Compared to evangelical pastors, more mainline pastors report that Christmas Eve services draw the most attendees.
According to a recent survey, a majority of Protestant pastors draw larger numbers at events that are held earlier in December, but over half of pastors believe that Christmas Eve is the most popular Christmas event at their church.
The findings of a survey conducted by Lifeway Research of 1,000 American Protestant pastors regarding their congregations’ participation in Christmas events were made public. Christmas Eve services were listed by a majority of respondents (48%) as the “highest attended Christmas event” at their church in the survey, which was conducted from September 6 to 30. The senior or sole pastor of a church or a minister working there were participants in the poll.
On the other hand, just 7% of pastors surveyed cited Christmas Day services as their church’s “most attended Christmas event.” Twenty-six percent of pastors pointed to a Christmas-related event taking place in the third week of December as the most popular gathering at their church, followed by 10% who listed an event taking place in the second week of December. Six percent reported the highest level of attendance at an event in the first week of December or earlier, and 5% said their church’s most popular Christmas event occurs in the first week of January.
The survey examined differences in pastors’ responses to Christmas-related events at their church based on the region of the country they reside in, the denomination they belong to, the average attendance of their church as well as the pastor’s age, ethnicity, gender and level of educational attainment.
Christmas Eve services are the most popular Christmas event at their church, according to 84% of Lutheran pastors.
In comparison, only 7% of Lutheran pastors named a third-week-of-December event as their church’s most popular Christmas gathering. Significant percentages of Pentecostal pastors (45%), Church of Christ pastors (37%), and Baptist pastors (35%), named these occasions as the best-attended Christmas events at their churches.
Compared to 44% of their evangelical counterparts, 60% of mainline pastors said that Christmas Eve services were the most popular Christmas events at their church. Only 17% of mainline pastors chose an “event the third week of December” as their church’s busiest Christmas event, compared to 30% of evangelical pastors.
Similarly, 30% of pastors based in the South reported the highest attendance at an event in the third week of December, while pastors based in the Northeast (19%) and Midwest (12%) as well as those leading churches with less than 50 people (19%) were less likely to do so. With only 39% of pastors living in the South pointing to Christmas Eve services as their church’s most-attended Christmas-related event, pastors in this region were the least likely to have the highest level of attendance at such services.
Younger pastors were slightly more likely than their older peers to select Christmas Eve services as their church’s most-attended event. Fifty-three percent of pastors between the ages of 18 and 44 identified Christmas Eve as the most significant event at their church as opposed to 44% of pastors aged 55-64. Christmas Eve services were also identified as their church’s main Christmas event by majorities of white pastors (51%) as well as those with a master’s degree (58%).
Additionally, Christmas Eve services were more frequently cited as the main Christmas event by female pastors (55%) than male pastors (46%). Fifty-three percent of pastors of churches with between zero and 49 members selected Christmas Eve services as the most popular event at their church, compared to 44% of pastors leading churches with between 100 and 249 attendees.
Twenty-one percent of pastors affiliated with the Church of Christ selected an event taking place in the first week in January as the most attended Christmas event at their church, making the denomination the most likely to select an event taking place after Christmas as the biggest gathering at their church.
Larger percentages of pastors associated with the aforementioned denominations listed events taking place in the third week of December as the most attended Christmas-related gathering at their church, despite the fact that significant shares of Pentecostal pastors (18%) and Baptist pastors (15%) pointed to an event in the second week of December as their church’s biggest Christmastime attendance generator.
Lifeway Research’s executive director, Scott McConnell, issued a comment in response to the survey’s findings. ““Christians and their churches have many diverse Christmas traditions,” he remarked. For Christmas Eve services, family and church customs are most likely to align, but many evangelical churches report the highest holiday attendance earlier in December.