Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Silent Night I Understand, but Silent Morning?

Some Megachurches Close for Christmas - How do you like that for a title? I'm not making it up. Look for yourself at the link. How can it be that some of the super-sized churches in the land are closing their doors on the biggest Christian holiday?

To try and understand a confusing turn of events, I've tried to outline the logic for you below:

1) Megachurches have church services for the unchurched. This comes straight from the horse's mouth, as Cally Parkinson, spokeswoman for the megachurch pace-setting congregation of Willow Creek Community Church, 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. Did you get that? In case her tongue-twister passed you by, what she is saying is that church services are for the unchurched. If that is still confusing, I'm sorry, but it only gets worse (By the way, notice she is a spokeswoman. Is this a cabinet level position with the Pastor?).

2) The unchurched would not turn out significantly enough on Christmas Sunday to make market resources worth expending. Ms. Parkinson (Blogger's note: I'm really not trying to pick on this lady, as her position as spokeswoman for Willow Creek means she has to be an extremely nice lady. To see that other trendsetters are doing the same, Andy Stanley's North Point Community Church is also closed for Christmas. ) said further that church leaders felt that it would not be an effective use of church resources to hold Sunday services on December 25th. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday in 1994 "only a small number showed up to pray." See, it's the numbers that help us to start making sense of this. This simply would not be "an effective use of staff and resources" says Cally.

3) Thus, therefore and consequently, management notes that church will be closed for Christmas so families can spend time at home together for the holidays. Another megachurch spokeswoman, Cindy Willison of the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said "at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend." Thus, they won't be open for Christmas so they can enjoy the holiday with family. If this sounds much like an announcement from some major corporation like Wal-Mart, now you know where these guys are getting their ideas. Someone else before me has called a megachurch a "Wal-Church."

So there we have it - churches closed on Christmas. So though you still may not understand them, at least now you can understand my blog title. Some other fun titles for this blog would be:

  • I'll be Home for Christmas
  • Since We Have No Place to Go, Let It Snow
  • O Stay Home All Ye Faithful (or should it be Unfaithful?)

Can you add your suggestion to the list?

But I need to get to my real point. To be honest, as a Reformed Presbyterian type, Christmas on Sunday poses a problem for us as well. Believing that the Bible does not teach us to honor Christmas as a special holy day (where we get the word "holiday" from, by the way) and holding that we are only to do that in worship which God's Word commands, we can feel a bit awkward when normally churched, or unchurched people for that matter, show up Christmas morning. People come expecting special sights, but we do not have trumpets, Advent wreaths, manger scenes, etc. They may want to sing Silent Night but instead hear acapella psalm singing. Not following a liturgical calendar we may not even have a particularly Christmas-y homily. Might it be to our advantage, to increase Reformed profit and market share, to close our doors as well?

Well, that's where we must revisit the first assumption the megachurches make as outlined above. The church services are not for the unchurched, nor are they even primarily for the churched. First and foremost, the service is for God! By virtue of His Son being raised from the dead on the first day of the week and God's command to make this the true "holy day," we are invited to gather to honor our risen King each and every Lord's Day or Sunday (for the Biblical rationale, see Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith). Though many of our Christian brothers view December 25th as a special holiday, and it is not my point here to criticize them for it (Romans 14:1-5), in fact we should see each first day of the week as a holy day. Those truly familiar with the Christmas story should know that the Lord who was born in an obscure carpenter's family, who was lain in the dirtiness of a manger, and whose birth was announced only to lowly shepherds, is not all that interested in pomp and ceremony nor mass marketing. Rather, where He sees the humble of heart seeking Him in word and prayer, that's where He will reveal Himself as Immanuel - God with us. On each Lord's Day we should want to be with God in His assembly, because He desires to meet with us.

So this December 25th (and December 11th, 18th, January 1st, Super Bowl Sunday, etc...) let's go eagerly to the house of the Lord. If other assemblies choose to remain at home, people want to open presents or watch TV with their families, or visitors are not all that impressed with our simplicity in worship, what's that to us? We have an engagement with the King. Let us humbly seek to honor Christ with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.


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David Hanson said...

Twas the morning of Christmas and all through God's House, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. The hymnbooks were left in the pews with care, for all of God's people were seeking Blessing elsewhere.

Andy Stanley said...

Hi Barry,

Since you linked us to the discussion I thought it would be appropriate to chime in with a bit of explanation. Our decision to close the building on Christmas morning has nothing to do with attendance. I made that decision as an employer. I didn't want to ask my incredible staff to work on Christmas day.

We have cancelled services on the Sunday following Christmas for ten years. I guess for some we are trend setters. For others, heretics.

Barry York said...

Greetings Andy!

It truly is a privilege to have someone of your stature leave a comment on my blog. I feel honored and do thank you that you were concerned enough to write.

Please just note two things. First, though I certainly referred to you and others as trend setters, there was nothing in my article that I see that implies I am calling you heretics. To critique a trend among fellow believers that I perceive as being unfaithful to the commands of God's Word to assemble each Lord's Day is a far cry from calling someone a heretic.

Secondly, you said you made this decision as an "employer" for "my incredible staff." I do not doubt that the people on staff at North Point are incredible servants and deserving of honor. Yet Jesus called the church "My church" (Matthew 16:18) and Sunday is the "Lord's Day" (Luke 24:1; Revelation 1:10). The intent of my article was to call people to honor God's Word above man's holidays or man's words.

Jason Camery said...


You asked if we could add to your suggestions for titles, so here is a couple:
Do you hear what I hear? No, I am at home!
Away in our Homes (Manger)
We wish you a merry Christmas, as you sleep in.
The 13 days of Christmas
Deck the Halls "of our Home"
The Pastor got run over by a Reindeer
It came upon a midnight clear,that church had been cancelled
Over the River and through the Woods "Past the closed church"

Keep the good work!


David said...

Jason, sarcasm about another church is not very wise, especially on a blog.

Anyway, it is strange that they're closing their doors on a Sunday Christmas. It seems that people would be more likely to go to Church on Christmas. Is there an stastics on this?

Anonymous said...

Wow..Thats really Leaving Christ out of Christmas...And By His Own People???

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