The Christmas service at different sizes

I’ve been thinking about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, as one does at Christmas.

I’ve long thought that a model 40-minute long service could be a helpful resource for churches to have, and have thought about what it might include, but haven’t made the case out loud of why 40 minutes. After all, it made a lot of sense to me but I wasn’t trying to convince anyone of it.

But if 40 minutes, then why not 20 or 10? Well, those could make sense too, but for different reasons, and that made me think of use cases. So before working out what those services might include, I wanted to think of adequate occasions for having them.

The 40-minute service might make sense:

  • For Christmas Day in a congregation wanting to develop a custom, but with few resources or committed attendees.
  • For an additional Christmas eve service: perhaps one more lean and more subdued for an adult audience who does want to be left out of the season, but doesn’t want the full blowout. Or doesn’t want to be left out of dinner reservations!
  • For a smaller church that shares a minister with another congregation, and needs to keep the liturgy short. Or uses borrowed or rented meeting space and can’t run long.

If the 40-minute service is to make the most of the available options, a 20-minute service might be needed when there are no other options.

  • An opt-in service at a workplace where the staff cannot attend a service at a church. In the breakroom, with people eating a meal as it goes on?
  • Before a group sets out on a trip or service project.
  • In very remote places, or in places where the language of worship is a minority language in the community, under the heading “it’s better than nothing at all.”

To those used to “the worship hour” this may seen lean, but morning or evening prayer can certainly be said within 20 minutes, and I attended a minor saint’s day communion service once many years ago that I timed to exactly 17 minutes.

It’s easier to imagine these led by a trained or experienced lay person.

A 10-minute service make sense for the benefit of one person, or a small group of people. Someone sick or near the end of life, for whom not only is there no option of going to church, but may only have a limited capacity to participate. The service may be at bedside; communion comes to mind. This suggests a less casual approach and pastoral direction, or at least pastoral support, and may be some other time than December 24 or 25.

So, dear readers, do these seem like approximately correct use cases?

4 Replies to “The Christmas service at different sizes”

  1. I do three 40 minutes services on Christmas Eve. It is about the right period of time for an audience that is really looking to tag the church base and then move on. Each is tailored to a different constituency. all the formats are slightly different but unique in between. I can get more detailed if you want, but your reasons make sense. One big reason for the extra attenders (non-members/friends) is that they lose interest after a while. They just aren’t used to sitting that long in a warm room without recourse to X-Wing battles and lightsabers. When we accidentally go long (as with the 7pm this year) I can actually feel the interest draining from the room…

  2. We did a 45 minute family service at 4:30. Both lay people and staff were skeptical that we could pull off a service, including pageant, in under an hour, but I’m pretty adamant that children ought not be expected to sit still on Christmas Eve for longer than that. Thanks to a lot of front-end coordination, the service unfolded as planned, timeline and all. We got wonderful feedback, and I think a lot of that had to do with keeping a brisk pace from one liturgical element to the next,and making sure the musicians and worship leaders were all clear about cues.

    Later, we did an 80 minute Lessons and Carols service. It likely could have been just an hour, but the congregation seemed to love the special music provided by our paid quartet. It’s the one time of year I’m ok with worship feeling a bit like a really good concert as well as a really good service of worship.

  3. After experiencing a Christmas day service with my 18 month old this Christmas i think expecting sitting still at all can sometimes be too much!

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