By Bob Smietana
Lifeway News Office
Nearly nine out of 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as both fall on a Sunday, according to research from Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Research.
More than 7 in 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold Christmas Eve services. And more than a few will be open on New Year’s Eve.
“Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year especially at churches, with many churches having extra Christmas Eve services and special programs,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “If Christmas falls on Monday through Saturday, churches might be closed on Dec. 25 — but almost never on a Sunday.”
The Christmas season has become a major outreach focus for many churches, with more than half of Americans saying that they visit church for Christmas. Many of those who don’t usually go to church are open to an invitation during the holidays, according to previous LifeWay Research studies.
At some influential megachurches, thousands of visitors will flock to special Christmas events. In the past, that’s led some to cancel worship when Christmas falls on a Sunday.
But few pastors seem to follow their example, according to LifeWay Research’s phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors. Eighty-nine percent say their church will hold services on Christmas Day.
Leaders of Lutheran (94 percent), Church of Christ (93 percent), Baptist (91 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (91 percent) and Holiness (92 percent) churches are most likely to say their church will hold Christmas Day services. Pentecostals (79 percent) are less likely.
Small churches and large churches are slightly less likely to be open for Christmas.
Eighty-four percent of pastors whose churches have fewer than 50 attenders say their church will hold services on Christmas. So do 85 percent of pastors with more than 250 attenders. Among pastors of mid-size churches — those with 100 to 249 attenders — 92 percent say their church will hold Christmas Day services.
Pastors in the Midwest (92 percent) and South (89 percent) are more likely to say their church will be open on Christmas. Pastors in the West (83 percent) are less likely.
Among other findings:
- Two-thirds (63 percent) of Protestant churches will have services on both Christmas and Christmas Eve.
- A quarter of churches will have only a Christmas Day service.
- Eight percent of churches will have only a Christmas Eve service.
- One church in five will have services on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
- Two-thirds (65 percent) of churches will have only a Sunday worship service on New Year’s Day.
- Five percent of churches will have only a New Year’s Eve service.
- Almost 1 church in 10 (9 percent) will have neither.
Previous LifeWay Research found nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans say churchgoing should be part of Christmas. About 6 in 10 say they usually show up for a church service for Christmas. Among those who skip church at Christmas, 57 percent would accept an invitation to attend a service.
McConnell said the Christmas story remains a symbol of hope for many people, even those who don’t regularly go to church. The story keeps drawing people back, he said, because it helps them connect with the core message of the Christian faith.