(Photo: AP Images / Alexandre Meneghini)
Tonight will be another night of costumed children knocking on doors for treats and roaming the neighborhoods. For some Christians, it's a dark holiday that they want to keep their kids from joining. For other believers, it's a night turned holy with opportunity for outreach.
Halloween is estimated to represent a $6 billion annual market in consumer goods and services. So although many believers don't want to endorse a holiday that's rooted in pagan rituals and aimed at appeasing the spirit world, as Christian author Dianne E. Butts states in the North American Mission Board's On Mission magazine, "what can we do when neighborhood ghouls come ringing our doorbells expecting a treat?
Turn off the lights and hide in the dark?"
Jane Dratz of youth ministry Dare 2 Share acknowledges the diverse views of Halloween held by Christians from "fun-filled, sugar high for little kids in cute costumes to an evil holiday which focuses on the occult, devils, and all things dark and demonic."
So what should Christians do when the little trick-or-treaters come to town?
Don't let the opportunity for outreach slip by, Dratz suggests.
With children's safety one of the biggest concerns of parents on Halloween night, some churches are setting up game booths and treat tables to provide a safe and fun area for their local communities.
It's a good introduction tool for churches, says Richard Leach, director of servant and community evangelism at the North American Mission Board the domestic mission agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But it's important to remember that families aren't coming to be evangelized, Leach cautions. Rather, events like these can build bridges for sharing the Gospel.
"The fall calendar offers a perfect opportunity for combining trick or treating and relationship-building with your community, says Leach. Events held on the church property offer a combination of safety, fun and an introduction to the local church.
First Southern Baptist Church On Mill in Tempe, Ariz., sent out invitations by placing about 1,000 door hangers in two nearby neighborhoods in the last couple of weeks. And the church has trained volunteers to share Christ with children.
When talking to peers, Dratz suggests sharing some truths of the Bible about topics of death and dying.
"Open up the God-talk dialogue with your friends," says Dratz, with such questions as "Does all the imagery of Halloween, like ghosts and ghouls and devils and witches, ever make you feel uncomfortable?
"Ask your friends if they think people have a soul? Do they believe in an afterlife? Use the opportunity to share about God's free gift of eternal life through Jesus gift of salvation, the youth ministry worker adds.
"Why do you think some people enjoy pretend-scary experiences like haunted houses?"
Some conservative churches prefer to use a scarier outreach approach.
Pastor Keenan Roberts of New Destiny Christian Center in Thornton, Colo., has created a Halloween outreach tool called Hell House. It's not a celebration of Halloween nor is it a Halloween event, he explained.
"It is the church taking advantage of America's cultural influence of the haunted house. ... It's the church absolutely capitalizing on the time of year," said Roberts, according to USA Today.
Hell House is a haunted house-style attraction that participants walk through. It features several "scenes" depicting the consequences or divine judgments of abortion, homosexuality and drunkenness among other things. The last scene is a portrayal of heaven. Many Christians disapprove of the method of scaring people into conversion and of the portrayal of sins.
At McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., last week's "Terror Maze" for junior high students drew over 2,000 people, over 100 first-time decisions and more than 700 students rededicating their lives to Christ.
For those just giving out candy this year, outreach is still possible. Butts recommends that churchgoers drop published tracts or an "Admit One Free" ticket into trick-or-treat bags, inviting both the child and the parents who usually check candy bags for safety to their church service,.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we used this holiday to reach out with the love of Christ to those neighbors we dont usually see the rest of the year?" Butts said.