This year, Christmas may be colder or at least quieter for the thousands who attend several evangelical megachurches across the country. Some of Americas largest churches are closing their doors on Christmas day, which this year falls on Sunday, to accommodate to the lifestyles of their congregants.
Among those slated to close its doors on Christmas day is Willow Creek Community Church Chicagos largest congregation and one of the top five largest in the nation.
"It's more than being family friendly. It's being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy," said Cally Parkinson, spokesperson for Willow Creek, to the Associated Press. Some lifestyle-friendly adjustments include bunching up the services on Christmas Eve instead.
According to the Associated Press, megachurch officials around the country consulted with each other before deciding to take the day off. On this list include Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., and the Fellowship Church near Dallas, Texas.
Supporters of the move say it frees up time for the church staff and church members to focus on commemorating Christmas at home.
"At first glance it does sound contrarian," said the Rev. Gene Appel, senior pastor of Willow Creek, to the Chicago Tribune. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmashundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day."
However, some scholars criticized the move, saying its the day of the week Sunday that is sacred to the evangelical faithful.
"This speaks to the dilapidated state of evangelical faith today," said David Wells, a professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, to the Tribune. "That we would think that going to church is getting in the way of celebrating Christmasthat the family celebration shouldn't be impeded by having to go to churchit seems to me that our priorities are upside down."
For the most part, the megachurches have survived the decision relatively unscathed. At Southland, for example, only a handful of complaints were called in, and only two inquired about the closures at Willow Creek.
According to James Bratt, a historian at Calvin College, this general acceptance reflects a shift in how relevant Evangelicals are becoming to the secular culture.
"It's a sign of how totally identified with the culture [evangelicals have] become," Bratt said. "The church has subordinated to cultural icons, and family is one of them. ... The logic of that is you should celebrate the holiday in its true sanctuary, which is the home."
For those who wish to celebrate the holiday with the church family, doors to other evangelical churches across the nation will generally remain open.