Sunday, January 01, 2006

O Go All Ye Faithful

Via the Pub Philosopher comes news that several evangelical "mega-churches" in America didn't open their doors on Christmas Day. This story got a lot of coverage in the US blogosphere, but I didn't really see anyone in Britain comment on it (funny, especially given the hostility of the anti-American left towards the religious right). As a primer, I suppose, here are a number of links to blog pieces - Psychobilly Democrat, Mere Comments, the CNN news site, theEclecticSoul, and Challies.

The thing that struck me most of all was the way that the megachurches had assimilated the language of big business into their public relations:

Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources.

These megachurches are not alone in adjusting Sunday worship to accommodate families on Christmas.

She said many of the volunteers appreciate the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working, although she said a few church members complained.

Effective use of staff and volunteer resources? Well, if there aren't any services, there won't be any use of resources whatsoever. But "accommodating families" and "effective use of resources" sounds a lot more like a bank than a church, especially when Christmas services are concerned. We are opening an hour later on Monday mornings for staff training, to improve our service to you. A service you can hardly use is not improved.

Use of the language of business in this context worries me (even more interesting is the fact that many bloggers have argued that "if you don't like the decisions of your pastor, choose another church"). I would very much like to attend a service at a megachurch to see the difference between the largely charismatic nature of the worship there, compared with an Anglican set service. Yet I can't help but feel that if closing down church, not just on Christmas Day, but on what was a Sunday too, is considered a viable option, that the megachurches are performing the entertainment business of "religion lite". For the customers, it makes them feel better about serving God, but through an experience of community and happiness. For the church, on the other hand, megabucks are involved - which can then be used promoting the intervention of church in state.

For if the churches were really concerned about their outreach, then Christmas is one of the times that they really should be opening their doors. At my church, it is the Christmas services where you get the casual worshippers - those who want to bring their child to a Christingle service, or who want to join in with their favourite carols. And their celebration of Christmas (even if it is the least significant of the main Christian feasts) is the best time for the church to reach out to them - for it is the one time in the year they are actually thinking about the Christian message.

Far from being an "inefficient use of resources", Christmas is one of the best times of the year to attract new followers. Maybe it won't be as lucrative when you pass the collection plate. But if the concern of the church is about saving souls, not about pursuing a legislative agenda, then it's more than worth the investment.