weekly worship. But reports based on headcounts show about 18% of the population in church each week (about 70 million less people) That’s 70 million less people hearing the word, receiving the sacraments, praying with other believers and being formed as Christians. That something that should trouble us more.

  11. From the AP article:

    >The list of closed congregations on Christmas Sunday reads like a who’s who of evangelical Protestantism: Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area’s largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas.

    The churches, which rank among the largest congregations in America, will hold multiple Christmas Eve services instead.

    Megachurch officials around the country consulted with each other before deciding to take the day off.

  12. Bob…

    I don’t find it disturbing that most people don’t go to church. Why should they? They aren’t Christians.

    And if the church keeps morphing into the world and calling it “being seeker sensitive” we pretty soon won’t need to talk about evangelizing the culture. What will be the point? We will have bought their pragmatic Osteenized gospel anyway.

    The issue here is capitulation to the culture.

  13. I can’t believe that! I am so excited by the fact that Christmas is on a Sunday this year because the church service will be magnificent! I will be away from home visiting my parents for the holiday, but I can’t wait to celebrate His birth on His day.

  14. From the discussion at the BHT:

    Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with spending time with your family, or having Christmas worship with your family. No church should ever suggest that those who chose to do so have done anything wrong. Baby Jesus doesn’t break a sweat over that one.

    But this decision by the LARGEST, MOST VISIBLE AND INFLUENTIAL churches in the communties to shut down on Christmas is a STRATEGIC move in regard to the culture. That’s why they have consulted with one another. It is a message to their core audience: At our church, we will put you and your family first, even if it means pandering to the worst tendencies of the cultural rot that has infected the church.

    This is really an easy one: Just have those who would like to lead a service, do so. When I was on church staff, LOTS of times I was the only guy left on a holiday Sunday. I got a layman to lead music, a third string piano player, some soloist and had a worship service while the rest of the staff was gone. Would anyone be writing about this if all those churches went to one service, no Sunday School, etc for the day? Absolutely not. And to those that went full throttle with the big stuff…good for them.

  15. Monk,

    I’m suprised at you…you seem to have missed the more bizarre and distressing part of the article in the Herald. Yeah, yeah, the big guys are cancelling their services, I’m a bit peeved at that too. How can we be griping about ‘taking Christ out of Christmas’ to our pagan friends when we aren’t even going to be worshiping on Christmas in the first place? (Remind me to tell you about my plan to have the church have Christmas in August where there are no major holidays and leave the Dec. 25th thing to the pagans).

    But to me the most disgusting line in the Lexington Herald story was this: “At First United Methodist Church in Lexington, the pastor will perform a “blessing of the toys,” and the congregation will sing Christmas carols, church spokeswoman Marsha Berry said.”

    A ‘blessing of the toys?’ OK, I can stomach the ‘blessing of the animals,’ even though I’m sure the original intent of that service was for farm animals and working animals, NOT spoiled poodles and Siamese Cats. But a ‘blessing of the toys?’ Is it possible to inject MORE commercialism and consumerism into the church? Why not a ‘blessing of the dollar bills’ or a ‘blessing of the credit cards.’ If our culture’s religion is Mammon, is this not the worst kind of syncretism?

    I can just picture it, Reverend Milquetoast laying hands and blessing the X-box 360 that costs enough to dig a well in Uganda for some spoiled brat. Will she also be blessing fur coats, diamond rings and Craftsman tool sets for mom and dad? Could a Chia Pet be blessed both at the ‘blessing of the toys’ and the ‘blessing of the animals?’

    Please, please comment on the ‘blessing of the toys,’ I just have to know your opinion of this.

  16. The article was extremely disappointing to me in that I have learned valuable leadership and pastoral principles from some of the leaders in these mega-churches (Northpoint in particular). Michael’s right: they’ve made this decision (carefully and intentionally) more concerned about what holding a Christmas Day service would say about their love and concern for nuclear families than about their love for the glory of Christ. And does anyone find this to be a rather prideful decision? As if holding a Christmas Day service would INCONVENIENCE and BURDEN Christian families??? Would it not be a PRIVILEGE to attend? Seems like the family may not be the only idol for these churches.

