Mega-Churches Closed for Christmas
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
This year Christmas falls on a Sunday. Most churches will hold regular services that day, but some megachurches, churches with more than 2,000 members, have decided to cancel services. They're doing so in favor of a more non-traditional holiday observance. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR reporting:
Since several influential megachurches across the country announced plans to hold Christmas Eve services and cancel those on Christmas Day, comments and criticism began pouring in. Pastor Jon Neese(ph) of Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Kentucky, told his congregation last weekend that he received e-mails from every state about the decision. Neese also said most don't understand what the church does all year long.
Reverend JON NEESE (Southland Christian Church): Every hour of every day, you can find help and assistance and literally someone who will drop everything to be by your side. So to think that this leader and this brother in Christ is going to sit idly and quietly by and watch the media and a handful of misguided and jealous Christians bash the track record and heart of this church, you've got another thing coming. We were not fairly represented.
(Soundbite of applause)
LOHR: Some studies show that non-traditional megachurches that draw 10,000 people or more on a typical Sunday will attract far fewer people on holidays like Christmas. Still, Jerry Johnston with First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas, also a megachurch, says omitting Christmas Sunday service is a mistake.
Reverend JERRY JOHNSTON (First Family Church): Change happens very slowly, as we all know. Just the whole atmosphere of accommodation behind it concerns me, and it concerns me where it will lead.
LOHR: The megachurches have a huge number of staff and volunteers to help their services and operations run smoothly each week. Most have big-screen televisions, large baptismal pools and modern music selections. This Christmas, Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago's largest congregation, will also stay home. Church officials are handing out a DVD for families to watch together. In Atlanta, North Point Community Church, with 15,000 adults, has also canceled services on December 25th. But according to Steve Williams, a volunteer who spends much of every other Sunday at North Point, the church traditionally closes on the last Sunday of each year. This time it just happened to fall on Christmas.
Mr. STEVE WILLIAMS (Volunteer, North Point Community Church): It will not take anything away from Christmas for us because we will celebrate his birth on December 25th whether we're at home or at another church that is having services that day or with family or whatever. We will celebrate Christ's birth.
LOHR: Another megachurch pastor, Ted Haggard in Colorado Springs, will preside over Christmas Day services, but he understands why some others have canceled.
Reverend TED HAGGARD (President, National Evangelical Association): An average local church pastor is thinking about Mom getting up in the morning, trying to get the kids ready, Dad needing to be an usher, along with opening presents with the family, getting Christmas dinner ready. These local churches have just decided let's let everybody get together with their family and then we'll get together next week. The sky is not falling. The kingdom of God will move forward and life will go on.
LOHR: Pastor Haggard, president of the National Evangelical Association, says megachurches have prided themselves on being flexible and creative. He says perhaps they should have come up with a Christmas morning pajama service so people could have opened their presents and come to worship just as they are. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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