Filling the pews – part 4: Opening the doors for Christmas

Photos provided by La Cres Pres. TOP: At La Crescenta Presbyterian, the full choir will perform at the candlelight service at 10 p.m. on Dec. 24. A petting zoo Nativity (left) is enjoyed by the children. The contemporary service (above) features a rock band and Pastor Andy Wilson tries to “keep it real” by wearing jeans rather than a dress suit.

By Brandon HENSLEY

Everyone knows Linus’ memorable speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and perhaps that’s what’s on people’s minds when they attend a church service during the Christmas season.

But if someone attends one service just for Christmas and doesn’t go again the whole year, did it really happen?

Ask any pastor around town, and they’ll say attendance spikes this time of year. It is not, however, like a teacher scolding a student who only shows up on test days.

“We’re thrilled that people who don’t have a church home feel compelled to come into a church worship service at Christmas,” said Pastor Andy Wilson of La Crescenta Presbyterian Church. “We’re glad to help people to think carefully about what Christmas really means.”

Wilson said more people come to church on both Christmas and Easter, although Easter
is more for those who are already Christians. Christmas brings people who may be curious about the reason for the season.

“[During] Christmas, you have a bigger opportunity to reach a wider group of people,” said Wilson, who has been pastor at La Crescenta Presbyterian for 11 years.

Bill Flanders, the pastor of First Baptist Church at La Crescenta, is of the same belief as Wilson and gets excited for this holiday because it may be a chance to reel people back in.

“It’s kind of a re-entry point for many people who have drifted away from the faith,” Flanders said.

But why have many drifted away from the faith at all? First Baptist put together a committee earlier this year to explore that question.

“One of the things [the committee] came up with was the busy-ness in people’s lives,” Flanders said. “People are just trying to do too many things in too little time, and in the process a lot of things end up squeezed out.”

Flanders said there is an emptiness that comes with having a life that hectic, and that his church’s mindset is perfectly suited to allow people to open up and see what First Baptist has to offer not just for the holidays, but all year long.

“I guess in practical ways we’re trying to communicate that God’s love is there and I think in the process there’s some significance to life that flows out of love and caring for one another and responding in God’s love through us,” he said.

Candlelight services on Christmas Eve are held at both First Baptist and La Crescenta Presbyterian. Flanders said that service is one of the best attended all year.

Aside from its 10 p.m. candlelight service, La Crescenta Presbyterian has two other services on Christmas Eve, including a Nativity zoo with live animals to represent the first Christmas.

After the holidays, Wilson said there is a drop-off in attendance in January, but a percentage does stick around – maybe because they’re curious, or maybe because they’ve now seen what Wilson’s church is all about.

“They’re surprised that the sermons are not dull or dry. They’re addressing topics that really do affect them every day,” Wilson said.

La Crescenta Presbyterian has tried to keep up with the times. Its contemporary service features a rock band, and Wilson will try and “keep it real” by wearing jeans rather than his normal suit.

“We have tried to be responsive to the changes in our culture, especially in regard to worship,” Wilson said.

At First Baptist, Flanders, who has been the pastor for less than two years there, has a goal of not just reaching a different generation but, “We would also like to be a multi-ethnic church.”

First Baptist currently houses two Korean congregations and one Armenian.

And so, amid all of the rain and the chaos of present shopping, Wilson and Flanders hope their houses of worship can serve as a reminder for what Linus said, and people can take that to heart.

And, just maybe, they can stick around afterward.