Hillsong London are reportedly charging £10 for a ticket to one of their “Carol Concerts”. These “concerts” are taking place at various times on Sundays in December, replacing the usual services at the church’s locations. The Hillsong website refers to them as “performances.” There are a number of concerns I have with this. Some of them apply uniquely to Hillsong and other churches charging for tickets but others have wider implications.
First, if you are charging for your Christmas Carol Services, you are sending out a message about who you are expecting to be there. Although these events are being run at normal service times, charging and declaring it to be a concert/performance implies that this is not the usual gathering of the church for worship. However, who then is the intended audience? You see, it isn’t going to be non-Christian friends or neighbours. Whilst people do expect to pay to go to a play or concert normally, they are not expecting to pay to go and listen to a church’s Christmas Carol Service. They know that churches generally are free to attend and that most of them will be singing carols at this time of year. So who will pay to go and see a Hillsong Carol concert? It’s most likely to be other Christians who are fans of the particular brand of music.
Secondly, by charging, they are sending out a message that those who are poor are not welcome. As Carl Beech observes in his article for Premier Christianity, the idea of paying £40 to take an average sized family is prohibitive to many, especially when families are struggling to pay the fuel and food bills right now.
Thirdly, the impression given by one church charging for its carol concert is that they believe that they are offering something superior to what you might find at other churches. They are setting themselves up in competition with other Christians.
Fourthly, notice the now, very overt switch from worship to performance. People do not go to join in a service but to watch and be entertained.
All of those points apply specifically to churches choosing to charge at Christmas. However, whilst most of us may not charge, we can still end up in the same mindset trap. We can prioritise seeking to draw other Christians to our events over reaching the lost, or even caring for those God has placed with us. We can act as though we are in competition not in partnership with other churches.
And then there is the performance factor. This is particularly noticeable at Christmas, sometimes we can put so much attention into preparing our carol concert with choirs to sit and listen to at length and only the occasional opportunity for congregations to join in for a couple of verses. We forget that actually those non-Christians turning up are looking forward to singing some old favourites.
However, that performance mentality can seep into wider church life. We prepare sermons to be entertaining and informative. We arrange sung worship so that there’s a greater focus listening to a band and to singers. We become an audience instead of a congregation.
So, I hope that Hillsong will abandon its plans to charge for Christmas. However, before we are too quick to condemn, we should have a look at the ways in which we can also imbibe a culture of performance and competition.