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Today Was Christmas Eve

Today was Christmas Eve. 

It was Christmas Eve, and I went to worship services at three different churches. Yes, I’ve always been an overachiever. 

This year I spent a lot of time exploring contextual worship. I grew up attending a liturgical church with a choir and occasional contemporary music. Throughout high school and college the churches I went to were more modern. Services begin with a song, a welcoming announcement section, another song, a sermon (but it’s not called a sermon, it’s called a message), and end with a song. Today, the more traditional style of worship is still one of my favorite ways to connect with God; the church I regularly attend is the more modern style.

Both of these worship styles can be found in Christian churches all throughout the world, depending on the context

As I’ve continued to learn about contextual worship, I wondered what styles of worship would be expressed in my local context? Especially on Christmas Eve, one of the most important days of the year in the Christian faith. 

Churches tend to show their best on Christmas and Easter, hoping the nomads who wander in will find a new home there. This can lead to a beautiful, honest display of the church’s mission or a highly budgeted production displaying the church’s resources. I’ve seen clips online of live camels parading sanctuaries that look like auditoriums. I’ve seen videos of angels flying across the stage similar to Tinkerbell descending from Cinderella’s castle during the Magic Kingdom fireworks show. 

In these contexts, camels and Tinkerbell-style stunts are called worship. 

There are also worshipful productions outside of church services. The Chosen television series, the famous Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat musical, and Handel’s Messiah can be technical, highly-produced expressions of worship. But the context for these isn’t a church service; the context is theater and entertainment.

And this context matters. Because the people who enter the theater expect to be entertained, but the people who enter the church expect to be healed. Handel’s Messiah may make the audience cry, but in the church service the audience is invited to cry out. The Broadway stage is a great place for talented costume designers, makeup artists, lighting technicians, and world-class actors to display their best. The church altar is a place to display hope for the mourners, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, and light to the world. 

No one wants to see an actor in church; especially not an actor with a microphone on a platform.

Context matters.

I attended Christmas Eve services in my community with three distinct contexts and therefore three different styles of worship. It’s amazing what you can encounter on the same day, around the same topic, in the same town!

The first service was a highly produced event. The second was a modern expression, similar to what I described earlier. The last was very traditional. 

Here’s a breakdown of the contextual differences I discovered in these three services:

First Time Guests

Production – First time guests received a $10 Amazon gift card. I have a lot of thoughts about this, few of them positive. 

Modern – First time guests received a $5 gift card to the coffee shop across the street. Definitely an improvement from the Amazon offer, as it creates an opportunity for relational connection by inviting someone to get coffee after service. Churches, learn this lesson: not all free gifts communicate the same message.

Traditional – It wasn’t clear if there was a gift for first time guests. It was clear that they wanted to welcome and include first timers in the service. All people were invited to partake in communion or encouraged to come forward for a blessing. The way this was introduced was inviting and inclusive.


Production – Music was a variety of classic Christmas carols with a gospel twist! They featured multiple guitars, violins, and vocal solos.

Modern – Music was simple, in a good way: classic Christmas carols with a choir background and a modern worship tune medley.

Traditional – Music was classic Christmas carols and hymns led by an organ and an operatic choir.

Offering Moment

Production – First time guests were encouraged to give, with the caveat that their donation would be designated specifically to a charity of their choice that is outside of the church but supported by the church. 

Modern – The verbiage and attention given here were identical to that of a regular Sunday morning. 

Traditional – The verbiage and attention here were identical to that of a regular Sunday morning. Once passed, the offering plates were placed upon the altar with a prayer, a beautiful display of generosity toward God.

Attire & Dress

Production – Everyone on the stage looked sleek and matched, even after the wardrobe change mid-service. Clothing was a mix of sequined-jumpsuits and hoodies with sneakers; everyone in the audience could easily see themselves reflected in the clothes on stage.

Modern – What was worn on stage was pretty close to the regular Christmas attire – jeans with sweaters, some dresses and sparkly shoes. It communicated the “come as you are” mindset without having to use the words to do so.

Traditional – All church staff and volunteers wore robes appropriate to their roles in the church service. The congregation were dressed in their Sunday best with some extra sparkle and shine!

Special Elements

Production – The church had a visit by the Grinch and Elf on the Shelf, plus a free hot cocoa bar.

Modern – The church had a backdrop set up for family Christmas photos.

Traditional – The church used incense in worship and served communion.


Production – The message was based on Joseph’s experience in Matthew 1, that even when things don’t go according to our plans, God’s plans are better and can be trusted.

Modern – The message was based on the Savior who came to execute God’s plan for redemption for all people, as told in Luke 2.

Traditional – The message was based on the end of Advent and the gift that Jesus is after this longing, waiting season.

Emphasis on the Pastor

Production – The pastor and his family were prominently featured on the screen, the stage, and by the volunteers passing out the welcome gifts.

Modern – The pastor gave the sermon and other members of the pastoral team were available with him after the service to pray for and support the congregation.

Traditional – The clergy team were equally featured throughout the service and available after for congregational care. 

The services also shared some similarities:

  • Each sang Silent Night by candlelight
  • Each had multiple services available to attend
  • Each was not a mega-church but had well over 1,500 people attend these holiday services
  • Each clearly displayed the ways they were serving their communities
  • Each facilitated an opportunity for Jesus to be met and hope to be found

Final Thoughts & Main Takeaways

Production – It was a celebration of “Going to Church.” I loved the music and the main points of the sermon, but left disappointed. Overall, it felt very consumer-driven and focused solely on what that particular church was doing rather than on God or faith in a general sense. The volunteers greeted us by saying “Welcome home” and after service expressed how much they loved the pastor. It just felt very “Look at us and what we’re doing” which is definitely not my style.

Modern – It was a celebration of the hope of Jesus. This service was everything I want a modern Christmas Eve service to be! It was simple, focused on Jesus, and welcoming to new people in an inviting way that could build trust without expecting anything from them. The music was good and easy to sing along with. It felt like if you were to go back to any other service, it would be similar and you’d know what to expect.

Traditional – It was a celebration of theology and tradition. Services like this make my heart sing! I loved the rich traditions that are done, following in the footsteps of centuries of churches. The clergy did a good job of explaining some of the more liturgical aspects of the service, making them relevant for new people who have never seen a traditional altar. Although the sermon was boring, both in content and delivery, the rest of the service allowed reverent worship and reflection.

Context matters

Today was Christmas Eve and I went to worship services at three distinctly different churches. I learned yet again why context matters and how powerfully messages are communicated without words. I was reminded of how people control and change so much of what happens in churches, even though the same message is proclaimed, the same songs are sung, and the same God is worshiped. 

By the grace of God alone, lives were changed as God was worshiped in all three places. 

Thanks for making this a part of your day!
Feel free to share it with others!

3 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences, Hannah. It is intriguing to me to learn more about people’s perceptions of what The Church does and how what we try to accomplish is done. Thank you for investing yourself in this way and then sharing it with us.

  2. Oh, let me add a couple more thoughts… I guess my personal preference lands somewhere between the Traditional and Modern. But my hope for all of these contexts is that the Truth of the “Good News”, God’s Love, Grace, and Redemption, is received through the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in each context.

    1. This is my preference, too! I love the traditional services and ways of worship, but feel that they need more frequent explanation to be understood better and properly executed. I love the simplicity of the modern services to come, sing, listen, and grow in a way that’s more “normal” for our culture, but feel they need more history and theology to be better understood. By the grace of God, I know lives were changed in all three contexts this weekend and I pray a relationship of discipleship begins for each of them. I am choosing to have hope and trust God in all the contexts, in faith.

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