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Megachurches canceling services today?

Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?

Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.

Let’s unpack this

In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

Read the rest at the New York Times (Here’s the article Gavin linked to in his tweet)

Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.

For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.

In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.

After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.

Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.

Read the rest at Christian Post

For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.

To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.

Two different worlds

We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.

Why?

The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30

Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.

This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.

We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.

Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.

Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a

In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.

No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

46 replies on “Megachurches canceling services today?”

Adam, I think you are spot on, but yet, way off! (Saying this with a smile in brother/sister love in Christ.) Let us think of this: I believe some churches DO need to take a day off after Christmas! Humm, but off of what? Off of PowerPoint, lights, flowers, decorations, media clips, flash, dash and all that stuff that completely exhausts the people on a Sunday morning. I have been caught up in this sick cycle of “doing whatever it takes” to reach the lost, but honestly is it? I am a performance driven person, so this disease speaks to my flesh! Let us imagine this: Imagine walking into a church on a Sunday morning, no PowerPoint, no scripted, canned bought sermon, no coffee, donuts, matching signs for the themed series, no bulletins, no props to go with the theme, just Jesus! Imagine JUST like Jesus did in Luke 4:14-21 the pastor walks up on the stage, is handed a “scroll” and reads the Word of the Lord, rolls up the scroll and sits down!!! Imagine!! God’s Word and God’s Word alone. THAT my friend is radical, it was the best method for Jesus, but not good enough for us. Sadly we would not be satisfied with “just” that, we weekly have to “liven” up God’s Word and make it relevant to today’s world, really? His Word has more power than ANYTHING this world can offer, nothing can touch it, but think of this…….the LEAST amount of time is spent in it or on it on a Sunday morning. See, we DO need a day off of our human efforts, God commands it, that’s why these churches do need a day off, too many human efforts. I’m not judging, I speak for myself and have to check myself on a daily basis to my human desire for mind-blowing performance. I am just saddened that the enemy can get his hands on any of this. I pray for the church, there are many faithful, loyal followers of Christ leading them, we just need to be reminded that our vision can easily be clouded and distracted………a fighting of the flesh daily!

Preach it. Come to our church. We have the worst performance in town. Instead, we try to focus on what’s important.

I don’t think all of that crap reaches a single person. I’ve rarely heard someone say, “Wow, that kick butt transition between worship and the sermon… that lead me to Jesus.” But I’ve often heard people say, “Wow, someone from your church invited me over for supper after church and said I could join their family. That’s just what I needed.”

You make a great point … but you’ve hit the wrong gospel. These churches are not preaching the gospel of convenience, but the gospel of consumption and privilege. Those pastors do need today off to be with their families, or rather their families need them … because they haven’t seen them all month. That is what is wrong. That these men are so focused on their jobs, that their wives are widows and their children are orphans. My family (even extended) is less than 100 people. A large family would be about 150. When a church gets too much larger than that, it is no longer a family, but a factory.

Adam, on the money bro. We are not a mega church, but we held service today and had a pretty normal size crowd for us. (300+)

Will be interesting to see what happens next year as Christmas is on SUNDAY.
We are having service that day BTW.

Chris

I’m just having a hard time getting upset about this. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a congregation to decide to not meet for a week if they decide. Many of these same churches hosted special Christmas services that ministered to lots of people, many of whom rarely attend church. Where you see a hole in their gospel, I see a rearranged schedule. Is it really that big of a deal to move your services back a couple of days?

Upset? Nah, I just think it’s silly (and dishonoring to those want to meet and can’t) that some churches put on a good show for Christmas eve (not biblically mandated) and can’t bother to show up for church. (biblically mandated)

It shows how far from reality some churches are. There is an old youth ministry adage that you will keep people with what you reach them with.

I’m thankful my church had a toned down Xmas eve service and a normal service today.

Exactly.

If you evaluate the issue based on clear biblical mandates instead of cultural expectations or emotional pleas, I’m not sure why it would be wrong to cancel the Sunday morning gathering one week of the year.

I suppose a proof text for it being biblically mandated for the church to meet each week would be Hebrews 10:25. You could imply it is the churches role is to keep the habit going of meeting together.

Probably lost here is the main point of this post. Isn’t it disheartening that the world is offered two perspectives on “church” on Christmas.

1. Lift up the Iraqi church, which is facing severe persecution. Even the Pope mentioned the Iraqi church from his Vatican message. People are willing to give their very lives to meet together.

