(WSJ Houses of Worship) David Gibson: No Church This Sunday””It's Christmas

Every few years Christmas is on a Sunday and suddenly believers face a dilemma: Stay home hanging stockings and opening gifts, or upend those cherished domestic traditions and go to Sunday church services. That is, if their church is even open.

Nearly 10% of Protestant churches will be closed on Christmas Sunday this year, according to LifeWay Research, and most pastors who are opening up say they expect far fewer people than on other Sundays. Other reports suggest that churches across the board are scaling down their services in anticipation of fewer worshipers.

“We have to face the reality of families who don’t want to struggle to get kids dressed and come to church,” Brad Jernberg of Dallas’s Cliff Temple Baptist Church told the Associated Baptist Press. Similarly, Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va., is planning a short service featuring bluegrass riffs on Christmas music. “I’ll do a brief sermon, and then we’re going home,” said Pastor Mike Parnell.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church History, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

29 comments on “(WSJ Houses of Worship) David Gibson: No Church This Sunday””It's Christmas

  1. Catholic Mom says:

    So weird.

  2. Henry says:

    Sad to think any Christian church would cancel services on Christmas Day…we’ve always had services on Christmas Eve & Day, no matter what day of the week!!!

  3. Connecticutian says:

    I don’t think it’s weird or sad. We’re a small church (ASA 40) that worships in rented spaces. We’ll worship on Christmas Eve, which -for those who look at it this way – still “counts” as Christmas. It’s not good stewardship of our time (manpower needed to setup/breakdown a mobile church) nor our treasure (same rent whether 40 people show up or only the pastor.) Around these parts, the “C & E” constituency universally comes out on Christmas Eve, NOT Christmas morning, so there’s no argument to be made that we’re closing our doors to “seekers”.

  4. Saltmarsh Gal says:

    I understand this, however, it’s Sunday – The Lord’s Day- and a major feast, seems like it calls for Church. People at my little church have asked if we’ll be cancelling services on New Year’s Day. No.

  5. Hursley says:

    Of course the ancient (and at times, very much the normal Anglican) solution would be to have the main liturgy on Christmas Day. This is a Prayer Book-based practice… much more than the plethora of “Christmas eve” services being offered before the sun even goes down or it gets truly dark on the 24th. Those services and the sentiments accompanying them may in the long run be a greater threat to our Christmas observance than the “inconvenience” of the celebration of the Nativity falling on a Sunday.

  6. Cennydd13 says:

    The sun has been long gone down when we hold our Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. And we do hold Mass on Sunday, Dec 25th.

  7. Catholic Mom says:

    The weird thing is that they are saying that there will be FEWER people coming to church on Christmas, not more. I thought traditionally Christmas and Easter were the times that twice-a-year churchgoers showed up. This article is saying that regular-every-Sunday faithful Christians stay HOME on Christmas?? I could understand if they were saying that attendance is way down when New Years falls on a Sunday (as it does this year) because people have been up all night partying, etc. But people are so busy opening their presents they can’t make it to church? Sorry- to me that’s strange. In the Catholic tradition, I don’t care if there’s a blizzard and a three foot wall of ice at the end your driveway, the one thing you do on Christmas is make it in to church.

  8. Intercessor says:

    Vespers Saturday night-Divine Liturgy Sunday morning—Christ’s Christmas present to me.
    Thank you Lord…

  9. Jim the Puritan says:

    We probably spent an hour discussing this issue at the last session of the elders and pastors. Because of popularity, our church already puts on two “Christmas Eve” services the evening of the 23rd (tonight), and three services on Christmas Eve itself. We decided to cut down our Christmas Day services from three to one.

    But this time of year puts a huge strain on pastors and staff of our church. Just as an example, counting last Sunday (last Sunday of Advent), our senior pastor will have preached at 9 services in one week.

    The other issue is that New Year’s Day will also fall on Sunday. There we decided that we will have a full 3 services, although many churches are cutting back or canceling services on that day as well.

  10. Ross Gill says:

    We always have a service on Christmas Day so the thought of not having one never entered our heads. We are, however, forgoing our 9:00 service and having only our usual 10:30 Holy Eucharist. But we are doing something new here for the first time this year. Following the 10:30 service we are providing Christmas dinner for some of our people who live alone and for some less fortunate people in our community. We are expecting 70 to 80 people.

  11. Jim the Puritan says:

    #10 Ross Gill — That’s a great idea.

  12. Dcn. Michael D. Harmon says:

    Our church, being liturgical and sacramental as well as evangelical, is holding a Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols and the usual Sunday Holy Eucharist. This seems only normal and right. Sunday worship comes every Sunday, and that one in every six or seven years is Christmas is a feature, not a bug. But trying hard to put myself in the mindset of those who would stay home “for family” that day, I can only think that the mindset of “it’s for the kids” has overwhelmed or even supplanted the desirability (I would say the necessity) of regular Sunday worship. Perhaps — and only perhaps — it is an extension of the trend we see of sports teams scheduling games Sunday mornings and parents taking their kids to play rather than to church because the kid’s desires (or the parents’ desires for the kid) are deemed more important than other “optional” activities — and church is one of the options, not the necessary thing to do before almost everything else but a medical emergency.

