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Monday, January 3, 2011

Has Christmas Made Christians Too Secular?

Over the holidays some of you may have run across the story about two new surveys that "indicate that while most call this a holy day that is primarily religious, their actions say otherwise. Many skip church, omit Jesus and zero in on the egg nog." Most of those surveyed said they planned to give gifts (89%), dine with family or friends (86%), get and decorate a Christmas tree (80%) and play holiday music (79%), but when it comes to religious activities, the percentages were substantially lower: 58% said they planned to "encourage belief in Jesus Christ as savior"; 47% said they planned to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service; 34% planned to watch "biblical Christmas movies"; and 28% planned to read or tell the Christmas story from the Bible.  Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research organization finds these results disconcerting:
It's alarming to me that while nine in 10 celebrate Christmas, only six in 10 encourage any belief in the source of Christmas and only three in 10 actually read the story of Christmas.
But are these percentages unreasonably or unexpectedly low? Not when you consider the percentage of Americans who regularly attend worship services. Take, for instance the following two graphics. The first indicates the frequency that all Americans attend religious services, while the second indicates the frequency that Christians attend religious services.

As you can see, approximately 40% of all Americans and 48% of Christians regularly attend religious services (i.e., 2-3 times a month or more). We also know that the percentage of Americans who are members of a faith community is around 60% (not all of these are Christians).  Thus, when 58% of Americans indicate that during the Christmas holidays they intend to encourage belief in Jesus Christ in savior, that is actually quite high, not low. It means that a higher percentage of Americans plan to share the Gospel than those who are members of a church or who attend church regularly. Moreover, the percentage of Americans who said they intended to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship service is higher than those who say that they attend church regularly.

In short, Mr. Stetzer should be happy, not alarmed, about these numbers. They suggest that during the holidays Christians are actually witnessing and worshipping at rates higher than they do during the rest of the year. The fact that a higher percentage of Americans planned to give gifts or dine with friends is simply evidence that marginal and non-Christians celebrate the holiday as well. Nothing more.

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