By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
This year Christmas is on a Sunday, and this always brings about a dilemma. Should churches have regular worship when Christmas is on a Sunday? Questions like these don’t often come with simple answers, and I know pastors and church staff wrestle with what the right answer is. While the answer may seem obvious to some, the church should never close; that sentiment is not felt by everyone. Out of the gate, the first thing that needs to be clear is this is not a question of right or wrong but one of preference. I want to make sure that is off the table because you are not sinning if you don’t have a regular worship service when Christmas is on a Sunday. The only way it is sinful is if God tells you to do it and you refuse. Other than that, it is a matter of choice. Also, I write this as a person who has been in leadership in churches and just a regular member, so I have been on both sides of these types of decisions.
How often does Christmas fall on a Sunday?
You might think Christmas falls on a Sunday once every seven years, but that is not how it works. When you do the math, it does average out to once every seven years, but it does not happen precisely every seven years. Christmas falling on a Sunday follows a cycle that takes 28 years to complete. Here is how this works within this cycle (for all those non-math people out there I hope I don’t lose you with this). Christmas will fall on a Sunday in 11 years, then six years, then five years, and then six years. Since we entered the 21st century, Christmas has fallen on a Sunday in 2005, 2011, and 2016 and will happen this year in 2022. This year represents the end of the cycle, so after this year, the next time Christmas will be on a Sunday is 2033, then 2039, 2044, 2050, and this 11, 6, 5, 6 cycle will repeat itself over again. When you are deciding about having regular worship on a Christmas Sunday, you are making a choice based on an event that is only going to happen four times every 28 years. In other words, it is a rare occurrence. This does not answer the question should churches have regular worship when Christmas is on a Sunday, but it helps move us toward making a more informed decision about it.
Should churches have regular worship when Christmas is on a Sunday?
To answer this question properly, you need to recognize there are different types of churches. By different, I am not referring to denominations, but churches vary by size, the number of services, and by the times they meet for service. I don’t know what type of church you attend, but I am going to narrow it down to two types of churches; those that only have one service and those that have more than one service. I will also acknowledge some churches have a service on Christmas day regardless of what day of the week it falls on because it is part of their tradition. If that is your scenario, then you may find that what follows may or may not be applicable to you.
For churches that only have one service.
If your church only has one service, then it might be okay to have regular worship when Christmas is on a Sunday. However, this all depends on the time of day your regular church service begins. If it is a morning service, then gathering for a regular service will probably be fine. However, I know of churches that have their one service in the afternoon, and some even meet in the early evening. For these churches, even if this is your only service, I would consider not meeting for the regular worship service when Christmas is on a Sunday. Don’t worry as you keep reading, I will give you some reasons below.
For churches that have more than one service
If you have more than one service, then the decision is probably a little more challenging because you have more things to consider. I know of churches that have anywhere from two to five weekend services. In this scenario, I would not recommend going with the regularly scheduled programming. I would recommend you consider either not having any services or condensing them into one service for the Christmas Sunday.
3 Reasons why I would lean toward not having the regular service:
Now that you have heard my recommendation, let me give you three reasons to support it.
1. It's the perfect opportunity to give people a Sunday off.
With Christmas being on a Sunday, chances are the service is going to have lower than normal attendance. This doesn’t mean you don’t value the ones who decide to come, but since there is the reality of fewer people showing up anyway, why not take that Sunday to give people the day off? Your staff and your teams work hard all year long, and this is the perfect opportunity to allow them to take a break. They may not voice it publicly, but chances are they don’t really want to be there on Christmas day anyway. I am saying this as a person who has served in churches for more than thirty years, and these are the things I have heard people say, and I have even said myself. You might think this sound sacrilegious, maybe even blasphemous (unless you have said the same things), but if we are going to be truthful, this is how many people feel, and honestly, there is nothing wrong with these feelings. When you consider that most people who work secular jobs don’t usually work on Christmas day, it is okay to let your staff stay home that day as well.
2. Allow people a day to spend with family and friends.
Churches love to preach about the importance of spending time with family and loved ones, but they don’t always do a good job of practicing it. Some churches want you in the building all the time, and when this happens, church can consume every part of your life (I used to attend a church like that, so I am speaking from very personal experience). These churches leave the doors open (figuratively) and expect you to show up when they are open, even on a Christmas Sunday. They want you always to be engaged in some activity in the building, which many times puts a strain on family time, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe the more effective churches recognize the need for balancing fellowship with the body of Christ and time spent with the family because both are important. If Christmas falls on a Sunday, then let that be a family day and allow families to spend the day together. This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how much you value family time.
3. You can use other means to connect with people.
If you feel like you must connect with the congregation because it still, after all, is a Sunday, then why not get creative and find other ways to do it. If your church is online (which most are now) you can pre-record a service, or if you can’t pre-record, you can have a scaled-down service. This would mean you have one or two worship singers and one musician come to the church to lead a few songs in worship, and the pastor can preach a message which you can stream live online. This allows you to connect but also takes away the obligation of the congregation to come to the church on Christmas Sunday.
I will wrap this up by saying I know there are always circumstances outside the norm which can be the reason you may choose to have regular worship when Christmas is on a Sunday. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, you know your congregation, and you should choose to do what is in their best interest and not in your own. Regardless of which decision you make, everyone is not going to agree with it, but I am sure that won’t be the first time, and it definitely won’t be the last.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.