Saturday, December 17, 2016

We’re One of “Those” Churches

Every so many years December 25 falls on a Sunday.  Since I’ve been the pastor of Nags Head Church (1991) this makes the 4th time.  So, I’m no rookie at this!  My second year here Christmas fell on a Sunday, and I was the one who insisted we gather that year on Christmas day.  So, my family (with three under 10) and a few others came out.  It was the last time we did that!

The past couple of weeks I’ve read blogs imploring churches not to cancel services on Christmas day.  And the authors (mostly pastors) give some compelling reasons.  They’re just not compelling enough for us!  Like Elvis, we’ll be home for Christmas.  But, we’re not somehow ignoring or downplaying the significance of the Incarnation.

Our tradition is to have Christmas Eve gatherings every year.  In the past they’ve taken place in the evenings.  Last year we moved them to the afternoon (we do two), and our attendance increased by about 50%.  If it’s about reaching people (and I believe it is), that’s a good thing. 

But this year we’re thinking a bit more out of the box, radical or if you choose heretical. 

We’re moving our Sunday worship schedule to Saturday.  For those diehards who thump the “Sabbath” drum, there you go!  We’ll be worshiping on the Sabbath!  We won’t have any services in the evening or on Sunday.

As others have done in campaigning for Christmas services on Sunday this year, here are some reasons we are not, both practical and historical:

1. Ours is a pretty young church.  With right at 200 partners (our word for “members”) we typically have around 100 children (who are not yet partners) from birth through 5th grade in church every Sunday.  Having had three of my own, and now with four grandkids in elementary school, I understand how doing the Christmas morning thing with kids, then trying to get them ready to leave it all behind to go to a church service (that typically would be somehow scaled down…and for what reason?) isn’t a choice we felt necessary to put to our parents.  It’s like, “If you really love the baby Jesus you’ll get to church to celebrate”.  Really?  We’re calling ours a “guilt free Christmas weekend”.

2. We don’t typically have Saturday worship gatherings.  So moving ours this year to Saturday is kind of a unique thing for us.  And we like to do and try new things and change it up.  That’s part of our church’s culture.

3. This allows our folks (many of whom travel over the holidays) to take off earlier on Christmas Eve to get to grandma’s house…even in time, perhaps to go to a Christmas Eve service (double dipping) at her church!  They would not have been with us on Sunday anyhow.

4. We’re putting the word out every way we can in the community so those who are unchurched and are looking for a place to do a Christmas service will see what we are doing.  If it floats their boat, great!  If not, there are plenty of good churches around us meeting on Christmas day.  And that’s OK.  One of our values is to always expect the unchurched to be invited by our congregation.  By the way, we’ve been open every other Sunday this year (except when Hurricane Matthew visited)!

5. Paul’s cautions to the churches in Colossae and Galatia about legalism regarding “observing special days, months, seasons and years” reminds me that it is Jesus who is the pinnacle of our worship, not a date randomly chosen by someone we don’t even know.  We all realize that no one alive actually knows when Jesus was born, and that scholars tell us it probably wasn’t in December.  Maybe there’s a good reason the date of His birth wasn’t recorded.  So, does it really matter that we move it one day from tradition?  We’ll be worshiping the new born King with just as much fervor (and we’re counting on a bigger number of worshipers) on Saturday than we would have on Sunday this year.

Just as the bloggers I’ve read have refrained from casting judgment on those churches which choose a less traditional path to celebrate Christ’s birth (and I appreciate their grace), I have no issue with churches who will be open on Christmas day. 

It’s about understanding your church’s culture and your community. I’m certainly not one who believes God wants all churches to be the same.  So, whether your church gathers this Sunday, or gathers Saturday only or Saturday and Sunday, as long as Christ is the reason for our gatherings God is pleased with us.   

I wish you a merry celebration!