When It Comes to Halloween, Pastors Have Opinions Says New Survey

By Emily Miller
halloween survey lifeway
More than 90% of pastors encourage their congregations to observe Oct. 31 in some way, ranging from avoiding Halloween completely to inviting people to 'fall festival' events at their churches. (Photo by Bee Felten-Leidel/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

How do Christians celebrate Halloween?

It might depend on their pastor, according to a survey, released Tuesday, by Lifeway Research of Protestant Christian pastors from all across the United States.

More than 90% of pastors encourage their congregations to observe Oct. 31 in a particular way, but that ranges from avoiding Halloween completely to inviting people to Halloween-adjacent events at their churches, the survey found.

“Few pastors simply ignore the fact that so many Americans participate in Halloween celebrations,” Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a written statement. “Most pastors focus on the social nature of these celebrations, encouraging their congregations to engage with others outside their church.”

Many children across the U.S. celebrate Halloween by dressing in costumes and walking door to door to neighbors’ houses requesting candy with a cheerful, “Trick or treat!” Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, watching horror films and visiting haunted houses are other popular pastimes during the spooky season.

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Some pastors (13%) discourage their congregations from participating in the holiday in any way, according to the survey. This could be because some Christians consider the day’s festivities to be evil — or, at least, to glorify evil.

But a growing number of pastors are encouraging their congregations to engage with the celebration, mostly by inviting their friends and neighbors to church events on and around Halloween. Those events can include fall festivals; “trunk or treat” gatherings that allow kids to collect candy from cars parked in the church parking lot; or judgement houses, also known as hell houses, that aim to scare the hell out of visitors by depicting its horrors.

“Whether it comes from a desire to reconnect with their community after the pandemic prevented much of this or from deepened convictions about the holiday itself, pastors appear more resolute in their convictions around Halloween,” McConnell said.

lifeway survey halloween
“What do pastors encourage their church members to do at Halloween?” (Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research)

The number of Protestant pastors encouraging congregants to invite others to church events has risen from 67% of pastors in 2016 to 71% in 2022, according to Lifeway.

Many pastors (58%, compared to 52% in 2016) also are talking with members of their churches about building relationships with neighbors who trick or treat, the survey shows. Those numbers are highest among the youngest pastors, ages 18 to 44 (66%), and among Methodists (68%) as opposed to Pentecostals (42%).

Some — mostly Baptist (58%) — tell congregants they should hand out gospel tracts to children who ring their doorbells on Halloween night. Pastors of churches in evangelical denominations (42%) were more likely to make this suggestion than those in mainline denominations (28%).

That number has had the biggest jump, from 26% to 34% of all Protestant pastors.

Lifeway is the publishing and research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. It surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors by phone between Sept. 6 and Sept. 29. Responses were weighted by region and church size, with 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.2%.’

Emily McFarland MillerEmily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 

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6 thoughts on “When It Comes to Halloween, Pastors Have Opinions Says New Survey”

  1. “… building relationships with neighbors who trick or treat …”, would seem the way to go. That constituency who so “trick or treat” do not share a single monolithic understanding or conception of Halloween. Christian and Celtic roots (of Halloween) mix with the secular and commercial. For some it is simply a cultural event with no particular meaning. Many, perhaps the majority outside churches and denominations, rather ignore the event and leave it to others. I think you would have to search high and wide, to find those who put a meaning on Halloween, that should trouble Christians. Possibly the case that any residual Christian opposition to Halloween (as a cultural event) actually has the effect of sparking a meaning to Halloween which it does not really have outwith that opposition.

  2. The history of Halloween is a mix of Christian and pagan traditions. I also think most see it as something fun for kids (and for me to dress up my puppy). I think you’d have to REALLY look to find any who take it seriously as a day or evening of full-on pagan worship.
    I think Christians should use this as a chance to get to know neighbors, as authentic evangelism begins with authentic relationship.

  3. Avoid Halloween steeped in occult influence. Too much evil to avoid even if well-meaning.
    Handing out gospel tracts and candy is a good idea.

  4. My pastor has said several years that Christian houses should be known for passing out the biggest and best candy in the neighborhood :)

  5. Oct. 31 (1517) was also the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. Could not this be a springboard for something really positive? (i.e. what does it mean to be in a right relationship with God?)

  6. So much to say, so little space to say it…

    Back in the Eighties when Rich Buhler was hosting a good-quality afternoon talk show on KBRT-AM (Los Angeles), he used to say he could tell when October 1st rolled around because that was when he’d start getting the phone-ins about “Is Halloween SATANIC???”

    The now-defunct Internet Monk blog used to run this posting — “The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast” every Halloween:
    https://imonk.blog/2012/10/31/imonk-classic-the-great-pumpkin-proposes-a-toast-2/

    Now for the Lifeway Survey:

    71% for “Alternative Church Event”. To me, “Alternative Church Event” means “Christianese Knockoff” like “JESUS-Ween” (actual attempt at renaming Oct 31), AKA “Just like Halloween, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” (When are we going to START a trend instead of jumping on the bandwagon of an existing one going “Me, Too!” – usually around the time said bandwagon jumps the shark.)

    Or “Hell Houses”, which itself merited an Internet Monk essay, ‘An Evangelicalism Eager to Leave”:
    https://imonk.blog/2008/11/03/thoughts-on-hell-house-an-evangelicalism-eager-to-leave/
    (Carrying a lot of that kind of baggage myself – the Gospel of Jack Chick’s “This Was Your Life” and Hal Lindsay’s “Late Great Planet Earth” is one highly destructive combination.)

    34% “Hand out Gospel Tracts to Trick-or-Treaters” – All I have to say on this is something I read online on the subject: “They put a Jack Chick tract in your bag, you have my blessing to punch them in the junk.” (Because they obviously chose “Trick”…)

    13% “Avoid Halloween Completely”; i.e. Hide from the DEMONS in a little box in your basement, hoping the DEMONS don’t notice you. Like Kirk Cameron barricading himself in his trailer on the set of Left Behind when he heard there were Heathens on the set. As the Hulk said to Loki, “Puny God…”

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