By David Whiting
David Whiting serves as one of the Executive Consultants on my team at Vanderbloemen Search Group. Before coming to Vanderbloemen, he served as Lead Pastor of Northridge Church in Rochester, NY, one of Outreach's 100 fastest-growing churches. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from his time at Northridge, and he often provides the Vanderbloemen leadership blog with unique perspectives on church leadership. I'm honored to have him as a guest blogger on LeadingSmart! -Tim
Every few years Christmas falls on a Sunday. And when it does, debate and strong words are commonly exchanged amongst church leaders about whether or not to hold Christmas services on Sunday. Usually those words are lobbed through social media and are filled with pride and indirect (or direct) condemnation toward the other side.
I think the reasons churches hold Christmas services on Sunday are good reasons. And I think those who don’t hold Christmas services on Sunday have good reasons as well. And I wish both sides would slow down to more clearly hear and understand each other.
The reason a church does and doesn’t hold Christmas services likely says a lot about that church. And understanding those differences may help both sides be more gracious with the other and more clearly define their own mission and purpose.
Those Who Held Sunday Services on Christmas:
· Your church is likely made up of a majority of people who grew up in church. They grew up understanding that Christmas is ultimately about Jesus – so what better way could there be to celebrate Christ than to gather together on Christmas morning? In fact, to those who grew up in Christian homes centered on Christ, it often seems unimaginable not to go to church on Christmas Sunday.
· Your church longs to help parents train their children to know that Christmas is truly and ultimately only about Christ and that He takes priority over everything – even our normal Christmas morning traditions.
· Your church likely considers Sunday as The Lord’s Day and a day that is distinct and special from every other day. It is the day our Lord was raised from the dead, and gathering on Sunday follows a 2,000-year tradition of people devoted to Christ.
· Your church is likely not a “seeker” church. You probably aren’t seeker-focused, but you may be somewhat seeker-sensitive. You want lost people to come to church, but they are not your focus or priority on Sunday morning. Instead, they are the target of the members of your church as they live through the week. Their primary goal is to come to church to be encouraged and challenged, and then to go out into the world and witness for Christ.
· Your church is more focused on the church family than on excellence. Excellence is great, but it isn’t the end goal. And Christmas Sunday morning will be less attended and you will be missing some key volunteers who won’t be there, but you will be together as a church family and forgiving of some of the holes that are created through a lack of volunteers on that day. And it actually is healthy for your church to sense the smaller “family” feel on a special morning like Christmas Sunday.
Those are all good reasons to have church on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday.
Yet those who cancelled church on Christmas Sunday can often look with pride and condemnation at churches like this as being legalistic and out of touch. I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased with them.
Those Who Didn’t Hold Sunday Services on Christmas:
· Your church is either filled with people who came to Christ as adults or your church is intentionally targeting those who don’t yet know Christ or are young in their faith. And since your targets for Sundays are those who don’t yet know Christ or are new to walking with Christ, you deal with this reality: almost none of them will show up on a Sunday morning for church on Christmas Sunday. So these churches are willing to move their services to times that their target (unbelievers and new believers) will show up.
· Your church loves Romans 14:5 which says, “5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Your church takes that verse seriously and you may feel condemned by those who don’t like your decision to move your services to Saturday and early in the week, and you may feel tempted to be prideful as if the other viewpoint is ignoring these verses.
· Your church is likely a seeker church or a church that focuses on new Christians. If you tried to hold services on Christmas Sunday, you would struggle to staff every volunteer role – from greeters to band and production members - and Christmas Sunday would end up being a less-than-ideal service to worship the Christ of Christmas. So, you’d rather have one of the two most special services on days when all volunteer hands can be on deck.
· Your church wants your people to be intentionally pursuing family relationships to bring them to Christ. And if they have had decades of Christmas morning traditions, missing those traditions with non-Christian family to go to church might give feelings of frustration toward those Christians. So in light of Romans 14:5, why not change the service times so Christians can fully participate in family traditions and so non-Christians and new Christians will more likely participate?
Those are also good reasons to not have church on Christmas when it is a Sunday. Yet those who had church on Sunday can look at churches like this as not having their priorities right and too focused on lost people or excellence. I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased.
To conclude, there are three things that I wish both types of churches would do:
1) I think both sides should intentionally stand down on condemnation and dial back on strong rhetoric.
2) I think both sides should be clear on their mission and purpose, and they should pursue that mission to God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of all people everywhere.
3) Finally, I think both sides should carefully read and apply Romans 14 when it comes to the decision of whether to have church on Christmas Sunday or not.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
Whatever your viewpoint on this, have good Biblical reasons for what you do. Don’t simply do something out of guilt, tradition, pride, convenience, or the desire to be “cool.”
6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Recognize that those churches who made a different choice than you are doing it to and for the Lord. Be careful about judging their motives or the results.
7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Each of our churches belongs to God. Let’s be gracious with each other and focused on Him, not on what we think other churches should or shouldn’t be doing.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Our role is not to judge those who make different choices on this matter, but rather to focus on having a clear conscience before God in what we choose for our church. When the day comes that we stand before God, we will give an account to Him for the choices we made. And He won’t be interested in hearing your condemnation of another group of church leaders who chose differently.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another
May all of God’s churches take this command seriously and pray for each other more than we evaluate each other.
16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.
Church, pursue your mission and purpose and do it so well that others can’t speak poorly of what you are doing.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Eternity is too long and hell is too hot for us to fight about such things. There are differences of opinions, and that is fine. Can we assume the best about each other? And can we attempt to see why another church made the choice that it made? Let’s be at peace. Let’s pray for each other. And let’s root for other churches to WIN! Again, may it all be for God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of us who get to serve Him.
One Last Note:
From experience, I know this is a hard decision to make. I was the Lead Pastor at Northridge Church for over 15 years, and six years ago, Christmas was on a Sunday. We held three Christmas Eve services and one service on Christmas morning. They were identical services. We didn’t feel we could do an excellent Christmas Eve service and something entirely different on Christmas morning. And in our culture, we didn’t think people could come two days in a row at the Christmas season. We are a church filled with many newer believers. We thought giving people options that best fit their schedules (or even convictions) was best. So it was four identical services – three on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas morning.
We discovered that a vast majority of our Sunday AM attenders were staff, elders, and our key volunteers who always are willing to help get things accomplished. I am sure we had as many staff, elders, and volunteers serving as we had attenders that morning. We were a church filled with many new Christians, and since there was a Saturday night option (when even a non-Christian culture is used to attending a Christmas Eve afternoon or service), it became the primary option. And therefore, Sunday morning was the smallest attended of the weekend.
So when it came around this year, a lot of discussion went into it. What is best?
This year, Northridge Church didn’t have church on Christmas Sunday. What will we do next time? I guess we will all find out in December 2022.
Until then - let’s be gracious to those who choose to do it differently than we did.
-- David Whiting