2. Big churches, fresh off of massive attendance at their Christmas Eve celebrations, couldn’t be bothered to even open their doors.

And ask yourself, which of these juxtaposed articles best represents the New Testament church? The one of suffering or the one whose belly is too full to even hold services?

Obviously the persecuted church has more in common based on the description you just offered. Of course, using similar language, even the most staunch and demanding American church comes off unbiblical simply because their lives aren’t be threatened.

I don’t agree that the world is offered two perspectives. And to state the obvious, if there were only two options, even if you met today and had to sit on the floor with the power out…you still have more in common with the mega-church than the persecuted church in Iraq.

When you talk about mega-churches “exhibiting the hole in their Gospel,” that’s really strong and divisive language. And if we continue down the path of feeling guilty over comforts in light of the persecution around the world, we’ll very quickly find a lot of fingers pointing at ourselves.

I guess I just don’t feel as strongly about it as you do. It’s a little strange to me, but at the same time there is the reality they they are pulling off a lot of extra services during that time, so it’s not like people are spending less time in church that month. Farther in the article I thought one of the pastors made a great statement addressing that there is still weekly things happening, just not services on Sunday morning:

“The North Point director rejected the idea that not holding Sunday service for one day out of the year would hinder the church’s mission, pointing out that the church has over 12,000 adults in small groups throughout the city every week. “Those are really ongoing expressions of the body of Christ,” he said. “It’s not just Sunday to Sunday. Small groups are allowing the church to be the church in the community every week.””

Clearly, I disagree with NP’s decision. And it’s sad to see that other churches, who look up to them as an example, followed suit.

The good side of it is that this allowed tons of families to check out churches who are likely closer to their home. (Don’t even get me started about their bridge building…)

You’ve definitely opened up a can of worms! Or we’re all still on vacation and playing around on our laptops too much. Either way, my thoughts got too long so I blogged them instead of replying. : ) I’ve enjoyed the internal debate I’ve had for the last couple days.

Thanks for your post! I had not heard of the “canceling” of services, but I am continually frustrated by churches changing their worship times. My husband and I are looking for a church home and the church he wanted to attend this morning has a sign out front that reads “9:00 & 10:30” worship times. Luckily, I looked on their website and it showed Dec 27 was a combined service at 10:00 am. As a visitor, how would I have know if I had not checked the internet? The church I worked for in a neighboring community combined their services this morning also. However, there was no mention on their website. If you didn’t go there regularly or get their newsletter (in the mail) you would not have known of the change. This is very “visitor UN-friendly”.

Personally speaking, I’ve worked for churches. And if someone needs a week off (including the Pastor), they take a week off. The staff is shuffled around or a guest speaker is brought in – you don’t close the doors to take a week off.

A note about next year – as I said, I have worked for various denominations and it is a hoot to hear people when Christmas falls on a Sunday. “You want us to come to church on Christmas morning? But our children are opening gifts – how can we expect them to stop having fun and go to church?” — it’s very interesting! Again, thanks for your post!

How is spending time with your family taking the Sabbath off?
When was Sabbath redefined as “Going to church on Sunday morning?”

@sean- first, welcome to my blog. second, your comment proves how new to my writing you are. (My fault, not yours.) I should have linked to this post in reference to the Sabbath. http://adammclane.com/2010/11/09/sabbath-breakers/

One thing I faced as I wrote this morning is that I knew the post was already a little on the long side, if I took the time to re-explain what I meant by sabbath and why it seemed some churches wanted their cake and to eat it too… I would have lost people.

The concept of not having church on Sunday was so foreign to me that I had to research it! I like that I’m naive in that regard. This breaks my heart. I have more and more times that I look around at American and think “What a bunch of spoiled brats we are.” We have so much privilege here and no appreciation.
This breaks my heart.
Well, said, Adam. Well said.

Adam,

I’m torn by this post. I think that you’re simply addressing a symptom…the real problem is the lack of value that we in the West place on the weekly gathering of believers. It’s just not important enough.

This is unfortunately what happens when Sunday church services are are viewed as nothing more than a place to learn about how to be a better ______ (you fill-in-the-blank), as opposed to a place where the gifts of Christ are distributed to the spiritually sick, a place where the dead hear the Words of Christ and are brought to life out of their death. Where people are given words that point back to themselves as their strength to make it another week instead of the consolation that comes with hearing that we are indeed sinners and there is the forgiveness of sins available through Christ because of what He done on our behalf.

