Anytime Christmas lands on a Sunday it presents churches with an interesting challenge of staying open or closing for the holiday. Perhaps you’ve already noticed the hot debate surrounding it.
These debates and arguments are nothing new. Historically, Christmas has been an object of debate and controversy by church leaders, and it’s not surprising why. The celebration of Christmas did not originate in the Bible, and many of its customs contain a mixture of non-Christian ideas which evolved from various secular and pagan cultures over a period of centuries.
In fact, Christmas was actually outlawed in colonial New England, from 1649 to 1658, by the Puritans, who cited the "heathenistic traditions" involved in the celebration. It took nearly two centuries for the celebration to gradually gain acceptance in the New World. As you can see, Christmas controversies are nothing new.
So to close or not to close?
First things first, I want to stress that there is no right or wrong answer here. The leadership of every church should have honest conversations about what best serves their particular congregation as well as the community they’re trying to reach.
If I were still pastoring, I can tell you that I would have leaned heavily toward not having a Sunday morning service on Christmas and instead offering Christmas services over several afternoons and nights leading up to Christmas Sunday.
Let’s consider a challenge that most churches face in this debate: It often takes numerous volunteers to park, greet, lead, teach kids classes etc. to create a worship service at an any given church. Even more so at a megachurch; each service requires hundreds. This means hundreds of volunteers leave their families to “work” on Christmas. All this on top of already spending most of their week at the church volunteering for other opportunities like the Christmas Eve services which often span over several nights.
It might seem ridiculous for a church not to offer a service on the holiest of all days, a day where we celebrate the birthday of Jesus who’s at the very center of all we believe. But I think it’s possible to celebrate and honor this most sacred of days without actually gathering for a service in a building.
What if, instead of offering corporate services on Sunday the 25th, churches pre-recorded a family-guided worship experience that streamed all day on Christmas? Churches could encourage their attendees to gather with their families at some point on Christmas day to celebrate and remember what the holiday is really all about. Maybe they could even invite their neighbors over to experience this intimate Christmas message with them.
If your church doesn’t have the production capabilities to execute that sort of plan, another alternative to a Christmas morning service could be to provide some kind of content or devotional for families to read together on Christmas. There are so many options that can cater to the needs of churches of all shapes and sizes outside of a formal church service.
Ultimately, my hope is that church leaders will take some time to think, pray, discuss and figure out how to best serve their church and their community during this Christmas season.
But most importantly, let’s not allow this debate to distract us from the amazing opportunities we’ll all encounter over the coming weeks. This is a unique and special time of year. It is perhaps the single greatest opportunity to talk about Christ during our entire year, giving an open door to explain His birth — His reason for coming into this world, and the hope that it gives every single one of us.
Friends, let’s focus on what’s important—our Savior and His miraculous birth.