River Valley Church is hosting nearly three dozen different Christmas Eve services at its metro-area locations — with carols by candlelight on both Friday and Saturday.

For Christmas Day, however, there won't be any services at all. The church's recorded Christmas Spectacular will be available on-demand all day on its YouTube channel.

While many Twin Cities churches celebrate Christmas Eve in a big way, some are skipping in-person services on Christmas Day, which falls on a Sunday this year. Nationally, most Protestant churches (84%) do plan to hold services on Dec. 25, but the number doing so has shrunk more than 5% from 2016, the last time Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, a Lifeway Research survey found.

According to Lifeway's executive director Scott McConnell, many pastors making the call to skip Christmas Day services this year anticipated that families celebrating their own traditions at home wouldn't want to come to church.

When the holiday lands during the week, most Protestants don't attend Christmas Day services. For many families, the holiday is devoted to staying in pajamas as long as possible and reveling in Santa's bounty. While some local pastors are holding "Jammies with Jesus" services over Zoom, others have decided to call the day off instead of leading worship before largely empty pews.

It's not uncommon for River Valley to skip Sunday services when the holidays fall on or near a weekend. Christmas Eve has always been the church's focus, said Logan Ketterling, a pastor in the multi-site megachurch. "It's really a time for us to anticipate the celebration of the birth of our savior," he said.

Minneapolis' Judson Memorial Baptist Church is taking two Sundays off this holiday season. Pastor Rev. G. Travis Norvell decided not to hold services on Christmas Day or New Year's Day, which also falls on a Sunday.

"I think the pandemic has changed us by thinking that we went two years without in-person service. We thought we could go two Sundays," said Norvell.

Christmas Eve is Judson's big celebration, said Norvell, who described Christmas Day as "kind of a letdown. People can have a break and be home with their families and just enjoy the time," he said.

Here in the Twin Cities, a number of churches both large and small are skipping Sunday services this week, but most have at least one Christmas Day service planned.

Lifeway's survey found that pastors in the western U.S. and those at the helm of non-denominational churches were among the least likely to hold Sunday services on Christmas Day this year. And nationally, bigger churches (those with 250 or more in attendance) were 12% more likely than small ones (those with 50 or fewer) to keep Sunday services on the schedule this Christmas Day.

Lifeway's researchers only talked to Protestant pastors — at Catholic churches, Sunday Mass is a must. In Minneapolis, the Basilica of St. Mary will have four different services on Christmas Day, some featuring their choir accompanied by brass, strings and organ.

In fact, some local clergy are anticipating that on Christmas Day, members might be even more in need of the connection that a worship service can provide.

At Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, which will host both an in-person and a Zoom service on Dec. 25, pastors posted an online invitation for their Christmas Day services: "Do you need a bit of revitalization? Do you need a bit of soul and physical nourishment this Christmas Day?" they asked, adding that their two services "will have time to connect to each other, the meaning of Christmas, and an invitation to share your own stories of Christmas, if you so desire."