At churches across America, Christmas services in high demand

Life Church, Christmas 2017
Worshipers join a candlelight Christmas service at Life.Church in 2017.

At the nondenominational, multi-campus Faith Church in Missouri, Christmas Eve will be the culmination of a long weekend of creative celebration focused on family, Christ and saving souls.

“Each service is another opportunity to save someone’s life, another soul. It’s having a chance on Christmas Eve to say ‘hey, here’s the reason to invite someone who wouldn’t have come to a weekend service,” Jaylen Bledsoe, director of marketing and expansion explained in a recent interview with The Christian Post.

The 14-year-old church, led by Pastor David Crank and wife Nicole, welcomes several thousand worshipers across multiple campuses in Missouri and Florida weekly and on Christmas Eve, at least six services will be hosted collectively to accommodate the throngs seeking to pay homage to the Savior’s birth this year.

“There’s no better way to spend Christmas Eve than with your Faith Family! Bring your friends and relatives and enjoy a beautiful Christmas Eve Service at all Campuses. We’ll make them feel right at home! Expect joyful WORSHIP, an inspiring MESSAGE, and intimate candlelit COMMUNION,” the church announced on its website. 

Explaining the multiple services, Bledsoe said that at Faith Church, they work hard to ensure everyone that wants a seat in a service can find one.

“We design our experiences so we run more than one, our services [are designed] so it is never packed to the brim. So we’ll always keep increasing the number of services … and it’s comfortable for those that are there,” he said.

“Ultimately, we design it so that if it’s someone’s first time, they don’t feel out of place. If it is too packed and you can’t find a seat it ruins the experience for someone coming in."

While not every church will be hosting special Christmas Eve services this year, Dr. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, says the Christmas Eve service is growing in importance among churches because it is the day, more than any other, that non-Christians prefer coming to church.

“Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services,” Rainier wrote recently. “Anecdotally, they seem to be more receptive each year.”

And at Faith Church where Christmas Eve services are the biggest draw behind Easter, Bledsoe said the whole staff gets it.

“We have an amazing team. Their entire life here is how do we make the weekend engaging for someone who’s coming for the first time,” he said.

Ahead of hallowing the birth of Christ in its Christmas Eve service, Faith Church, which has attracted members from various Christian denominations, works hard to get the whole community in the Christmas spirit with two major events. One is a Christmas production held at its Sunset Hills campus over four days.

“Each one of our buildings is packed out [for this event]. It’s a full Broadway-style production where we invite more than just members. That’s kind of our big community outreach for the season,” Bledsoe said.

The other event is Faith Church’s showing of the 2004 comedy "Christmas with the Kranks," starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, about a couple who decide to skip Christmas one year.

The church shows the movie in segments and their pastor speaks in between the segments on themes from the movie.

“For both of those our full team gets involved. How do we create something new for that person who is coming in for the first time to get a really great experience," Bledsoe said of his church’s approach to Christmas, "to not only come and experience a word but to be opened up beyond what they may expect the church to be. A lot of our members surprisingly are coming out of the Catholic Church or the Presbyterian Church or another church and so it’s sometimes their first experience at a church like Faith Church which invites everyone to sit in our seats across all our campuses and be a part of one big family."

Life Church
Life.Church founder Craig Groeschel preaching during Christmas in 2017. |

At Pastor Craig Groeschel’s Life.Church, which has locations spread across 10 states, a total of 265 Christmas services will be held across 32 physical locations beginning Friday, Dec. 21, through Christmas Eve. Life.Church will also host an additional 131 Christmas services throughout the week at Church Online and across various social media platforms.

Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor and innovation leader at Life.Church, said their data suggests that people are more inclined to accept an invitation to church during the Christmas season.

“We often say that people are more likely to accept an invitation to church during the Christmas season, more than any other time throughout the year. And our data reflects that. For the past five years, we’ve averaged a 70 percent increase in Christmas weekend attendance compared to our average weekly attendance the rest of the year,” he told CP.

This year, the church has added multiple service times to meet the growing demand.

“We’ve added a total of 87 service times across our 32 physical locations to ensure there’s room for everyone who wants to attend one of our Christmas services. We’ve also added 47 Church Online Christmas services to give people in different time zones around the world even more chances to attend a service this Christmas,” he noted.

The church has also prepared thousands of volunteers across their physical locations and Church Online to help welcome guests to each Christmas service.

“We’re constantly inspired by our volunteers’ passion to reach more people for Christ. Over the past 22 years, God has continually exceeded our expectations, so we’re just excited to witness and be a part of what He will do in people’s lives this Christmas,” Gruenewald said.

Meanwhile, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, demand for the 2,500 seats available for its Christmas Eve midnight mass is so high, worshipers who will attend the already fully booked and ticketed event began reserving their seats as early as a year ago.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Worshipers light candles at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. |

A live broadcast of the mass is being made available on WPIX 11 or on the church’s website.

Mercedes Anderson, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York, told CP that the special mass at the historic church is in such high demand, it has become the church’s only ticketed mass where the faithful have to submit their request for a seat in writing.

“We have Christmas Eve mass scheduled at midnight and it’s a ticketed mass. Obviously, it’s free admission but given the fact that it is [in] such a high demand, we allow for people to reserve their seats well in advance,” Anderson said.

“It’s the spiritual center of New York City. It’s the focal point on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mass and we do our best to accommodate the public. Our doors are always open."

While there are a limited number of seats at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to host everyone, Anderson said families with young children are welcome to attend a mass geared toward them at 5:30 p.m.

For the Christmas Eve candlelight service at Lakeside Baptist Church in Canton, Texas, church administrator Kim Adams said she expects a full house as usual.

“They do (show up for church),” Adams said of community members. “We normally have singing and about 30 minutes’ worth of preaching and they hold a candlelight service where everyone lights a candle.”

Adams said she plans on being at the service with her family because from a personal standpoint, “Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ. His birth is what led to the crucifixion for salvation from our sins.”

One of the largest churches in the country, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, will not be holding Christmas Eve services. But an official, who was not authorized to speak, explained to CP that the church has been observing the season with a monthlong promotion of Christmas music at the church. This past weekend Max Lucado, who recently shared that he was abused as a child, was a speaker.

At T.D. Jake’s The Potter’s House in Dallas, an administrator said their policy was similar to Lakewood Church’s.

For Calvary Bible Church in Grass Valley, California, a church official, who would only state her name as Lisa, said Christmas Eve services functioned as an important moment of bonding for members of their community. And the services traditionally attract large crowds.

“Regular attendees who have family in town and they bring their family members with them,” she said, describing the increased attendance on Christmas Eve.

Life Church Family
A family at Life.Church in 2017. |

“There is singing, there is Scripture reading, we usually have some children doing that. We usually do a video from our preschool enrichment program and then there is a message. We usually keep it right around an hour,” she said explaining that one earlier session at 4 p.m. is held for families with young children while a later service at 7:30 p.m. is geared toward adults.

“The whole meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ and the hope that He gives. That’s the main emphasis, not all the secular type of influences that come in,” she said.

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