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Christmas: An Intersection of Faith and Family

faith and family

A few years ago, LifeWay Research released a study about how Americans celebrate Christmas. While the secularization of the holiday season was evident in our findings, 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 materialism. 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

On those occasional years Christmas falls on a Sunday, churches struggle with what to do in terms of worship those days. That is because many of them wear families out the other 364 days of the year, particularly 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 continually long to be a place of community for its members throughout the year. For believers and unbelievers alike who seek 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.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.