While nine in 10 pastors plan for their churches to host Christmas Day services this year, there may be plenty of space in the pews for those who actually attend.
A recent LifeWay Research study of 1,000 Protestant pastors shows that 91 percent plan to have services on Christmas Day while 69 percent said they plan to host Christmas Eve services.
"Having church on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday seems as if it would be as much of a given as having Thanksgiving on a Thursday, but this has been an issue of discussion and contention in recent years," says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. "Also, just because an overwhelming majority of pastors think that way doesn't mean those in their congregations necessarily share their perspective."
According to a December 2010 LifeWay Research report, 74 percent of Americans agree (strongly or somewhat) that "Christmas is primarily a day for religious celebration and observance," yet 67 percent of all Americans also agree that, "Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ."
"Churches see these conflicting values and we wanted to know how many churches plan to conduct services on each day since that is also such a family day, particularly the morning," said Stetzer. Pastors were asked, "Christmas and New Year's Day both fall on Sunday this year. As a result, does your church plan to have services on the following days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day?"
Six percent of Protestant churches plan to have a Christmas Eve service but no service on Christmas Day. Twenty-eight percent plan to have a Christmas Day service but no service on Christmas Eve. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) plan to host both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.
Protestant pastors in the South are the least likely (62 percent) to host a Christmas Eve service compared to other regions. Full-time (71 percent) and part-time (74 percent) pastors are more likely to be planning a Christmas Eve service than bivocational or volunteer (53 percent) pastors. Pastors identifying themselves as mainline (87 percent) are more likely to have a service on Christmas Eve compared to those identifying themselves as evangelical (70 percent).
Nearly as many Protestant pastors plan to host services on New Year's Day (88 percent) as Christmas Day (91 percent). Far fewer are planning New Year's Eve services. By comparison, only 26 percent said they were planning for their church to host a Dec. 31 meeting.
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