Adam, i just wondered about yours and others’ opinions on smaller churches (100-300 people) canceling. When a mass of people are absent from attending a small church it can dramatically change the service.

Next year is going to be the real discussion. Christmas is on a Sunday!

Well, I think my opinion is pretty clearly stated!

Our church met yesterday. (I think we have about 200 regularly, about half or so yesterday.) It was a pretty normal service. We had a few less band members… but other than that, we’re already scaled back!

We combined Christmas eve services with another small church in our neighborhood… since we rent space, we met in their place. It was pretty basic and completely wonderful. We sang some Christmas hymns, read some scripture, shared some testimonies… and then rocked a potluck.

I do think a lot of smaller churches copy larger congregations. They look up to North Point, Saddleback, etc to see how to handle these things.

Don’t get me wrong, I think people deserve a day off. I just think it exhibits a horrible form of leadership to assume that because the big dogs need a day off we can’t even have church!

I would imagine most churches will meet on Christmas. It happened just a few years back. I remember the debate coming up… I know in our church in Romeo we had a Christmas eve service and came back in the morning for a quick/short service.

Let’s not forget…. taking the Sunday off means going without an offering. And not a whole lot of churches can afford to do that.

Adam, i don’t agree with so much of this. In brief: weekly church meeting are tradition. We could meet 2x a week or better yet, daily like acts 2. So claiming moral high ground on not canceling or moving a service is ridiculous. Also, when a “mega church” holds 2x their normal services on a week and decides to cancel their weekend slot, this has zero to do with condumerism or the persecuted church. Also, every church, including those in America- can and should be both counter cultural and relevant. How one does this, regardless of church size is contxtual in every church ethos. Ok, that’s all for now.

Adam, I agreed with so much of what you said, but referring to Exodus 20 and the whole Sabbath discussion was off-point. As Christians, we are not commanded to keep the Sabbath. As Paul said, “Let no man judge you in respect of meat or drink or new moon or sabbath or holy days” (I’m quoting from memory, so it’s probably not exact). Every day is holy. So, if we choose to worship on Christmas Eve and not on the Sunday after, that is not a big deal. However, I totally agree with what you said about the commentary that makes on the American church and on the Gospel of the American church. It is possible to look at it that way, but you would have to know the intent in each cancellation in my opinion. Adam, I say this humbly, but you are not a pastor on a church staff. To tell you the truth (and it may be telling on myself–that’s OK), it was extremely difficult to get up and go do it all again just a couple of days after the biggest church event of the year. Now, I did. And we had a meaningful service. And I did not once consider canceling. But it was mind-numbing. What I wish is that I had gone to just one service (instead of 2) on Dec. 26.
“Take time off to spend with family…” I admit that sounds weak, but have you ever talked to a pastor’s kids who complained that dad or mom always drags them to church and always has time for the church and not the kids? Maybe canceling the services was a witness to a pledge to save the families and marriage of the staff.
Maybe canceling the services also showed that this (these) megachurch(es) weren’t taking themselves too seriously as the saviors of the world.
If I understand correctly, we are talking about a church where Reggie Joiner (oops I mentioned a name) works, who is a tremendous advocate of family ministry. I think I would have asked him what thinking went into the decision before I blasted his church.
As I said, I do agree with the whole in the Gospel thing. And I would encourage everyone to look at Frank Viola’s post about that over at http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/whats-wrong-with-our-gospel

When I was living in France many churches didn’t have a service on Christmas Day? Which is worse – cancelling the Sunday after Christmas or not even having a service on Christmas Day?! I generally went back to the UK for Christmas and went to several services in Christmas week – I’m a Christmas carol junkie, which made Christmas this year a little hard for me since our West African church doesn’t sing carols. In principle I think it’s great that they don’t sing translated songs and write their own to their own style of music, but I did miss my carols! However, they did meet on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Sunday and then all ate together on Sunday evening – I guess they hadn’t had enough of being together yet!

This is an interesting issue. I guess it depends on your view on what ‘church’ actually is.
For me the sunday service is a celebration of what goes on during the week, a time when the whole community can come together and rejoice. Sharing stories and giving thanks as a group. The real ‘church’ happens everyday.