  17. badger wrote: I can just picture it, Reverend Milquetoast laying hands and blessing the X-box 360 that costs enough to dig a well in Uganda for some spoiled brat.

    I’m not actually going to comment on the debate in this article, because I can’t get my thoughts cohesive enough. However, I did have to laugh out loud when I read badger’s comment only because the sentence structure led me to think that there were spoiled brats in Uganda who need wells dug! 😉

  18. Michael, I hate to be a fly in the ointment here, but Saddleback, where Rick Warren is pastor, is having service Christmas Day. Apparently he’s not part of the conspiracy.

  19. I gladly stand corrected. Thank you!

  20. badger wrote: I can just picture it, Reverend Milquetoast laying hands and blessing the X-box 360 that costs enough to dig a well in Uganda for some spoiled brat.

    steve s: I’m not actually going to comment on the debate in this article, because I can’t get my thoughts cohesive enough. However, I did have to laugh out loud when I read badger’s comment only because the sentence structure led me to think that there were spoiled brats in Uganda who need wells dug!

    Ouch, I’ve got so much egg on my face! Steve S. is right, the spoiled brats would not be the ones in Uganda desiring clean drinking water, but the ones here in the good ol’ USA with the Xboxs, since last year’s PS2 is clearly not good enough. Good call Steve…and I’m usually picky about sentence structure. That’s why you shouldn’t comment after midnight or before coffee!

  21. Michael, I’ll be at Southland Christmas Eve worshipping. They (we) have been some of the best services I’ve been to over the years, quiet, beautiful, meaningful. I’ve happily attended Southland on Saturday’s since 1998. Pizza after service with my wife and two boys is the hightlight of my week. Maybe I’m shallow. I probably am.

    As a PK, I’ve seen enough garbage (enough to hound my father out of the church) that the public witness argument really doesn’t cut it for me. That witness happens year-round. I’ve found it pretty effective at driving people away from God. Who needs Him when we have that.

    The witness you won’t hear about are the lengthy Saturday morning lines for washers and dryers, repaired cars and clothes freely given away, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for relief efforts in dangerous parts of the world, money that will handed over in Jesus’ name. People would rather grin themselves to death over the irony of the Christmas that was cancelled.

    In some ways I’m a tired Christian. My church has problems, among them an easy spirituality for which I am profoundly guilty. But there’s the Sunday morning Christmas witness and then there’s the nameless October evening witness that arranges a prom night for several hundred mentally and physically disabled people. My sister-in-law volunteered and told me about the severely handicapped man in a tuxedo she fed by spoon. I wanted to go, but was afraid. How pathetic is that?

    I’m also a graduate of St. Johns University (Minnesota Benedictine monastery), so I’m sympathetic to the death-of-calendar argument. Like you, I have an unnatural attraction to Catholicism. Maybe I just like large institutions.

    Just wanted to speak up. I won’t be following up this comment but I do love your writing and your fearlessness. God bless. I’ve been moved to tears by what you’ve said from time to time. Wayne

  22. I have really enjoyed this discussion, and will be preaching on the subject this coming Sunday, though maybe we should be closed this Sunday, [11th]so families can stay home and worship together in the privacy of their homes. Why not? If it is good enough for Christmas, then why not any Sunday? In fact, maybe it would be a good idea for all the churches in America to designate one Sunday a month as “stay home and worship day.” We would not only be encouraging family togetherness, but we would be enviormentaly prudent. Think of all that gas we would save if every church going family stayed home on Sunday. Wow! It would have a direct impact on the Ozone hole too.

    Seriously though, What is Christmas SUPPOSE to be about, in the Christian culture? It is first and foremost about the birth of Jesus Christ. What are Sundays about in the Christian culture? They are about the worship of that Jesus [God].

    So let me get this: We worship Jesus on Sundays, but the time that we have designated as a time to celebrate His birthday falls on a Sunday, a regular day of to worship Him, so we close the church to the ” local Body of Christ,” for the reasons stated by the churches that will close.

    SATAN loves it any time the doors of a Church are closed on a Sunday, for whatever the reason.

    Sorry about rambling — the “ear ticklers” just make me so mad.

    jerry [fish on]

  23. Michael, Nice work on this one, I found your 9 reasons why the Megachurches should not be calling time out on Christmas (spelled out for all those culturally sensitive types you cannot handle ‘Xmas’) balanced and well thought out.

