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Convenience and the Church

I've been thinking a lot about convenience lately. And I've been thinking about Church on Christmas Sunday this year. A lot of people have been posting about it - Ben Witherington and BroGreg are just two. Apparently, the idea of churches closing on Christmas of all days is such good news that it has made's front page - story here. (thanks for the heads up Mom.)

The conversations about churches being open for services or not ask questions about convenience. Should the church try to be convenient for people? Or should the church push to be counter-cultural and sometimes, then, non-accommodating? Or something in the middle?

These questions don't just apply to Christmas services, but to the life of the Church as a whole. This Christmas, we've moved our Christmas Eve late-night service an hour earlier, and our Sunday morning service an hour later, in an effort to both give people some family time and get them to church on Sunday morning. But I admit, I'm highly skeptical about how many will show up. Who wants to go to church on Christmas? Can we expect people to be there?

At my church, we've added a Saturday evening worship service - a second service. I like the service - it is small, and somehow more contemplative - 'contemporary' yet quiet. Relaxed, and spiritual. But I'll admit, one of the major factors in starting a second service wasn't because our Sunday service was busting at the seams - we started the Saturday service to offer a convenient time for folks to come to worship. People kept telling me reason after reason of why it was inconvenient to show up for worship on Sunday morning. I wanted to eliminate at least that variation of excuse from the rotation of reasons for not coming to worship.

The church has such an image problem - so many people see it as not welcoming, as judgmental or hurtful or abusive. So, sometimes I think it doesn't hurt for the church to accommodate people's needs, to draw them in, to get them connected, and to keep them in a place where they can slowly but surely be challenged into a life of discipleship. But when do churches cross the line and try to make it too easy, too convenient to claim faith?

What do you think?


Jason D. Moore said…
As for the Christmas issue, I remember in past churches where my dad served and Christmas fell on a Sunday we would certainly hold the regular service. There would be some changes to accommodate the need for family time - for both the congregation and the parsonage family - such as making it a bit earlier, combining the 9:30 and 11 o'clock services, allowing people to dress more casually (even inviting people to come in pajamas one year), and making the service a touch less formal and maybe even a little shorter. In their own way, services like these that were a little less traditional set them apart all the more.
Kari said…
We've been talking about this in our church too. We went back and forth whether we should have church on Christmas Day. Finally, an older member said, "how would it look if we didn't have worship on a Sunday." It would look bad that we didn't have worship on Christmas Day just because it was inconvienent and we wanted to sleep in. So, we're going to have an informal service that day - maybe a reading.

Bemidji UMC, Minnesota
Unknown said…
Last year, knowing that Dec. 26th would be a low attendance Sunday, I planned a service led by myself, the Head Deacon and his wife (who never miss church and love leading in worship) and my children. We had readings about Christmas and I delivered an abbreviated message. I didn't stand in the pulpit; everything took place among the people, as if we were having a special family holiday celebration. And of course we sang carols.
This year we will do something similar, with the addition of sharing Communion by intinction. My kids are older (19,15,10), and there was some minor balking over the idea of church on Christmas morning, but I said, "Where else should we be on Christmas Day?"
Greg Hazelrig said…
Well, you know what I think because you read my post. I do, however, appreciate your perspective on how we accomodate in other areas such as having a Saturday service. And I can see being flexible. I am pretty lenient in my thinking about how to provide easy avenues for the unchurched to visit our church.

But lets look at being closed on Sunday Dec. 25th in this perspective. Say you have someone who doesn't go to church decide that Christmas would be a good time to start...or someone is out there going through a difficult Christmas season because they don't feel loved or don't feel as though they have anyone. In a last ditch effort they decide maybe this church thing may actually be what can make a difference in their lives and they decide to come on the most depressing day of the year...only to find the doors closed to them.

Now I may sound dramatic. But if there's only one person that happens's one person too many.

And oh...btw...Thanks for mentioning me in your post.