    Whether that’s the reason or not, it’s still sad. And depressing. And teaches kids exactly the wrong lesson about life’s priorities.

  13. libraryjim says:

    Christmas Day services at [url=http://www.saint-peters.net/]St. Peter’s Anglican[/url], Tallahassee: 11:00AM.
    Feel free to join us.

  14. Scatcatpdx says:

    Yes I am bother by shunning what may be inconvenient. I am not surprised by American Evangelical Churches response., With the seeker sensitive movement caring more about the pastor’s vision and how to fill seats with the “Un churched” rather than feeding his sheep he in change of. How can the pastor not cancel church?

    I’m bothered even bothered by in a liturgical tradition, how we are caving to “kid friendly” convenience. I was raised an Episcopalian in the 1960’s and my mother did not though it was inconvenient for me to attend midnight mass. I remember it fondly and it was the only time while baptized but not confirmed was allowed to take communion. If the service was earlier, it was because the Army post chapel was not available for a midnight service.

  15. DeeBee says:

    FWIW – our parish holds a family-centric service 12/24 afternoon, a “midnight” service preceded by a concert 12/24 late evening, and a day service 12/25 morning. So, we will have a Sunday service, and the Saturday services fulfill the obligation (at least for the former Cats amongst us).

    On the Sunday after Christmas (01/01 in this case), we cut the early service and just have the late one. Abreviated L & C, 3 lessons instead of 9.

    Anyway – since we have a fixed schedule for Christmas services that doesn’t vary from year to year, we usually get under-attended Sunday services when Christmas Day falls on a Monday or a Saturday. Since New Year’s is on Sunday this time around, it should actually get a little better attendence than usual.

  16. TomRightmyer says:

    I’ve been serving as supply at St. Andrew’s Bessemer City, NC, since March, about 2 hours from Asheville, where I’m retired. We’ll have Communion at 7 pm Saturday night for about 30 but the congregation decided not to ask me to come down Sunday. When I was in full time parish ministry I always had a 10 am Communion Christmas Day but few attended.

  17. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    We had that debate at our Vestry meeting a few months back. I understand the argument both ways. Almost everyone will come to one of our two Christmas Eve services, which for us old school Anglo-catholics fulfills the Feast Day of Obligation. It is a Christmas service with a dispensation from the Bishop to have an early Christmas eve service so the toddlers and families with little kids can experience a Christmas eve liturgy without have to be up at midnight.

    On the flip side, it is Sunday, and I feel weird doing nothing on Sunday. I am doing a short said mass on Christmas day (always have) at the usual time. We may sing some hymns, provided we have enough parishioners show up to carry the tunes. Most people have told me they probably won’t hit up the morning mass, as they will be there Christmas eve for the Midnight Mass service.

    And, I am really okay with that as I understand it is asking a lot of families with little ones to go to Mass twice in a 12 hour span, when its basically the same liturgy in the morning again (minus the candle lighting, et al), particularly if kids are already wired from too much Christmas candy and presents and all from Christmas morning, particularly if they’ve already been to church the evening before to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity.

    There is also the factor of not burning people out on going to Church. You push too hard and the horse will buck.

  18. Canon King says:

    Every time Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, this issue arises, and every time it does, we have the same problem: People confuse two separate issues in each case using the answer that belongs to the other.
    The first question is: should we have a service on Christmas Day if we have one on Christmas Eve? (And remember, the Book of Common Prayer insists that Christmas begins with the first Evening Prayer on 12/25). If it is possible, of course you should. The ancient tradition is for three Masses: Midnight, Dawn, and Morning. This was restored in contemporary BCP’s with the provision of three sets of lessons.
    However, many of us can only staff one service on any day. With a small congregation, volunteer organist, few servers, etc. two or more services would simply be repetition for most present. Please remember the tradition of receiving the Sacrament once each day. So, while I could schedule two or three services, and have done so when the situation warrants, in my current situation, as in many others it would mean the most of those present — perhaps all — would not be able to receive Holy Communion at the second service.
    The second question is something like: How can you not have a service on Sunday? If you read the Prayerbook Tables of Precendence, however, you will see that Decemeber 25 and January 1 are NEVER Sunday liturgically. Those Sundays are always REPLACED liturgically by Christmas and Circumcision/Holy Name respectively.
    Therefore, the rule for services on those days does not follow the rule for Sundays but for Christmas or Holy Name. Which then, of course, returns us to question number one as the determining factor.

