Christmas Sunday: Church or no Church?

It hit me as we were doing long range planning during an extended staff meeting several months ago. We were walking through our ministerial calendar like many other church staffs. Then, as we made our way into December 2011 and counted the month by Sundays I saw it. : Dec 4,11, 18 and there it was: December 25 is on Sunday.

Uh-oh.

Usually there is no question about having worship on Sunday, but many congregations and specifically their leadership are asking about what to do about Christmas and Sunday–both happening on the same day this year. The Christian Post offers a helpful article about the challenges regarding families, attendance, and the meaning of the season. The opening sentence expresses the sentiment of the occasion: “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.”

I can see the pros and cons of having church on Christmas Sunday. One factor to think about is that many congregations, including ours, have a well-attended Christmas Eve service. Some might think that would suffice and be a reason not to attend worship the following day. Time together during that Christmas eve service is one of the memorable of the church year and to have a poorly attended service the next day diminishes the impact of thate worship service.

Another issue relates to the emphasis on family and families need to be together on Christmas Day. Not many would want to leave home (and their gifts and children crying who want to play with them) to come to a worship service on Christmas Sunday.

I could go on and on about the matter, but have decided that it is better to have a worship service on Christmas Day rather than not have one. There is the spiritual component to this, and we may end up meeting in my office on that morning, but we’ll still go ahead with a gathering. I did not bother polling the congregation about it, because I cannot see anyone voting against having a worship service on Christmas Sunday. What I could see, however, is people insisting on having church on Christmas Sunday but not attending. And I can’t find problems with that decision, especially if many of them are here at the church the night before.

The other component is more economic in nature, meaning that many congregations will need that additional Sunday opportunity to receive an offering to finish out their calendar and/or budget year (maybe there could be a drive through service to let people drop off their giving).

On a serious note, I found the information in the Christian Post reinforced some of my own observations of the Christman season. A report done by LifeWay research last year showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans agree with the statement “many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.”

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that sentiment. But, when the celebration of Christ’s birth becomes an afterthought or less important that other things we do during the season, then we’ve created a spiritual crisis. This isn’t another debate about whether to say “happy holidays” or “merry christmas” in the Target store. It’s about something much more valuable. 

I remember those pins that some people attach to their clothing: “Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.” I think that’s right, but let’s also remember to make time for the reason for the season too. 

I am grateful that the issue of Sundays and Christmas do not intersect more than they do. It poses a strain not so much on the membership who has the option on not attending as the pastors and ministers who feel a responsibility to worship in some fashion on Christmas Day.

I will be curious who attends worship on that day. Our staff has noted the possibility of low turnout and are planning accordingly. We may make a note of what happens for future reference. But those of us who are here will sing and pray and say “Merry Christmas” to each other. And, while I’m not sure what the remainder of the service will be like, I do know one thing:  there will be an offering.

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