In the love of Christ,
maybe here's a thought. are we counter cultural when we live in a Christian state, where a holiday that is based around the Christian calendar (i say this as the late night shopping days are not set for the 7th night of Chanukah). would it be more likely that we hold up our faith even more as the culture celebrates with us. so bring on the "you can't be serious" comment

thinking of service saturdays, could accomodations be looked more as to providing a sabbath for people? in increasingly busy lives, instead of framing making accomodations, we are working to allow sabbath time. so with that said, bring on the "they just go to soccer/nfl games on sunday anyways" comments

just some thoughts
John said…
I think that my church isn't having services on Christmas morning, so I'm going to find another for that day. Maybe the local Church of God or Free Methodist.
Randy said…
I agree with you, Beth, that our churches ought to focus more on hospitality and making people feel welcome. In my opinion, we should do everything we can to make it easy to participate in the life of the church. And that certainly means being as accommodating as we can be. I'm not talking about accommodating the values of a Godless culture, but rather accommodating to their needs. We have to meet people where they are.

I don't really see the decision not to have a worship service on Christmas morning as capitulating to a Godless culture. I see it more as an acknowledgemnet that most of us in the Church would rather worship on Christmas Eve and stay home in our jammies with our families on Christmas morning.

Here's how I handled it. I simply said something like, "If you want to stay home with your family on Christmas morning, please feel free to do so without feeling guilty. But remember Jesus. Maybe this would be a good time to start a new family tradition, like reading the Christmas story from the Bible, or singing carrols together, or even joining hands and praying together. Enjoy your time as a family. But for those of you who do want to come to Church, we will be having a small and informal service at 11:00 that will last about half an hour."
DogBlogger said…
On the same topic, a friend sent me to this video recently. I believe his subject line was "When Church Marketing Goes Horribly Wrong":
DannyG said…
As a healthcare professional I'v worked every other weekend and every other holliday for the last 25 years. I appreciate the opportunity to go to church when I can. As I usually work 2nd shifts and get off at 2300 (as long as the helicopter hasn't brought in someone too interesting in the last little bit). Being able to go to a real midnight service at Christmas is a treat. I just don't get as worked up about the whole thing. I go when I can, and try to make up for it when I just can't. (e.g. last weekend...saturday night I didn't get off 'til about 0130....just didn't wake up to make services sunday). I try and make up by going to the hospital chapel as I can, or to one of our weekday services. Our church is having 3 saturday services and a Sunday evening service..which I think will both honor God while recognising the special nature of the day/weekend
Dr. Tony said…
What I liked about the report in the New York Times was the following:

Willow Creek will provide a DVD for that it produced that features a "heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale". New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has a streaming video of their services and they expect that people will gather around the computer on Sunday morning to watch the services with their family on Sunday morning.

I made a few other comments on my site -
Conrad said…
Where I attend church we always have sevices on Christmas Eve & Christmas Morning. I always go to one or the other, wether Christmas falls on a Tuesday or Sunday.

I do not see why a church would change when Christmas falls on a Sunday.

In my area it seems that the churches that are canceling Christmas Sunday services are not ones that usually have Christmas services anyway.

They are also the ones that say that Methodists & Episcopals are not biblical. Oh Well.
LutheranChik said…
I'll tell you a story: Once upon a time I took what I call a Christianity vacation. Lasted a couple of years. When Christ finally pulled me back into the faith, I was gun-shy about going to church again; I don't know why, but I was. Anyhow, the very first church I walked into was on an Easter Sunday. It was a church in a different denomination than mine, in a different community. I took my widowed mother, who had stopped going to our family's church for a number of reasons. It was a different, more casual, worship experience than what I was used to, and there was no Communion, which I missed...I felt more like a tourist than a worshipper...but it was still a good experience. It paved the way for my coming back to the Church for real, and bringing my mom with me.

I wonder what would have happened had we gotten to that church and found the door locked, with a sign saying that it was closed so that families could have more time for Easter dinner.
Anonymous said…
Honestly, I'll be glad when Christmas is over and this topic has gone away...but I will say that I would love to be able to go to church on every Christmas Sunday, not just when it falls on a Sunday. But MOST churches are closed every other Christmas morning, so I guess I'm one of the few who doesn't understand this controversy.
Would I be upset if my church closed, yeah a bit, but I would consider it a time to visit another church. I enjoy seeing how others worship. I love the varied traditions and styles. Makes me realize how unique God has made us all.
I do have to say this is one of the less venomous blogs on the topic I have read.
I think it is possible to debate without condemning.


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