Survey: Pastors Have Opinions in Halloween

It might depend on their pastor, according to a survey, released Tuesday (Oct. 18), by Lifeway Research of Protestant Christian pastors from all across the United States.

By Emily McFarlan Miller, RNS

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.

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.

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%).


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