Berean cogitations

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Why are some megachurches closing for Christmas?

In case you haven't noticed, Christmas will fall on a Sunday this year. A Yahoo news story reported that some of the largest churches in the USA will be closed on that particular Sunday. Why? They expect that attendance will be down, since many will choose to spend that day with their families and friends instead.

One such congregation is Willow Creek Community Church. Their spokesperson, Cally Parkinson, 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?"

To be fair, at least some of these churches will be having other services in the days before Christmas. For that reason, I think it would be unfair to say that they're abandoning Christmas altogether. Nevertheless, I have some reservations about this gambit, and here's why.

The implied message

For one thing, I'm concerned about the message that these churches send to their communities. The churches are moving their services to accommodate their churchgoers' desire for family gatherings and other non-worship celebrations. Isn't this rather like saying, "Look, your family gatherings are more important than gathering for worship on this blessed day. We'll move our services so that you can have your festivities"? (Mind you, I'm sure that these churches would never say such a thing. However, I do fear that this message is implicitly communicated in their actions.)

Is this concern unduly harsh? I don't think so. After all, what if the occasion were Superbowl Sunday instead of Christmas? If a church can only meet in the evening, should it move its services so that its members can watch the Patriots beat up the Eagles? After all, the Superbowl can be a valuable time of bonding for the family. Would it be right for the church to bend over backwards so that families can watch the Superbowl without guilt?

Some would ask, "Well, how do you know that these families won't be worshipping at home instead? After all, worship doesn't have to occur at church." Well, it's true that worship can be done anywhere, but remember... my concern is about the message that is implicitly communicated by this shift in service schedule. Moreover, I think this objection is a bit naive. I don't want to be excessively judgmental, but let's face it...if a family decides to skip church on that particular Sunday, how probable is it that they'll decide to worship earnestly at home instead? It doesn't seem likely to me.

Moreover, if a family wants to spend time together on Christmas, then what better way than by worshipping the Lord and hearing His Word? After all, it only takes a couple of hours or so out of the entire day. Gift-giving and family visits can wait... or then can be done earlier, instead. Heck, if the church can adjust its schedule, then surely most families can adjust theirs as well.

The mission of the church

I'd also like to revisit the words of Ms. Parkinson. She said that our mission is to reach the unchurched, and if they won't show up on Christmas Day, then they may as well keep their doors closed. With all due respect to Ms. Parkinson and Willow Creek, I think her comments reflect a misunderstanding of the church's role in society.

First, I don't think that evangelism is the sole purpose of the church! I don't even think it's the main purpose. What about worship? What about exhortation? What about the training and education of believers, to name a few?

In fact, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) doesn't specifically command evangelism. Rather, it commands the church to "make disciples of all nations"—in other words, to form faithful, obedient, dedicated and knowledgeable servants of the Lord. Evangelism is undeniably important, but it's still only a small part of the entire discipleship mission.

Moreover, the burden of evangelism does not rest solely on the church body. I believe that if a church truly wants to convert people to Christ, it must diligently train its members in the knowledge, wisdom and love of the Lord. If properly discipled, these people can then venture into the world carrying the good news of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, if the church sees itself in a strictly evangelistic role, then discipleship must fall by the wayside, and its people will be poorly equipped to convey the salvific message of the Lord.

(As an aside, I think this illustrates the danger of placing excessive emphasis on church attendance numbers. Remember, our goal is to merely to proclaim the Word and be faithful servants of God. If this will produce converts and church growth, then so be it! However, church growth itself should never be our primary concern. Church growth must always take a backseat to faithful, accurate proclamation of the Word.)

Those are my thoughts on this matter. Mind you, I'm not saying that these churches are not acting with honest intentions. That's really not my place to say. However, I did want to voice my concerns. In closing, I'd like to urge everyone to read their Bibles on December 25th, attend church, and put the CHRIST back in Christmas!

I also recommend the commentary on this issue at the STR blog.

"The Chronicles of Narnia" movie -- SPOILERS

This afternoon, I got to watch The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The movie was wonderfully done. The acting was excellent, the special effects were magnificent, and the production was faithful to the original work. I think that Clive Staples Lewis would have been proud.


Aslan died. Only for a while, though.


The movie was entertaining, but it was also filled with theological insight. Topics such as redemption, forgiveness and Christ's propitiation were evident, as they were in the original book. Oh, and in case you missed it... Narnia's elusive nature -- the fact that one cannot find it by looking -- represents God's grace, his unmerited favor.

Much better than Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, in my judgment. For more details, I recommend the STR blog entry on this movie.