So in believing this, I think that if the so called megachurch is cancelling that celebration, then that is not cool. It is a vital part of life together and something that cannot be just removed. If the celebration was ‘moved’ then that works.

Oh and I see the Iraqi church as an inspiration, an encouragement. A way for us to see how easy we have it and how little we do about it. That just pushes me to chase after God in a more relentless way.

Adam,

Thank you for your P.O.V. I am new to your blog and just wanted to extend the conversation a bit. You have a great statement in your original post: “we are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans.” Here is the point of conversation I would like to extend and then connect it back to the idea of closing church on Sunday. In Acts 6:1-7 it discusses this very concept. Here the complaint was that the widows were being neglected and there needed to be something done about it,and verse 3 indicates how the church worked through it: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may appoint over this business” (NKJ).
Is it possible that churches of any size have a difficult time “releasing” the “big” events to others within the church? Have we as pastors (myself included) become so tight gripped in our ministries that we have forgotten the power to “seek out from among” so “we may appoint” others over various areas of ministries? Does the lead pastor or the staff have to be present at the Christmas Eve and the following Sunday morning service to validate the meetings as a “service”?
I would hope in any congregation that there would be enough relationships made between the staff and church members that we would know who we could call upon to assist with back to back services. If we as a church are unable to do this then are we truly making disciples? No matter what the size, I would be confident that there are people who would love to help take on part of a service every once and awhile to alleviate possible pressures on pastors and staff members who are pouring themselves out to ensure service are available every week. So my biggest concern isn’t with churches closing down on a Sunday following a Christmas Eve service, it is about churches not creatively using the pastoral staff, support staff/volunteers, and congregation members to ensure that the church will keep their doors open for those wishing to attend a Sunday morning service (or switch it to Christmas Eve service) when they are back to back.

Ty- thank you for your wonderful comment. I believe, as you have stated, that shutting things down shows exactly what you mentioned. You put it much nicer than I did. 🙂

Last week I wrote a post called, “Rejecting the priesthood of the staff and reaffirming the priesthood of all believers.” http://adammclane.com/2010/12/20/rejecting-the-preisthood-of-the-staff/

Sadly, I am afraid that in many congregations that bigger is still viewed as better. And leadership is seen as what you do instead of where you lead people.

It’s my prayer that this discussion helps open eyes to the reality that we must change. We simply cannot continue on the path we are continuing…. we continue to spend more money to reach less people! I’m no deconstructionist… but the writing is on the wall. It’s time to reconstruct churches in a way where the leaders lead and success is measured by our ability to replicate ourselves.

Apples and oranges.
So, American churches can’t ever exchange Sunday morning worship for Friday night worship because the Iraqi church is suffering? Huh???
Your tone is very harsh and judgmental. Your logic is weak.
Obviously Sunday (which, by the way, is not synonymous with the Sabbath) worship is a 100% non-negotiable for YOU. That is great – live by your convictions – just don’t take cheap shots at those who think otherwise – that is definitely violating Scripture!

I did not call you any names Adam. Read my comments again more carefully. I called the tone of your writing harsh and judgmental. I also said your logic was weak. Are you so closely identifying with your writings that a criticism of your content or tone is called name calling?
Guys like you taking cheap shots at other ministries and pastors behind the safety of your keyboard angers me. I think my anger is justified and not sinful. If you go public with your rants – then expect to be challenged. You pulled no punches in your writing your opinions so I didn’t think I needed to temper my thoughts either.
You do not need to worry about visitors at my church on Sunday mornings Adam – I talk real nice to them – unless they verbally attack other believers – then we show them the exit!

Dave- please, enough with the name calling. You commented back by accusing me of more things. Really? Maybe you should check your tone?

I did read your comment several times. And even in this reply, I’ve gone back and edited myself several times. I’m trying to respond to you the way I’d want to be responded to.

If you don’t like what I’ve written, you are welcome to argue your points. (See comments above.) But calling my work harsh, judgmental, “hiding behind a keyboard,” is name calling. Would you like me to visit your church and say those words about your sermon? It’s really the same thing.

How is my logic weak? In what ways am I being judgmental? How am I being harsh towards churches who canceled Sunday morning? Let’s talk with civility in the way we’ve both been educated.

I do want to point out something. You are judging me based on a single post. I’ve written on this domain (hardly hiding if it’s my name, don’t you think?) for 6+ years. There are 4000+ posts here.

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