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Christmas services often draw big crowds
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Christmas Eve services
Lots of churches in the area offer services today, either in the afternoon or as a candlelight service at midnight. Here are just a few:

  • First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville. Today: Children and family service, 1:30 p.m.; candlelight lessons and carols, 5 p.m.; candlelight communion, 11 p.m. 800 S. Enota Drive, Gainesville. 770-532-0136.
  • Christmas Eve candlelight service, Dawsonville. 7-8 p.m. today, Kilough, church by the lake, 321 Kilough Church Road, Dawsonville. 706-216-1440.
  • Lakewood Baptist Church, Gainesville. Today: Candlelight service 11:30 p.m. 2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville. 770-532-6307.
  • Gainesville First United Methodist Church, Gainesville. Today: Services at noon, 5, 7, 9 and 11 p.m. 2780 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville.
  • First Baptist Church, Gainesville. Today: Candlelight service at 5:30 p.m. 751 Green St., Gainesville. 770-534-7354.
  • Blackshear Place Baptist Church, Flowery Branch. Today: Christmas Eve family worship services at 3:30 and 5 p.m. 3428 Atlanta Highway, Flowery Branch. 770-534-7058.

When many churches commence their Christmas celebrations today, it’s likely they will have a few more people joining the festivities.

Attendance during the Christmas and Easter seasons — the Christian celebrations of the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, respectively — often surpasses regular Sunday participation in many churches.

Those in the Christian ministry have even dubbed the trend the "C and E Crowd," according to the Rev. Joe McKechnie, senior pastor of Arbor Pointe United Methodist Church in Jefferson.

McKechnie and other pastors believe the holiday attendance surge likely stems from people’s childhood traditions that compel them to return to church even into their adult lives.

"A lot of times it’s an opportunity for family to get together, and for some people, it’s a tradition," said Mike Phillips, senior pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Braselton.

"Traditionally they go to church on Christmas and Easter because it’s what they grew up doing, even if they may have drifted away from their faith a little bit, they still feel like Christmas and Easter is a time to go and honor the Lord."

New Community Church’s lead pastor, Chris Hoffman, agrees.

"The holidays have a way of taking us back emotionally, and there’s certain nostalgia about Christmas," he said. "I think a lot of people show up to Christmas services because they just want to be reconnected to that emotion of when they were children."

This year, McKechnie said he expects 400 people will attend his church’s Christmas Eve service, which starts at 6 p.m. at West Jackson Middle School.

Zion Baptist’s communion service will begin at 5 p.m. today, and Phillips said he is hoping for a good turnout as well.

Hoffman is expecting about 400 people to attend his church’s outdoor, candlelit service, which starts at 5:30 p.m. today in the Towne Center Shopping Center parking lot. The church’s weekly attendance regularly reaches 400, but Hoffman anticipates a lot of attendees will be newcomers, as many of his parishioners will be out of town for the holiday.

"The beautiful part about doing a community-wide Christmas Eve service outdoors away from our campus is that it’s not New Community exclusively," he said. "That’s the whole reason why we try to do it outdoors every year so that we can try to communicate to our community that this is not for our church, this is for everybody."

It’s this message that Hoffman, McKechnie and Phillips want people visiting their churches this season to understand.

"We really just try to get them to catch the vision of what the church is all about," McKechnie said. "Church should be an exciting place where lives are being transformed, and it’s (church) the instrument in this world that God sees to change lives and that’s why we invite people, not because we want them to come to church, (but) we invite them because we want to see lives changed."