    This is interesting because although our church is holding serives on Xmas (oops!) day, we are trying to decide what our family is going to do that morning. It is complicated by the fact that we have out of state guests in our house as well. Anyway, the current feeling is “it is Sunday and on Sunday we go to church.”

    Thanks for th insigts!

  24. Another thought just crossed my mind. One of the reasons given for a church to not have services on a Christmas that falls on a Sunday was that the pastor[s] and staff needed a day off with the family.

    One of the very few days ‘bars and taverns’ lock the doors is when Christmas falls on Sunday, so the staff can have a day with the family.

    Wow! Glad to see some of the churches of America catching the HOLIDAY FEVER, they sure don’t have the CHRIST–MAS spirit.

    So many of the churches today try so very hard not to look different than the world; these churches that close the doors to those of their flock who wish to celebrate and worship on Christmas Sunday are doing a great job of blending into society. They have become just as senitive as the bar and tavern owners. Yep, no room at the local bar and inn for Jesus on Christmas Sunday — And no room at the local church for Him either.

    Maybe we should stop Christmas and keep the Churches open every Sunday.
    jerry [fish on]

  25. It seems a bit odd to me to think that people seem to assume that the only time they could get with their families would be on Christmas Day…My dad has worked full-time, and sometimes more, all of my life, and yet I always remember him being around. He made sure we got tons of time together as a family.

    And we sure as heck went to church on the major holidays! It’s not even like doing a church service takes up THAT much time.

    I think it’s sad to see the descration (in the original sense of the word) of the days of the Christian calendar. Ask a kid whose birthday is coming up if one day is just like another. Sure, in one sense it’s arbitrary, but just because it’s arbitrary doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Humans are made to need a cycle of fasts and feasts ( Screwtape Letters has an excellent section on this), and thousands of years of history has shaped the calendar to provide a cycle that seems to work really well. Just from personal experience, I can say that emotionally and physically, I am much healthier since I started going to a traditional church and keeping the fasts and feasts.

    And for a small, restrained rant: What the heck is behind the idea that CHURCHES should close on the day that their holy God became INCARNATE, an event never before seen in the history of the world??!!?

    Yeah. That just makes zero sense.

  26. We’re going to have a simple worship service on Christmas. No Sunday School. Acoustic, stripped down worship. Kid’s Message. Shorter message. Muffins, coffee and cider.

  27. There have been a lot of opinions. . . [More…]

  28. Easter’s next

  29. No doubt! I posted a few thoughts on the topic:

    http://thesleddog.blogspot.com

    Nothing deep, just my on feelings on the matter.

  30. I am saddened by remarks that are so biting and critical. Let’s just throw stones at churches we do not know, who are, in so many ways, being the hands and feet of Jesus. Most of you have no idea what is REALLy taking place in these churches. Now, they may not be what you are looking for in a church – that’s fine. You may never darken their door – that’s fine, too. You may think that your level of “gospel” is much higher than theirs – I’m okay with that. But let’s not claim that you love Jesus more than they do because you go to church on a certain day of the year.

    I am a PK as well, and I never spent time with my Dad on holidays, because the church gets them. I would have been thrilled to worship together as a family. In fact, many of your targeted mega-churches are providing resources to raise up leadership within the family by having the parents lead in worship and study on Christmas morning.

    I recently left a church of 6,000 to plant a church. While I was there I was the guy in charge of everything that took place in our Worship Center. That means we had two weeks of a Christmas program for the entire community. That tooks thousands and thousands of hours of preparation even before the program hit. Then it’s on to Christmas Eve services. I just checked the website of my previous church and they will have a Thurs. service two Friday services and four Saturday (Christmas Eve) services. And I’m supposed to say they don’t love Jesus because they don’t have a Sunday service? And the families of the people whose job it is to put on those services are supposed to just understand when they have leave (again) on Christmas morning?

