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Closed Doors on Christmas

I love the expression “ink has been spilled.” Unfortunately it is not entirely valid in today’s world in which most nonverbal communication happens in a virtual realm of fonts, screens and pixels. As far as I know there is no phrase that adequately replaces it (“keys tapped?” “pixels sent?”). So I will use it even though it doesn’t make perfect sense in this context.

In the past couple of days the blogosphere has been buzzing about the article first printed in the Kentucky Herald-Leader announcing that many of the megachurches in the United States will not be holding services on Christmas morning. “The list of closed congregations on Christmas Sunday reads like a who’s who of evangelical Protestantism: Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area’s largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas.” A whole lot of ink has been spilled (See? There it is!) discussing this. This news was greeted with outrage on two or maybe even three levels with some people protesting the cancellation of Christmas services and others protesting the cancellation of Sunday services (and some people, I suppose, protesting both).

As you might expect, I have an opinion on this matter. I am, after all, a blogger and opinions come with the job description. It was for a good reason that I posted this morning’s article (We Have Christ’s Own Promise, And That Cannot Fail) before this one. Sometimes I need to remind myself of my love for the church before I deal with such issues. I truly do love the church and I know that God is proud of her. But I suspect he is upset with many believers over this issue. This is much like my relationship with my children. I love them dearly, of course, but sometimes I am deeply distressed by what they do or say. Sometimes I am even ashamed of their behavior. This may just be an occasion where God is shaking His head in dismay as He looks upon the church.

This morning Yahoo news published an article which features a quote from David Wells. A similar article has since been printed on Fox’s news site. Clearly this story is finding a wide and a surprised audience among unbelievers. “This is a consumer mentality at work: ‘Let’s not impose the church on people. Let’s not make church in any way inconvenient,’” said David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Hamilton, Mass. “I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing.”

I agree with Wells to some extent but would like to add something else. First, though, let me express my agreement that the seeker-friendly megachurches do not in any way wish to inconvenience their target market. This is fed by a consumer mentality within the church that sees the unchurched as consumers who need to be led to accept the product offered by the church. Wells is also right in stating that this simply feeds the rampant individualism that is endemic to our culture. These churches have catered to that unbiblical, me-centered mentality. And it is a shame.

But I think there is a little more to the story. The churches that are closing their doors are, by and large, seeker-driven. The leadership of these churches have decided that, because of the incovenience of attending church on Christmas morning, most seekers will not bother making time for a church service. We see this in the words of Cally Parkinson, spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church. “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?” she said. If there will not be seekers in church on a Sunday morning, the leaders of these churches do not feel there is any reason to go through all the bother of opening the church doors. If a church’s philosophy of church is such that church services are viewed as being primarily for seekers and driven by seekers, there is little purpose in holding a service that only believers will attend. What we see in this decision is a clear manifestation of the ramifications of the seeker-driven mentality.

This takes us back to an article I wrote last week where I asked whether evangelism is the chief end of man. And it takes us beyond that to the question of whether or not evangelism is the chief end of the church’s corporate gatherings. This is a wide topic and one I will not address today. But suffice it to say that if the gatherings of the local church exist primarily for the benefit of believers, and I believe they do, churches that close their doors on Christmas morning have made a grevious error and have prevented their people from enjoying a morning of worship and fellowship before God. They have deprived Christians of a joyous time of rememberance and celebration.

Some will protest that services have been cancelled purely for reasons of necessity. “Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend. She said many of the volunteers appreciate the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working…” This is also a manifestation of a seeker-driven mentality which focuses on getting people through the doors of a church but does not adequately challenge them in the way they live their faith. Christians should be excited to worship God and should be willing to rearrange their Christmas mornings to accomodate the worship service. That so few people desire to attend church shows a critical illness within the body of the church. This is no excuse.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with rearranging services on Christmas morning. Many people are away from home and, as with any holiday, attendance suffers for good reasons and bad. A church can compress two services to one, cancel Sunday school or cancel an evening service. Those are all secondary issues that fall under the “better or best” type of reasoning. But to cancel church altogether simply to cater to the desires of unbelievers is a whole different matter. At the very least the pastors should be waiting by the door to greet those who arrive. Even if no one walks through the door, at least the pastors have taken a stand for what is most important to them and have modelled Christ’s own love for worship.

Here are some other articles on this topic: