Closing Church to Reach the Unchurched

Many churches across America have announced their plans to be closed on Sunday, December 25. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press made this news a national story this week in her report, “Some Megachurches Closing for Christmas.”

At the end of the day, the controversy over the propriety of such a move boils down to a dispute about whether the Bible prescribes Sunday to be observed as the Christian Sabbath. Since no church that I have seen wants to cancel services altogether (most will have Christmas eve services on Saturday), this doesn’t seem to be a question of whether to gather for worship, but when to gather for worship. So the question is this–Can Christians meet for worship on Saturday in lieu of regular Sunday services? The question becomes all the more controversial in light of the fact that the issue of the Sabbath has certainly not been a theological point upon which Evangelical Christians have had consensus. Some observe Sunday as a biblically prescribed Sabbath, and others do not.

Yet even if Evangelicals cannot agree on the propriety of observing Sunday as Sabbath, they certainly should agree that the matter ought not be settled by appealing to the preferences of people who aren’t even Christians! Sadly, this kind of agreement does not exist–at least not with those who have a more “seeker-friendly” orientation. As Rachel Zoll reports, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church said that “If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?”

This is the kind of statement that is common fare among those who have imbibed of the pragmatism of the church growth movement. Yet the notion is wrong-headed on a number of different levels. First, no where does the Scripture teach that the church should conform its worship practices to the darkened opinions of those who do not in fact worship her crucified and risen Lord. The church gathers to worship Jesus Christ, to make much of her Lord, not to bow to the unsanctified whims of those still in need redemption.

Second, since when has it ever been the case that the unchurched like to stay away from church on Christmas? Everybody knows that one of the only times the “unchurched” show up to church is on Christmas and Easter! So the spokesperson from Willow Creek has not only missed the point theologically, but also pragmatically. On her own criterion, the stated reason for keeping the church closed doesn’t achieve the goal it intends.

Whether churches meet for worship on Sunday or Saturday, may it be this Christmas that the Lord’s people will endeavor to be pleasing in all things to her Lord alone.

5 Responses to Closing Church to Reach the Unchurched

  1. jeff December 10, 2005 at 4:59 pm #

    I was always under the impression that the Sabbath law was fulfilled in Christ, thus we worship on the first day of the week as a kind-of firstfruits to Him.

    Personally, I’m not sure what Sunday mornings have to do with reaching the unchurched, in the first place. I thought that was the purpose of the christian in daily life…

  2. WLC December 10, 2005 at 7:09 pm #

    The Old Testament Sabbath was on Satuday. We are no longer under Old Testament requirements. The Apostles realized this, thus they made it their practice to meet on Sunday, the day of our Lord’s ressurection. It was only their practice to meet on sunday. We find no where in which the New Covenant tells us to Remember the Lord’s day, Sunday, and keep it holy by not working, getting rest, and keeping it for His worship. The Old Testament Sabbath is an exampel to everyone of God’s children to keep one day out for rest. I have a hard time finding in the New Testament stipulation, requirements, or commands regarding what day to worship. However, there are commands concerning when to worship or have church. We are to do it any time the church meets. So if your chruch is meet Saturday, Sunday or this Thursday you should go.
    I was really undecided on this issue for a long time, I’m still not sure I’m right. Does anyone agree or disagree with me and why?
    Wade+

  3. Mark December 13, 2005 at 5:28 pm #

    Leadership Blog Out of Ur has had a flurry of comments going on about this story.

    My church, Fellowship Church, will be closed on Christmas Day as well.

    I agree with the decision and look forward to being home with my family and close friends. My wife and I will attend and serve at one of the 11 other services FC will be having before Sunday.

  4. Mark December 14, 2005 at 12:00 pm #

    If, by chance, you haven’t had enough of this topic yet, (I am actually fascinated by it), and haven’t seen this blog yet, Internet Monk has a strong post about this subject, too.

  5. Wesley December 19, 2005 at 8:01 pm #

    Although I’m not a Sabbath-keeper in the OT sense, this just seems flat out wrong. I’m more against it for their reasons then anything else. Of all days to go meet as a Church body and worship is on Christmas (and Easter and any other major day of the Church year). I doubt those families that stay home will use that time to worship, and by worship I mean actually praise and glorification of the King who’s birthday they are celebrating, NOT drinking apple cider telling Christmas stories! And if they are going to have a family worship service, why not worship with the entire family, i.e. the Church?? Me thinks that some are too fast to throw away traditions for the sake of pragmatics, individualism and extreme lust for informality in society.

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