I’ve noticed a trend leading into this Christmas that is troubling: large churches requiring tickets for admission to holiday services.
Having worked at a large church, I’m acquainted with the discussions that likely preceded the decision. The asphalt ocean that surrounds the complex can only hold so many vehicles at a time. The 70 minute format limits the number of services that can be offered. A dearth of volunteers caps the amount of children that can be handled. Seating is limited by a finite number of folding chairs and mobile televisions.
Still, tickets? “Act now, before they run out?” C’mon.
The concern here is valid: Christmas and Easter are the two most populated services in the liturgical year. These churches want to make room for the crush of visitors while also accommodating their “regular attenders.” What’s a large, attractional church to do?
Drawing from other popular entertainment venues that suffer the same capacity-versus-demand challenge, they decided to try and get an advance head count. I’m sure that this effort is aimed primarily at people “in the know.” What they really want is to know how many of THEIR people are coming (and to which services).
I hope that’s the underlying motive. Do they really expect twice-a-year parishioners to check their website to see how to obtain tickets or make a reservation? What happens when some hapless guest shows up without a ticket? Just out of luck? “We’d love to have you come worship Christ with us. Unfortunately, this is one of our busiest times of the year and without a ticket, I’m afraid we just can’t let you in. But you’re more than welcome to try again any of the other 51 Sundays in the year…”
What if, instead of requiring tickets, the leadership of these churches divested themselves of their regular attenders for a week? Many of these folks drive past dozens of smaller houses of worship on their way to their megachurch. These littler churches are also expecting unfamiliar faces on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Instead of requiring tickets for megachurch attenders, what if they were challenged to worship at the church closest to their home?
Loads of visitors will still flock to the megachurch for Christmas services. Regular attenders can show their hospitality by choosing not to be there, by giving up their seat to make room for a guest. Then, by attending a church closer to their home, they still get to engage in worship with their family and they allow these smaller churches the opportunity to worship with some fresh faces.
These suggestions will likely fall on deaf ears. They’re ripe with logistical problems (what about volunteers? If all “our” people go elsewhere, who will pass out the candles and watch the children and take the offering?) and they create a bit of anxiety about sending people elsewhere (what if “our” people attend another church and like that one better?). But there has to be a better solution than ticketing Christmas.