(Photo: Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church / Abe Cardenas)
There could be plenty of space in church pews on Christmas Day which falls on a Sunday this year, while many Americans will be putting top priority on opening gifts and family time.
Even though nine out of 10 pastors plan to host Christmas Day services this year, that doesn’t mean their church members will be filling up the scheduled times of worship, leaders of the faith-based LifeWay Research organization said.
A recent LifeWay Research study of 1,000 Protestant pastors shows that 91 percent of Protestant pastors plan to have services on Christmas Day while 69 percent said they plan to host Christmas Eve services.
However, pastors may be fighting an uphill battle in filling seats this year though churches usually see one of their highest attendances during Christmas.
A report done by LifeWay Research last year showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Although there is speculation among researchers about church attendance on Christmas Day, 74 percent of Americans agree (strongly or somewhat) that “Christmas is primarily a day for religious celebration and observance.”
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said that churches see these two viewpoints as conflicting values.
“Having church on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday seems as if it would be as much of a given as having Thanksgiving on a Thursday, but this has been an issue of discussion and contention in recent years,” Stetzer noted. “Also, just because an overwhelming majority of pastors think that way doesn’t mean those in their congregations necessarily share their perspective.”
Last year, after gearing up for Christmas services throughout the week, several non-denominational megachurches canceled corporate worship the day after Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 26. Pastors said taking that day off allowed staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.
Some churches seem to be compromising somewhat on Sunday services on Christmas. The 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which normally holds two Saturday services and three Sunday services on a typical weekend on its main campus, will be hosting only one service on Sunday.
However, the church plans to hold six services on Christmas Eve, and another six services on Wednesday through Friday leading to the holiday weekend.
Stetzer told The Christian Post he is surprised at how many churches are holding services on Christmas Eve and day.
“My guess is that for many non-liturgical churches, they consider Christmas Eve more of an outreach opportunity and Christmas Day a normal (though perhaps scaled down in some cases) worship service,” Stetzer said.
“For some denominations, they always have services on both days anyway. Sunday makes no difference. For others, they have church on Sundays. Christmas does not change that,” he said. “There are a lot of practices when you survey the Protestant spectrum, but I was also surprised at the overwhelming number of churches who were having services on Christmas Day.”
The answer for Christians may be in striking some sort of balance between celebrating the more secular Christmas traditions and worshipping Christ during this time of the year. The importance should not necessarily be placed on whether one attends a service on Christmas Sunday, but on the overall observance of Jesus’ birthday.
“Too many Christians get distracted by the secular at Christmas – lots of lights and music but not enough Jesus. If you’re too busy for worship during the Christmas season, you are too busy,” Stetzer said. “In general, I'm always struck that so many say that, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season,’ but don't have much time for Him during the season.”