    Sorry, I just don’t understand the critique. Now I am a part of a church of 100. We meet in an Elementary School and we can’t meet unless the Janitor is there. We made the decision to have a Christmas Eve service this year and not have worship on Christmas morning. Two reasons: First, I believe that the non-churched people in my community are more likely to come on Christmas Eve than they are on Christmas Day. Second, I’ve been in the janitor’s shoes, and I think she’d appreciate being at home with her family for Christmas. I know I would.

  31. I recently resigned a large Canadian church in that certain association and to their credit they are having a Christmas eve and day service. I was on staff with the childrens ministry and over the past four years they ran a full slate of multiple services. I do not buy the arguement that this is good just because people show up who might not otherwise. Christianity is deeper and wider that showing up and even showing up and saying the sinner’s prayer. The burn out of volunteers and the families of same, even pampered and rewarded volunteers seems a sad and heafty price to pay for packed out services.

    The Christmas eve and day will be our first in the Roman Catholic parish we now call home and I am so looking forward to it.

    This

  32. [Moderator note: This comment tempted me to hit the delete key. The line about “old people” is patently offensive. I apologize.- MSpencer]

    So Your ten points about why Christmas should not be a day off for church staff seems very one-sided, from church staff perspective.

    1. Culture war. There is no culture war. It is a manifestation of the conservative evangelical movement. The “culture war” was manufactured in the pulpit to make Christians feel like they are living the kind of life Christ called them to. But for a vast majority, this is a sham. The modern evangelical church has established a series of rules and “oughtta bes” to envigorate a community that was politically impudent.

    2. The consumer christianity you just described lives in every church. The mega churches are just better at it than the more traditional churches. So what is not pandering, do it the way the preacher wants, or else? That hardly seems very Christian to me.

    3. Who decided it was the Lord’s Day on Sunday. It certainly wasn’t the Lord. Jesus said He was the Lord of the Sabbath (Saturday). But more importantly, no day is more holy than another. Is it not important to gather for group worship on a day when most are able to gather than to artificially decide that it has to be Sunday? Could you be more legalistic?

    4. Maybe the megachurches have this one right. Maybe the family does supercede the church. Maybe the early church started in the homes of families, and not in magnificant cathedrals and temples.

    5. This is a fundamental point where you and the megachurches miss the point. How many of the “unchurched” actually convert to the “churched” because of or as a result of the Christmas or Easter services? Even after 9/11 only 0.1% of the unchurched still attended church a year later (I think Barna did something on this). The preacher or the pageant or the music may get them to come back once, but the community that IS the church keeps them. In our era of consumer Christianity, there is little community.

    6. Why not take the service to the drunks and derelicts? Leave you pretty church building and go and be where they are at the homeless shelters, the jails, the psych wards, the low income housing projects. Now that would truly be inconvenient, and Christian, in the Jesus sort of way.

    7. That’s the spirit, leave the derelict and the drunk to talk with the intern on Christmas morning. Nothing against interns, but aren’t these the folks that are most likely to have a deer-in-the-headlights look? That’ll get them back in church in August. As far as the megachurches having too many programs see my comment in number 5 above.

    8. You could have started and ended the argument right here. This is all that really matters. “Where there are 2 or 3 gathered together…”

    9. Now this is a good reason to not cancel Christmas Day services, so the old people can gripe about how we’ve always done it this way and how the young folks are too self-centered to care about traditions.

    10. No. Easter lends itself to group activities like picnics and easter egg hunts. Christmas requires solitude so that we don’t have to expose our crass consumerism for judgement by our fellow churchgoers, but rather we keep that little secret in the family.

    I, too, hope a lot of Christians look at this episode, not for the reasons you suggest, but rather so that they see the hypocrisy in their own lives, and begin to turn from it.

  33. David Dillard says

    As one of millions of unsolicited voices, my personal concern is that we are showing non-believers that we can shift our established services for convenience. The concern feeds an even greater concern of (1) what if Christ or the apostles would have shifted their teachings or events due to convenience, and (2) what else is our Christian hierarchy willing to shift on in the name of that convenience? This is not a simple matter of shutting down services for a single day, Christmas Sunday. Further, this is neither to criticize a certain church over their choices. It is a question for those running those churches on what they are doing and how the world of non-believers view those choices.

    We are a family of Christ. This day, regardless whether it is actually Christ’s birthday or not, is that these church leaders are taking the decision of attending away from the worshipper. There are many who may or may not attend, however these church leaders are making the decision to close their doors on those that may indeed wish to worship. In this critical time in our history, we need to be opening doors of opportunity for non-believers, not closing them. Send all the volunteers home and let the pastors, preachers, ministers do their job. The word must be available to all and this day stands out to everyone for it’s significance. Maybe, just maybe, one non-believer will come to church and be converted. If that door is shut, then one soul may be lost. Forever.

  34. [Pre-emptively, let me remind people the X in Xmas is a chi, the first letter of Christ in Greek, and is pronounced “Christmas” not “Ex-mas.”]

    My church is having an Xmas Eve service because no one would be there Xmas but the pastors’ families.

    Few of us are big on the commercialism that is the real threat to this season — not the use of “Happy Holidays” or the references to “Holiday Trees” that are causing the bigger-than-average Xian backlash. I, too, am tired of the political correctness; but Mammon has been trying to steal this holiday from Jesus a lot longer than the anti-Christians have, and we have yet to threaten a boycott of the greedy and the opportunistic.

    Therefore, I expect that most of our family Xmas gatherings will focus, naturally, on Jesus; and on obeying His commandment to love one another as He loves us. And if we must put aside the Sunday morning service for that, so be it. Sunday morning services are made for man, not man for the Sunday morning service.

    Happy Christmas.

  35. David Dillard says

    I disagree with the opinion above by K.W. Leslie. First, before and beyond our Earthly bounds, we are a family in Christ. We congregate and worship in his house and in his name. To forsake that tradition this year, merely because it is inconvenient, is an injustice. This society has become so wrapped up in what’s in it for “us” and for what is easy and convenient. What if Christ would have taken that course, not have been put onto the cross, because of how He would have felt? What would have become of our immortal souls? This is not about a simple day, but what it says about us as a society. Laziness, convenience. It may be painted as anything else, but ultimately we are here in His service, not the other way around.

  36. Why is this a mega church thing? Are all small churches having services on Christmas Day? The mega church I attend is having one. I won’t be there. I usually go to church on Saturday night, and I’ll go to church on Saturday night again this year if I’m able to. It’ll be like any other Saturday night for me. There are a few things to keep in mind. First, how many churches are basing their decision on the need to fulfill the budget? Let’s face it, its the last Sunday of the year to collect tithes and offerings. That’s a worse reason to have church than the reasons against it, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet the issue of money came up in a number of meetings of church leaders around the country, perhaps even moreso in the north where a possible snow storm can cancel a church service a month later. (I know, the idealists will say that people will still give, but the reality doesn’t bare that out. My church missed a Sunday due to a snow storm a couple years ago, and I saw the financial reports and the impact that it had.)

    Second, the mega churches are getting slammed on this because its considered newsworthy. I’d bet there are more small churches skipping on Sunday than mega churches, they just don’t make the headlines.

    Third, cultural traditions play a role in these things as well. In my town there are a high percentage of Swedes who have always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve (my wife’s family among them). It is a given that church will be open on Sunday because it won’t interfere with their Christmas celebration at all. Others will attend both Saturday night and Sunday morning. Saturday night because its part of their Christmas tradition, Sunday morning because there’s nothing else to do if they celebrated Saturday night.

    Fourth, people are scattered all over. How many families have only one Christmas celebration with their families. This year my family will only have two. One year my wife and I had five Christmas celebrations with family in four days in four states (from Iowa to Ohio). Needless to say, we never did that again. Family situations make Christmas a very difficult holiday for people to begin with, just because a few churches decide to focus the celebration on the week before rather than on the Day, that’s no reason for blasting them. I agree with the poster a bit further up. I’m a tired Christian. These types of petty arguments make me more so. Why don’t we focus on something besides “Will XYZ megachurch in another state have a church service when I want them to?”

  37. I stepped on a few toes this morning with the presentation of my sermon: “NO CHRISTMAS DAY SERVICE.” I told them that they would heal; just put a little bit of neosporin on the sore toe and in time it will feel fine. My sermon was a direct result of the ongoing battle about whether to have church on the “Lord’s day,” [check out Rev. 1:10, and study to see what is meant. You will need to reference I Cor. 11:20 with a study of the word “Lord’s} when it falls on Christmas.

