By: Dr. Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition
I hope it’s not too late to make you reconsider your decision to cancel church on Christmas. I know that December is crazy busy—for you and for everyone else. I know you probably have Christmas Eve services, maybe even one that bumps up against midnight. I know that families like to gather Christmas morning to open presents. I know that many of your people may be traveling, and others won’t come to church on Christmas after coming on Christmas Eve. I know that canceling church for one Sunday will not send all your people slouching to Gomorrah. I know that getting volunteers for the worship team, and for the sound system, and for the nursery may be challenging. I know that you’d rather not have to work on Christmas when you already had to work on Christmas Eve. I know that you may have places to go and family to see. I know that when Christmas falls on Sunday it’s an all-around big pain (why couldn’t Leap Day do us a favor and skip over this problem?!).
But don’t do it. Don’t cancel all your services on Christmas. Scale back on the nursery perhaps. Take the week off from Sunday school. Make things closer to an hour than to an hour and a half. Skip the life groups or even the second service for a day. But don’t close the church up on Christmas.
Do you need reasons? Here are a few.
1. Most people will come back. Even if half of your people don’t show up (and I imagine far more than half will be there), that’s still a gathering of 25 or 50 or 150 or 400 or 1,200 people. In most churches, most of the people will still come to church on Christmas. And let’s not kid ourselves to think that we can encourage everyone to have a meaningful, thoughtfully prepared do-it-yourself service at home.
2. Visitors will be looking for a place to worship. Family members from out of town, neighbors, non-Christians, twice-a-year churchgoers—they may venture into your church on Christmas out of habit, out of curiosity, or just to hear some Christmas songs. Will anyone be there when they show up?
3. Family is a gift, not a god. I love, love, love waking up on Christmas, doing the Advent wreath with the kids, having a big brunch, and opening presents with the family. Yes, it will be hectic to get everyone out of the house for church (thank you to my wife!). Yes, it will mean a delay in all the normal festivities. But maybe the normal festivities should not be deemed more important than the Festival itself. I want my family to know that we rearrange our schedule for corporate worship; we don’t expect corporate worship to be rearranged for us.
4. It’s Christmas for crying out loud! It’s the day we celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the Messiah, the entrance into our world of the second Person of Trinity. Don’t we want to sing? Don’t we want to celebrate? Don’t we want to preach and praise and pray?
5. It’s Sunday for crying out louder! I don’t have a problem with Advent and Christmas. In fact, I love this time of year. I’m not a huge church calendar guy, but I’m not bothered by focusing on the incarnation once every twelve months, especially when the world around us may, by God’s kindness, be tuned in to some of the same spiritual realities at the same time. But I’m enough of a Puritan to think that December 25 is Sunday before it’s Christmas. It’s the Lord’s Day. It’s a resurrection morning. It’s the day on which Christians have gathered for 2,000 years to sing the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments. It’s the day of the week given for rest and worship. Why would we cancel church on Sunday just because that Sunday is extra-special?
Maybe you’ve already printed the Advent schedule. Maybe the plans are already set. But it’s not too late to change your mind. Will your church’s ministry crumble without church one Sunday? I doubt it. But might it say something good and healthy about your convictions and priorities if you gather for corporate worship on December 25 just like you do every other Sunday? Something to think about.
Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, Council member of The Gospel Coalition, and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte).