Pastors' Forum


Holiday Schedule

How does your church operate through the holidays? What kind of special events, services, or outreaches do you have? Do you typically eliminate certain services to give families more time together? What do you and your family do on a personal level to make the season special and to keep yourself rested?


Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Our December holiday schedule includes outreach and activities. People can get lonely in December so where we can, we schedule get-together fellowship events like craft making, Monday night football, etc.

Our outreach is based on using the Candy Cane story with our church information on tracts stapled to candy canes. We give them out dressed as Santa and his helpers. We’re in an area that is not very Christian, but we get mobbed at shopping areas when we hand out candy cane tracts as Santa! It’s really fun.

Personally, we go away at Christmas. That is when our family has a standard vacation to Florida every year. We always have done it and maybe we always will. You have to take a vacation at some point. With kids out of school, this time works for us. I know some people will think that’s the wrong time for the pastor to be absent. But that’s when we go. It keeps us sane, and we have a good staff.

We’ve kept our regular church schedule the same through the holidays.

Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
For the holidays, we have a Christmas Service the weekend before Christmas. It usually consists of singing Christmas Carols, sometimes a drama or a message about the virgin birth, etc. Our services are shorter to give families time to get to their family gatherings. We have three Christmas Eve Services—5:00 PM, 7:00 PM, and 11:00 PM—where we have singing, candlelighting, the reading of the Christmas story, something for the children, etc. (one hour in length). We have refreshments before and after the services like hot apple cider and cookies. In our Christmas Eve services we receive a special offering for the homeless shelters in our area.

As far as our personal family, we have family gatherings like everyone else and eat a lot of food and give gifts etc. Sometimes we will all go see a movie on Christmas Day.

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
Our midweek service is actually Thursday night, so on Thanksgiving, we do cancel the service. Before Thanksgiving we have some kind of fellowship meal where everyone brings a covered dish and we encourage them to invite friends to the meal.

We don’t cancel services if Christmas falls on a Sunday. Jesus’ birth is celebrated and we usually dismiss a little earlier than normal.

In years past we have had outreaches during the Christmas season. We have given out lots of toys and food during this time of year. This is one of my favorites that isn’t really understood until you stop and think about it. Lots of children in our area need to take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch program that the county offers in our schools. This obviously helps the families of the less fortunate. When the children are home for two weeks during Christmas break, this causes an extra burden in the ‘in-home’ grocery department. They are used to their children being fed at school and they may not be able to afford more groceries, especially at Christmas. We put an advertisement out saying “Need a Little Help during Christmas Break?” or something to that effect. Then we explained that if they called us they could come by for a few bags of groceries to help get them through while the kids were home. God is good. His wisdom surpasses all of our thoughts. This needs to be done all over the country. It is an opportunity to share the love of Christ in a tangible way.

This year we are sponsoring an event in the downtown area called The Amazing (G)race. It is a scavenger hunt that makes groups of teens stop at 10-12 different churches for clues, etc., and the churches have snacks and drinks etc., to bless the teams with. Every team member has to bring a toy which will go to a needy child. The teams can win a cash prize that has been donated by several individuals. It will have a Christmas theme.

As far as personally, our family will celebrate Christmas at our house. The morning always starts with singing Happy Birthday to Jesus. I am 47 and cannot remember a Christmas morning that I didn’t do that. It reminds us why it is a holy day (holiday). I hope this helps a little.

Pastor Loren Hirschy – Dubuque, IA
A few years ago I changed our approach to Christmas, and instead of viewing tradition as something dead and to be avoided, I began to lead us to develop, embrace, and enjoy the wonderful things traditionally associated with this time of year. Each year, we minister a series of messages leading up to celebrating Christ’s birth. This year, our series will be called Angels—Myths and Majesty. As message texts, we will use accounts of angelic appearances and ministry surrounding the announcement, conception, and birth of Jesus. The series will cover the nature and ministry of, and misconceptions concerning angels, while we build expectations for the celebration of Christmas. Each week we’ll also have some of our children involved with some sort of skit, song, reading, etc. On Christmas Eve we’ll have a candlelight service ending at midnight. It will be a warm and wonderful family season of inspiration and celebration.

Our Bible School students will have no classes after mid-December to free them to focus their schedules and minds on their families and the season.

Encouraging successful families is one of our church’s stated core values. So it will be accepted and celebrated as staff activities are adjusted around this holiday time. Some of our three children, their spouses, eight grandchildren and other family will be staying at our house—so we’ll lighten our appointment load, and shorten our office schedule to make margin for these blessings from the Lord.

The church office will be officially closed for the year mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and staff will work only on a “must-be-done basis.” The office will reopen at the normal time the first Monday of January. All staff are paid as though working during this break (as well as Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after.)

Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
For Thanksgiving we change our Wednesday mid-week service to Tuesday and have a special Holy Communion Service. We understand that many families are preparing Wednesday for Thanksgiving Day gatherings and this gives them more time to prepare. Also, they can enjoy the service without being distracted by thinking about other things they could or should be doing.

For Christmas we have a Christmas Pageant and invite family and friends of our youth and children to attend. We use this as an outreach to speak to the hearts of those who may not otherwise attend church. We also have a Christmas Eve communion service and celebration. We usually cancel the Wednesday mid-week service between Christmas and New Years to give families more time to be together and entertain family and friends who may have traveled a great distance to be together. Unless of course if Christmas Eve falls on a Wednesday.

For New Years Eve, we have a church dinner followed by a service emphasizing our need to be thankful for another year of life and to take spiritual inventory of ourselves to be certain we are continuing to grow spiritually.

January is a time of prayer and fasting for the entire church to seek God’s face and set the tone for the entire year.

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
Our church operates virtually the same during the Christmas holidays. December is one of our highest months of attendance due to a number of factors: children back from boarding school, relatives visiting for Christmas, increased spiritual interest among general public and the rains have cooled off the summer heat.

We do have preaching during the month that focuses on Christmas and the incarnation. I have many times taken a Christmas carol and preached on themes from it: God and sinner reconciled, wonders of His love, He came to make His blessings known—far as the curse it’s found, etc. This takes a line or a phrase that most people know and God can bring out powerful gospel truths. We see many receive Jesus during December. Our worship team does Christmas songs during this time and the kids will do songs during the services also.

We have done a big Christmas musical in past years. It is lots of work and is well received by the community. I am not sure we get enough bang for our buck. We also get invited to the biggest shopping center in the country (next door to our church) to do Christmas songs. This is awesome because lots of lost people who would never come to church hear about God’s love and plan for them in song.

We do not do a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service. Many churches do here and many of our members would like this. I simply do not because I have two kids at home and our family has decided to make Christmas a family time with each other. I told the church when I came that if I ever had to choose between them and my family, it would be an easy choice – I will choose my family. This is one of the ways I can make that choice and let my kids know that they are more important to me than the church. I found that our folks understand and have many other options of Christmas services they can attend if they so desire.

Pastor Michael Steward – Powell, OH
During the Christmas season, for the past few years, we have cancelled our Wednesday evening services for December simply because it is such a busy time. This year we actually cancelled Wednesday services for both November and December. We do not have a Sunday evening service as part of our normal schedule. We hold two events during the holiday season that we encourage people to invite others to attend. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving we have a praise night where we just spend the evening (1 hour) having praise and worship. We also have a Christmas Eve service on Christmas Eve. This is not a traditional service; rather we are doing more of a production with the Christmas story being read to the back-drop of popular Christmas songs.

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
Holidays use to be a real headache to me when I first started pastoring. We would have great momentum going into the holidays, and boom—the brakes were put on. Even for me personally, it seemed that the holidays pulled my attention away from what I felt important. I would struggle with trying to figure out what I should give myself to: family, church, my personal time with God? Then I realized that the holidays would not go away so I made a decision that I could take advantage of the holidays and please everyone involved.

Family time is very important and the holidays are a time for just that—families. I think that the holidays are a good time to remind us of that. When I came to that realization, the stress the holidays caused was eliminated. I encourage our church to take advantage of this time and spend it with their families. Therefore, when a holiday falls on a Sunday or Wednesday we rearrange our schedule. Since Thanksgiving is on Thursdays we move our Wednesday service to Tuesday in order for those families traveling out of town to have some extra time. When a holiday is on Sunday, we go ahead and cancel the evening service but always have the morning service (but sometimes in an abbreviated form). I found that when we tried to maintain our regular schedule people would not attend anyway, but when I rearranged the schedule to accommodate our people, attendance remained the same and in some cases even increased.

Also, the pastor and staff need time off as well. Take advantage of that time. My wife and I usually take the first week in January off to go somewhere, either to the beach or mountains, to seek God’s direction for the coming year and to recuperate from the holidays. When we do this, our momentum that we had going into the holidays is maintained.

Like I said earlier, holidays are not going to go away, so you might as well use them for your advantage. Don’t be afraid to try different things until you find out what works best for you. And enjoy the holidays!

Pastors Terry and Diane Scheel – Fenton, MO
We try to make Christmas time very special at the church, but also be very aware of the time constraints people have during this time of the year. School-age kids usually have school programs and concerts they are preparing for. Parents are trying to prepare for the holiday and are often very frazzled. We try not to give people another event they have to plan for or be stressed out about. We have a day set aside to decorate the church (with cookies & music!) which many people enjoy. As far as special events, we have always had a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service from 6-7 PM. We make sure it is kept to one hour. Some of our vital Worship Team members have long-standing family traditions on Christmas Eve, so we plan the music accordingly, using accompaniment tracks and simpler instrumental accompaniments. Every year we decide what special events we will do according to how many people have the time to be involved. We have done musicals, plays, a variety show, Christmas caroling at area nursing homes and some years we have done nothing extra. This year, we are distributing “The Good News of Christmas” door hangers, which include a New Testament, a gospel tract and an invitation to our Christmas Eve Service (they are only $1 each).

My husband and I always decorate our house for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. That is a very special day to us. We eat leftovers, decorate, listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas movies all day long.

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
The holidays possess all of the major ingredients of a perfect storm. If you’re not extremely careful, you can turn what should be among the greatest of annual celebrations into a scheduling nightmare. However, the leadership answer to dealing with this issue might not be as difficult as one might think. I believe it’s as simple as incredibly clear communication.

As you watch the calendar become more and more filled with holiday parties, Christmas productions, departmental get-togethers, and family activities, it is vital that you clarify that although the calendar may possess a plethora of opportunities—it is NOT expected that any one person attend or participate in every single event (and you might want to explain that these holiday rules apply to you and your family, as well!). Our church will engage in three and a half weeks of “pedal to the metal,” holiday-focused events. Children’s ministries will perform productions, the hard-workers bash will be held, multiple Christmas Eve communion services and a New Year’s Eve service with baptisms is also in the mix. Yet, if I can communicate the heart and desire of our leadership team effectively, people will realize that our ambition is to add the love of Jesus to their hectic schedule. It’s not to impose ourselves upon their hectic holidays.

We want to attempt to produce an atmosphere of peace during a season that’s in an all-out warfare against the Kingdom of Christ. I’ve found that people are looking for a place of refuge during this stressful season. I don’t need to require 100% participation—neither do I need to offer it. It’s okay if I take the family out of town during this season for a few days of flesh-pounding humiliation (my kids call it “snowboarding”). I want to be an example of building a family that enjoys life centered around Christ. Therefore, I don’t miss many of the worship opportunities offered this time of year. But on the other hand, I don’t attend ALL OF THEM, either. I hope this helps!

Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
We work in the office only Monday and Tuesday during Thanksgiving week. We cancel all Wednesday night services and activities. This gives our staff opportunity to travel and be with family.

We conduct a special candlelight service each year on Christmas Eve. This is a required service for needed staff—myself, music and outreach pastors. Other staff is given the choice to be out of town to be with family. Each staff member is told concerning all matters that they can be asked to do “anything,” “everything,” or “nothing.” We are family-oriented, so non-essential staff are given the choice to attend this service or to be away with their extended families.

We also have a children’s Christmas program on the second Sunday of December every year during our second service. During first service I preach. This gives people a choice of which service serves them better. The children’s program is a great outreach opportunity to families. We also conduct a Santa’s Workshop outreach. Children get their picture taken with Santa, and have opportunity to participate in games and Christmas-oriented activities. This is a free of charge event. Much of our outreach to the community is to young families. We just hired a Young Adults Pastor to provide pastoral care and outreach to young adults and their families.

The youth group has a Turkey Bowling event before Thanksgiving. They also have a Christmas party called–“Cool Yule.” The entire church staff and spouses and children get together for a Christmas party at our home. Michelle and I will take extra time out of the office before and after Christmas and New Year’s to enjoy our children who will be home from college out-of-state for the holidays.

Pastor JD Henderson – Portland, OR
We do a couple of different things that would address these questions.

1. Special events, services etc. I am sure that many other churches do similar things, but just in case, I will explain what we do. Over the years we have tried a few different things and this is what seems to work the best for us.

The weekend before Christmas we have special services on both Saturday night and Sunday morning services. We have slightly more music including special music and the message is shortened slightly to accommodate this. One rule we operate by is that Christmas and Easter are opportunities to show visitors and extended family members of our congregation who we are. We keep our same worship style, which is contemporary, even to the point of arranging traditional Christmas music to reflect our style. We want people to get a taste of Life Christian Center as opposed to a completely different service with tradition that is not normally reflected on a weekly basis. For the last couple of years something that has worked well for us is having our Youth musicians do 2 or 3 Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas pieces which are contemporary with more of a rock sound. You can find samples of their music on the internet. This has been really popular.

On the Sunday evening before Christmas we have a special service for our kids and/or youth to do their play or program. This allows family members to come that have another church home to enjoy the kids, and it allows us some logistic opportunities to rearrange the stage and lighting for a performance rather than trying to combine it all in our normal services.

We have also found that a Christmas Eve service is very popular, and after some trial and error, it is a fixture at Christmas time for us. Here we do something a little different. We have our service at 5pm and the length is between 45 minutes to an hour. This allows people to invite neighbors and family and does not make a huge time impact on an evening when people have family obligations.

2. During the holidays we increase our ministry to the community by doing a special food drive for our weekend Food Truck ministry. All year we send a food truck around the community to predetermined stops to give food out to families. During the holidays we do a special food drive to increase the food given, this year it was a contest to see who could give the most food with a restaurant gift certificate for the winner. We also provide Thanksgiving dinners to those in the congregation that request them.

3. As far as rest for our family, something that we have done for 10 years is to close the church offices for the week between Christmas and the New Year. This is not counted against the vacation time of our paid employees. It is a gift for working hard all year. It also gives a chance for all volunteers and other workers to take a break. The side benefit is that our family gets a week when the kids are out of school to spend time together.

Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
We started a tradition 15 years ago. We began to rent our community center as an off-site venue for a Christmas service/meal. It gave us opportunity to have facilities large enough to handle a full church dinner, but is also gave a unique opportunity for those who haven’t yet wanted to come through our church doors to come to a “dinner” that was in a non-traditional church setting. In twenty years here, this has been the day when we have had the most visitors in any one service.

We sing maybe two or three traditional hymns, have done short skits and short children’s plays/skits. I share a 10 to 15 minute message that is compact and uplifting. We always have someone special that is short for the children, including someone who comes in to play Santa with special gifts. As you can imagine, there are many things that you could do around this structure to personalize and be a blessing.

Because our churches are built around volunteers, we began years ago to cancel the Wednesday services before Thanksgiving, and depending on the calendar, the Wednesdays around Christmas and New Years Day. Generally that is just one Wednesday, but sometimes two. People need time off from their required volunteer schedule to spend time with their family. The New Year is a natural time to kick things off and grab momentum that will carry you through the end of school, and it has seemed to be easier to kick things off with a bang after people are well rested.

As a minister, Christmas time cannot be underestimated for the opportunity to build relationships with you own wife and children. I am not going to “lose” my family because of ministry demands. Your children are off for several days from school; take this time off yourself to rest and to have multi-day family time. Perhaps you could have a game or games tournament and give incentives to your children for winning or providing competition. Buy “Pride and Prejudice” (the old one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) and watch it with your wife while your children are playing their new Christmas games or going to some function. Get a video series that your children like (ex: 24, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings) and watch it with them. Take the time and tell yourself, you are going to watch this and like it. For our family, since we don’t watch much TV but do like a few shows, we will buy the previous season and watch the entire thing over the Christmas break. We will have like a “24 marathon!”

If you are thinking about adopting this sort of time in your church and family life, because you will be involved in so many natural things, you have to spend diligent, concerted time between Thanksgiving and Christmas in getting the mind of the Lord for the new year.