    When I stepped into the pulpit to give the sermon, I didn’t get a word out before a Lady in the congregation spoke up and asked, “You mean we are not have church [called out assembly]because Christmas falls on Sunday?” Many others nodded in agreement. Wow! They had indeed read the bulletin and saw the title.

    To make a long sermon short — we will “be open for Christmas.” The bars and taverns won’t, but then, their main business interest is not the same as ours: The worship and praise of our Savior on Lord.

    I find it interest that there are so many people who can defend the churches that will be closed Sunday, the 25th, but I wonder why they are not passionate for all the reasons to be open for Christmas?

    Matthew 2:1-12 tells us about the Magi that traveled, after the birth of Jesus, to go and find him and “worship” him. It was a priority to them to worship that little baby — and the key word is “priority.”

    For all you Christians who will be celebrating Christmas, but NOT attending church on Sunday, Dec. 25th, let ask you a question. WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON to which you are celebrating? Most of you are going to say, “I am celebrating the birth of Jesus.” So I would say this: “You are going to celebrate the reason for the season, and not celebrate it with His Body, the Church because that celebration day falls on a Sunday?” If that doesn’t seem strange to you –well, I will just let it go at that.

    TREADLIGHTLY: You say you belong to a Mega-church. Then you say that the mega-churches that will be having services are doing it to keep the tithes coming in. So if your statement is true, then I can assume that the mega-church you attend is staying open for Christmas for the tithes and offerings. If your statement and assumtion is true about other mega-churches, then logic tells me your church is doing the same thing. YOU HAD BETTER FIND A NEW CHURCH THEN.

    Moderator–if you do not send this on, I understand. It is a little confrontational.

    jerry [fish on]

  38. I would love to see this topic discussed without personal attacks, false dichotomies, and unbiblical presuppositions. Unfortunately, it seems every blog I’ve read about this topic ends up falling into one or more of the above unfortunate items.

    For those of you who believe that the ONLY way people can worship is to be in a church building on a Sunday morning, you are missing out on somewhere around 165 hours a week of opportunities to worship. And if you believe that the only way the Body of Christ can gather is in a church building on a Sunday morning, you ignore a large portion of the New Testament.

    For the record, I am not anti-institution, but this whole debate about services on Dec 25 has highlighted for me many of the problems that the institutional church has. All of Paul’s warnings about division, all of his warnings about making YOUR designated special day mandatory for others…these things seem to get ignored. If you want to gather with other believers on Dec 25, go right ahead and do it! You don’t need a special building to do it, and you don’t need the “senior pastor” to be there to make it official. And if you’re that concerned about the lost missing a chance to hear the Gospel on that day, then go out and tell them yourself! And if you’re so concerned about people selling out to the commercialism, then you better go all the way and make sure that they don’t open presents on Christmas Day next year when it’s on a Monday.

    All of this armchair theology and finger-pointing is sickening.

    Sorry for the frustration and venting, but this whole discussion in the blogosphere probably does more to stain the name of Christ than any “church” deciding not to have services on Dec 25. If Paul were alive today, he could probably write the sequel to Galatians and send it to the church in America. For that matter, he could rewrite Romans and 1 Corinthians, too.

    steve 🙂

  39. Why people get bent out of shape about not holding a public service on Christmas is beyond me. Mega churches many times do have glaring faults because they’re full of people but cancelling service on Christmas I don’t think is one of them. I wish a few more smaller churches would take a cue from them in this regard. I can almost see some using “Having service on Christmas” as some kind of badge or pathway to higher spirituality.

    There’s a couple of my pennies.

  40. Brother Steve S.,
    Hear me man, what I am going to say is not a “personal attack” on you or anyone who would disagree we me. It is dialoge and debate, and that is way different than personal attacking. Honest disagreement is not necessarily a personal attack; granted, it can become that, but I haven’t seen that in the comments above.

    Friend, you have made it clear that you disagree with my position on ‘to have or not to have church services on a Sunday that is Christmas day,’ but I don’t see that as you attacking me.

