A few CQ readers sent me a surprising story this morning regarding a decision by some “megachurches” to close their doors for Christmas. The AP reports that pastors at these large, non-denominational Christian houses of worship have decided that one of the more holy days for Christians should give way to secular celebrations instead:
This Christmas, no prayers will be said in several megachurches around the country. Even though the holiday falls this year on a Sunday, when churches normally host thousands for worship, pastors are canceling services, anti-cipating low attendance on what they call a family day.
Critics within the evangelical community, more accustomed to doing battle with department stores and public schools over keeping religion in Christmas, are stunned by the shutdown. …
Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said.
“If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?” she said.
Among the other megachurches closing on Christmas Day are Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky., near Lexington, and Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, outside of Dallas. North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., outside of Atlanta, said on its website that no services will be held on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, which also falls on a Sunday. A spokesman for North Point did not respond to requests for comment.
Given that the “war on Christmas” has been pushed by churches such as these, I find these decisions rather stunning. As a Catholic, my experience has proven just the opposite: more people show up for Christmas and Easter (the holiest Christian celebration) than any other time of the year. Closing the doors due to a drop in attendance on Christmas morning would never get consideration at a Catholic parish, nor I suspect at most mainline Protestant churches either.
If the remarks made by Parkinson are representative, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian mission by the megachurches. The point of operating a church isn’t just to convince the unchurched to attend — it’s to build and minister an entire community, including those who are “churched’ — to keep them in that status. In order to do that, the ministry has to take the mission seriously. What kind of message does it send when the church closes its doors and does not offer the opportunity for even a part of its community to gather and pray on one of the most holy celebrations in the Christian calendar? It sends a message that popularity trumps truth and secular concerns supercede spirituality.
It says, “We give up.”
I’m sure that the people who work at these churches want to spend the day with their families, and the lower attendance makes them feel that their efforts have less worth. That only remains true, though, if one considers popularity an accurate measure of the mission. Most churches do not — they understand that the mission requires churches and ministers to take a stand for the principles of Christianity, including the sacrifice for which it calls, of which attending a 90-minute service on Christmas historically represents the least of sacrifices made for the mission. Church doors should remain open to force sinners and the “churched” alike to remember this truth.
If Christian churches want to reclaim Christmas for themselves, then they need to literally show up to do so. Closing the doors is nothing less than surrender.