On December 9th Fox News reported that several of America's largest churches would be closed on Sunday, December 25, explaining those sites would offer Christmas worship services only, on Friday and Saturday the 23-24. Jack Hayford, president of The Foursquare Church and former megachurch pastor (The Church On The Way, Van Nuys, Calif.), was asked his feelings about this.
What are your thoughts in view of the announcement many find surprising, that some Christian churches are closing their doors on Christmas Day?
Foremost, my thoughts are of being equally surprised, although I am not unsympathetic with the dynamics that have tempted some church leaders to make this choice. Having pastored for over 40 years, I’ve faced the decision the peculiar timing of this year's calendar brings to the Christmas weekend. When Christmas comes on Sunday, at least in our tradition, the majority of worshippers by far prefer a Christmas Eve occasion. Though the weekend is well attended, the Sunday morning attendance at a church which also offers Christmas Eve gatherings will pale by comparison.
Then you have utilized this schedule before and closed the church on Sunday?
No. In fact, there are several reasons I wouldn't consider that. As a megachurch we would reduce the number of Christmas Sunday worship times, balancing with the increase of Saturday's Christmas Eve services.
Megachurch leaders have explained that staffing Sunday morning events was impractical seeing a reduced number of volunteers would be available.
I understand completely. But a reduction in the scope or structure of a service is not difficult where creative leaders are involved. I can’t see anything that would make a "chapel-style" service either less worthy or less meaningful--and it would certainly be far simpler to offer... in fact, affording a simplicity not inconsistent with the remarkable simplicity with which Christ entered the world in the first place. Just yesterday I heard of a pastor who at first was going to cancel Christmas Day services, but changed his mind, saying, "As I reconsidered, I decided to simply have a single guitar, invite the singing of both traditional and contemporary songs of the season, encourage worshippers who would to share expressions of gratitude to God for the gift of Christ--and then read the Scriptures along with a brief meditation.
Would you see this as preferable?
Quite frankly, I see our responsibility to provide Christmas Sunday services as infinitely more than "preferable." I see it as a mandate--especially this year--2005!
First, I have pastored too long to not be aware of the fact that there are always people who want to worship on Christmas Sunday and who cannot attend Christmas Eve services. Further, I also have learned that no matter how thoroughly we may announce a schedule change, there are always people who have not heard or registered those facts. Consequently, referencing the question at hand, I guarantee there will be people who arrive at the megachurches mentioned and who will be disappointed--if not dismayed--to discover closed doors. There may not be many, but - and I can't express myself strongly enough in this regard--the Church doesn't exist to serve a given quantity of people, nor to serve its own convenience of schedule or program. We exist to serve people--individuals, each of whom are of value and each having personal and spiritual need for shepherding.
What did you mean by "a mandate --especially this year"?
In America, Christmastime 2005 has underscored a national debate on the question of how we designate the holiday season. The issue of "political correctness" has, to the view of hosts of social observers, reached a point of ludicrousness when "Merry Christmas" is challenged or disallowed as a fitting greeting. I have been refreshed to see the rise of increasing numbers of non-Christians who have risen to defend the legitimacy of our Christian traditions, as well as their willingness to support the propriety of "Merry Christmas" remaining acceptable, respectable and appropriate to the season--everywhere. Thus, given this issue's prominence, it seems short-sighted to me that any church would not be open on Christmas Sunday. It certainly doesn't seem to be a time for Church leadership to appear to waffle on the day's importance in the eyes of today's society.
Would you have any comments regarding your own denomination's stand on this?
It isn't my prerogative to make official statements on such matters, in behalf of all our faithful, local church pastors. At the time I heard the news report on this peculiar choice by some megachurches, I will confess to thinking, "What a waste of the huge influence they have." While not feeling critical of friends I have pastoring in such venues, I do feel the decision is, as I said, short-sighted. Insofar as my hopes are concerned, however, I would hope two things concerning our Foursquare churches--and for that matter, for any church anywhere: 1) That if an announced closure has been made that a reconsideration will result in, at least, the "chapel-service" type offering creatively developed by the pastor mentioned above; and 2) That for all time, a Foursquare church would as a general rule, never be closed on a Sunday, short of any reason less than a natural disaster or impossible weather circumstances.