    For me, the issue is as simple as this. The last time Christmas day fell on a Sunday was in 1994. Now of course I can’t prove this, but I would guess that the vast majority of the churches that will NOT BE HAVING sevices on Christmas day HAVE NOT discontinued a Sunday service since 1994, other than weather related. Of course I can’t prove that, but logic says that I am probably right. Steve, it is not about not having services on Christmas day; it is about not having church on Christmas day WHEN it falls on a Sunday, when they probably have never closed the door on any other Sunday. To close the doors when we celebrate one of the GREAT doctrines of our faith just makes no sense to me.

    The Virgin birth of Jesus Christ is one of the major doctrines of the Christian Church [Universal church], along with the death and resurrction of Jesus. I would take a guess that there is not a Bible believing church that takes Sunday off on the day we remember the death and celebrate the resurrection as local Bodies of Christ. Remember, Easter Sunday is never on the same date–it is contantly changing. It is very seldom held on the offical date of Jesus’ resurrection. 2005 it was March 27th, and 2006 it will be on April 16th. So why don’t those churhes who will shut down for Christmas day on a Sunday, not shut down for Easter since Easter,when Easter rarely falls on the date of the resurrection?

    I will stop for now, Steve. I don’t want my “arm-chair theology” making you too sick.

    And Steve, if you reply to my comments, and you don’t agree with them, I WILL NOT consider your disaproval of what I have written as a ‘personal attack.’

    Steve-in reference to your comments about “senior pastor,” there is only ONE SENIOR PASTOR in the church I am a part of: It says it right at the top of our bulletin.
    SENIOR PASTOR–Jesus Christ
    Pastors: Gene, Dick, Art, and Jerry [fish on]

  41. Jerry (fish on): I’m glad to hear that your church labels Jesus Christ as the senior pastor. I have been in a lot of churches and have never seen that, so I’m glad to hear that. My comment obviously, then, doesn’t apply to your church’s use of the term “senior pastor”.

    My comments about personal attacks, etc. were related to the overall discussion taking place on many blogs, not just this one, and certainly not just your comments. Churches who are cancelling their services have been accused of teaching a false gospel in some comments, many have commented that the family has become an idol, and you even imply in your comments that if one is not at the church building, they obviously are not worshipping Jesus with the Body of Christ. To put it rather bluntly, you don’t know that. You present a false dichotomy of “worshipping Jesus at the institutional church building” or “not really worshipping in a suitable way” (my paraphrase of the only two choices you seem to allow). That misrepresents both sides of the argument and creates a false dilemma.

    I’m not attacking you personally, and I wasn’t even responding to you directly. Maybe you’ve got a balanced opinion on this topic, but if so, you are definitely in the minority.

    steve 🙂

  42. I think some of the reason why I don’t see the big deal about worshipping at church on Xmas Sunday is because I don’t think of the Church as the people who fill the big drafty building I go to every Wednesday and Saturday. My family is the Church. I am the Church. We do worship the Lord Jesus together; we don’t have to go to a building to do it.

    Nor do we feel we need to make a point of leaving our house and going there so that others can see us do it, and approve. Or disapprove. Or feel encouraged by our presence. Or anything. We have prioritized our holidays in this manner: Xmas comes before Sunday. What would we ordinarily do on Xmas? Go to a Xmas Eve service and worship Christ with carols and candles, then sleep, then in the morning worship Christ with giving and feasting. Either way, Jesus is worshipped.

    The only “selfishness,” if anyone wishes to use that word to describe it, is when traditionalists insist that their way is the only right and holy way to do it, and that anyone who doesn’t go to a church is in any way putting Jesus second. Likewise I would be selfish if I insisted that everyone ditch the Sunday services and worship with their families at home. Both can be honest ways of honoring God; likewise, both arguments can be adopted by hypocrites who want to either get out of uncomfortably dealing with family, or uncomfortably sitting in a church.

    Lastly, to David, who decided he’d not just disagree with me, but suggests that if Jesus took my attitude, He’d never have died for our sins: Is this the same Jesus who said, “The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” (John 4.21, 23) If Jesus wasn’t so particular about our worship location, why should any of His disciples be?

  43. Ha!

    You would think that they world have OK’d it at the beginning instead of allowing it to go so long without saying a thing and then bringing it back up when it was too late. I don’t understand it at all. Zenerex