LEXINGTON, Ky. – Central Kentucky’s largest church will be shuttered and dark on Christmas Sunday, a move drawing some criticism among the faithful.
Southland Christian Church near Lexington is joining several evangelical megachurches across the country in canceling services for the holiday. Officials at the church, where about 7,000 people worship each week, said the move is designed to allow staff and volunteers to spend the holy holiday with their families.
The megachurches, which rank among the largest congregations in America, will hold multiple Christmas Eve services instead.
Among the churches closed on Christmas Sunday are Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area’s largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas.
Megachurch officials around the country consulted with each other before deciding to take the day off.
“It’s more than being family friendly. It’s being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy,” said Willow Creek spokeswoman Cally Parkinson.
The move is drawing mixed reviews. Critics say it’s the day of the week – not the day of the year – that’s sacred. To them, closing the doors of the church on the Lord’s Day is unthinkable.
Others are troubled by the holiday’s increasingly secular tone and lament the change.
Robert K. Johnston, a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., worries that another Christian tradition is fading.
“What’s going on here is a redefinition of Christmas as a time of family celebration rather than as a time of the community faithful celebrating the birth of the savior,” Johnston said. “There is a risk that we will lose one more of our Christian rituals, one that’s at the heart of our faith.”
The decision hasn’t generated much controversy at Southland, said church spokeswoman Cindy Willison.
“We’ve probably had maybe half a dozen (complaints), which is understandable,” Willison said.
Some churches are scaling down their Sunday schedule on Christmas.
Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church, where 18,000 people worship each weekend, is scheduled to hold one service on Christmas in the fellowship hall.
Tom Shaughnessy, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, said churches will be open because it is a holy day of obligation for Catholics, meaning attendance at Mass is required.
At least one other major Lexington congregation, Crossroads Christian Church, will close for Christmas.
Crossroads Pastor Glenn Schneiders says Dec. 25 is no longer considered sacred by many Americans – especially those who are not regular churchgoers.
“It’s viewed more as a holiday than a holy day,” he said.
Lexington Theological Seminary professor Bill Turner said some congregations find it tough to hold several Christmas Eve services, then turn around for Christmas Day services.
“You’re talking about a lot of volunteers and a lot of logistics to make Sunday happen in a lot of those megachurches,” he said.
At First United Methodist Church in Lexington, the pastor will perform a “blessing of the toys,” and the congregation will sing Christmas carols, church spokeswoman Marsha Berry said.
“Even if there’s a small group, we’ll be there to worship,” she said. “What better day than Christmas to experience God?”