Pastor Chris Woodall enjoys Christmas candlelight and Christmas Day worship services, and based on attendance at those services, it seems members of his church do too.
“We have seen higher attendance for those services, with visiting family members and guests coming along,” said Woodall, pastor of Pinckard Baptist Church. “Those services are always sweet times of worship.”
The Christmas season is a prime season for church attendance. Traditionally, Christmas is the second highest attendance time of the year behind only Easter, according to a 2012 Lifeway Research study.
In 2014 and 2015, around 3 in 5 Americans said Christmas activities should include a visit to church.
Among those who don’t attend church this time of the year, 57% said they would be likely to attend if someone they knew asked them.
When Christmas falls on Sunday, as it does this year, church leaders know families will face conflicts with busy Christmas mornings and family traditions at play.
Jeff Gardner, pastor of Daphne Baptist Church, said in his experience, worship attendance is usually lower when Christmas falls on Sunday. Christmas Eve services on any day of the week present similar challenges.
“Christians have many different Christmas traditions, and so do their churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “The nature of those traditions varies by church, with some seeing attendance culminating in a special Christmas Eve service, others a Sunday morning service and others a special musical experience.”
McConnell said family and church traditions are most likely to coincide for Christmas Eve services, but churches that have established the tradition of a Christmas Eve service often report the event has become an important part of the season to church and community members.
Philip Morris, pastor of Chulafinnee Baptist Church in Heflin, said he’s always seen good attendance at Christmas Eve communion services, with church families bringing others who are visiting with them.
“It’s always a special time,” Morris said.
A Lifeway Research study found that about half of U.S. Protestant pastors (48%) say a Christmas Eve service is their church’s largest event during the holiday season.
Around a quarter (26%) of U.S. Protestant pastors say an event during the third week of the month is their top in attendance.
What’s clear is that churches see a variety of attendance patterns during the Christmas season.
At Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo, Mississippi, early December services see the biggest crowds.
“Excitement about the Christmas season feeds into the higher attendance in the first few weeks of the month,” said pastor Rob Armstrong.
Children’s events tend to generate a lot of excitement too. John Dobbs, pastor of Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana, told Lifeway Research his church’s Christmas Eve children’s program is their most popular Christmastime service.
“Since it involves very young children, it’s a fun production of songs and readings that center on the birth of Christ,” Dobbs said. “We had a large number of grandparents, parents and various family members who came last year to see the children participate.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was compiled from the work of Lifeway Research and The Alabama Baptist.