In 2010, LifeWay Research released a study about how Americans celebrate Christmas. While the secularization of the holiday season was evident in our findings (you can read about that here), there was another key takeaway, which was-- to some extent-- overlooked: Christmas is the true intersection of faith and family.
When asked about their typical household activities during the Christmas season, respondents indicated overwhelmingly that they participated in traditional family and religious activities.
Nearly 90% of respondents give Christmas gifts to family members, and 86% gather for a Christmas meal with family and friends. Eighty percent put up a Christmas tree in their homes, a task typically involving the entire family, and 81 percent agreed that "Family traditions are the most important part of Christmas to me."
When asked about the religious background of the season, 79% agreed with the statement "I believe Jesus is the reason for the season." Also, when asked if they encouraged belief in Santa Claus or Jesus Christ as savior during the Christmas season, 20% more respondents focused on belief in Jesus Christ as savior.
This intersection of faith and family should be encouraging for us as Christians. This data shows there is still a desire for family togetherness in our culture. So how do we as local churches respond to this? I see three main ways we can cultivate a healthy engagement with the Christmas season.
Churches Need to Preach Christ
While it is heartening that Christmas still has a place of priority in the wider culture, it almost goes without saying that the buying of gifts has a greatest emphasis-- having long ago passed the point of pure materialsim. If Jesus is to remain "the reason for the season," then churches must be the place continually pointing to Him, especially in our preaching. We must take caution that our Christmas programs, which many times are designed to draw unbelievers, are not so secularized that we obscure the message we are trying to convey.
Churches Need to Prioritize the Family
It may be that the reason churches struggle with what to do when Christmas falls on Sunday is because many of them wear families out the other 364 days of the year, particularily in December. Some people may be hesitant to attend a Christmas Sunday service when they already know time with family is limited- if you have a service, tell them why you are doing so on Christmas Day.
Churches Need to Emphasize Community Within the Fellowship
There is a deep-rooted desire for family and community in our culture, which is evident in the research. The local church should long to be a place of community for its members throughout the year. For believers and unbelievers alike who are looking for a sense of belonging and a community of support, they should be able to find it within a local church all year long, not just from their family around the holidays. And, for many who are hurting, Christmas is a time of loneliness when people are in great need of community.
I've touched on three ways that we can cultivate a desire for family and faith into Kingdom growth through the local church. What other ways might you have to accomplish this?