  19. Catholic Mom says:

    Any mass on the eve of a Sunday or a feast day counts as the mass of that feast day. Thus no Catholic would go to Midnight Mass (even said at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, provided the liturgy is the Christmas liturgy) and then go again on Christmas Day. Normally, you are not to receive communion twice in a 24 hour period except for a special reason (e.g., went to Mass on Sunday morning, then went to a wedding or funeral mass later in the day– which is another reason why these are generally not supposed to take place on a Sunday.)

  20. Hursley says:

    Very interesting responses. Yes, one may indeed have but one Eucharist for Christmas Eve/Day (three different celebrations are provided for in the BCP on that day), and it could be an “eve of” liturgy… as long as it truly was on the “eve.” And, yes indeed, it is the Church’s custom for the faithful to receive the Holy Mysteries once in in day (liturgical or otherwise), outside of the exceptions noted in #19. Christmas does take precedence over a Sunday, though this should be considered carefully, as being a Sunday it may be unwise not to have some sort of a liturgy offered on that morning at a church. The whole situation is analogous to Easter. In some parishes, the Easter Vigil far outweighs the later Easter Eucharists, and one could decide not to offer any other liturgies following the Great Vigil–but it could be very unwise as a form of mission.

    My thought about all of this, though, has to do with offering a bevy of pre-Christmas Eve services, replete with all the Christmas liturgical trimmings. I have recently heard about some churches which are offering Christmas services on the Sunday BEFORE Christmas, as a way to get some of the mob “processed” before the Big Day, and as a concession to travel. I guess it all seems too mechanical, too focussed on “getting the goodie” at the time folks desire. I am not saying that we need to be liturgical purists… but the consumer mentality knows no limits in our country, it seems. Churches far too easily become participants in the very culture they must critique with this.

    FWIW, our parish will have a rather simple service at about sunset for older people/a few of the young families/people for whom Christmas is an emotionally difficult time, then Christmas Eve Eucharist beginning at 11, and a Christmas Day Eucharist in the late morning. I know it is a strain on the rector and his family, but they have learned to structure the time before and after in such a way as to have traditions and rest that nourish their family life.

  21. Ian+ says:

    Potentially low numbers just don’t matter. Sunday is the day of resurrection, so early on the first day of the week we get together to read from the Apostolic writings, pray and break bread, no matter what. Some of this attitude, no doubt, is part of the Puritan legacy. They’re the ones who banned Christmas celebrations, as well as all other feast days, after winning the English Civil War. As a retired brother priest likes to say, “The Puritans have certainly done a number on us!”

  22. Cennydd13 says:

    Our family celebrates [b]all twelve days of Christmas,[/b] beginning Christmas Eve, when we all gather at our home before attending Midnight Mass. This Sunday, it will be Mass as usual, and yes, attendance may be somewhat lighter……we expect that……and our Coffee Hour will be very much a Holiday gathering……English-style.

  23. dwstroudmd+ says:

    Morning Prayer as AnteCommunion (1662)
    Athanasian Creed
    Gloria in excelsis Deo!

    assorted Christmas hymns a capella or chanted responsively

  24. LogicGuru says:

    So depressing: Christmas as family-ness; Christianity as an extension of “family values.” What happens to people who don’t have families–“all those lonely people”? Churches hustle to get those prestigious “young families,” cater for them, and don’t think it’s worth doing a service if they aren’t likely to attend.

  25. Cennydd13 says:

    We invite them to gather and worship with us, and we try to make them feel welcome, and for those who need it, we provide the transportation for them. Shut-ins? We visit with them, and let them know they’re a part of us. Seniors? If they need help getting to church, we pick them up, and we take them home. No one is forgotten.

  26. Cennydd13 says:

    We also have a cooperative program in town called Manna Ministries, by which various churches, including our own, feed the hungry and homeless every Sunday…..[b]Christmas included[/b]……and every church participates on a rotating schedule, with our church preparing the meals every fifth Sunday at our local Methodist church, which provides the facilities full-time.

  27. Cennydd13 says:


  28. Michael+ says:

    In our TEC church plant (a booming plant, if I say so myself), tonight we have 5:00 pm Rite II with a short children’s presentation as the Offertory and 9:00 pm Rite I (gettin’ all Old School). Christmas Day will be Rite I, spoken, no music; and our brilliant Children’s Minister scheduled a “Birthday Party for Jesus” on Sunday in place of Children’s Worship, sent out invitations, and has a giant cake. We’ll have, ohhhh, maybe 30 in Worship on Sunday (and I’m being optimistic here), but the RSVP list for the Birthday Party is currently running 40. Yup, we’ll have more people in Children’s Worship on Sunday than we will have in our main Worship service. I couldn’t be happier.

  29. Adam 12 says:

    I remember an old school Catholic priest (curiously he was named Father Pope) saying one Christmas eve what a pleasure it was that the Church allowed people to receive the Eucharist twice in these circumstances. Having had children and knowing the frantic emotions that go with opening presents Christmas morning after a sleepless night, I am sympathetic to those who just go once.