Protestant pastors have some advice for Christian families about Halloween: Use it to build relationships with neighbors, invite people to a church-related event or toss a religious leaflet into a trick-or-treaters’ candy bag.
The suggestions come from 1,000 Protestant clerics surveyed by Lifeway Research in September. Results were released Tuesday in advance of the Oct. 31 holiday, seen by many as celebrating pagan themes of ghosts, goblins and witches.
An estimated 78% of Americans told research firm Numerator that they plan to celebrate Halloween this year. And the National Retail Federation forecasts $10.6 billion in spending by participants, which the trade group says is a return to pre-pandemic levels.
But Halloween remains controversial for many Christians because of those pagan associations. The survey found 8% of Protestant pastors not saying anything about the holiday, and 13% saying they actively discourage any participation by their church members, up from 8% saying so in 2016.
Other pastors take a more proactive approach, the survey found. Lifeway said 71% view the celebration as an opportunity to invite people to church events such as a fall festival or “trunk-or-treat” party, usually in a church parking lot, where candy is handed out at members’ cars.
Taking time to build relationships with neighbors whose children come around for treats is supported by 58% of pastors, the survey reported. The research group said that building on those connections could be part of a church effort to re-establish community presence following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Handing out religious literature — known as “Gospel tracts” by many evangelicals — is favored by 34% of pastors.
“The majority of even the smallest churches offer church events this time of year and encourage their members to invite people from the community,” Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. “In a society that is increasingly distant and divided, most pastors see opportunities within the interactions that take place around Halloween,” he added.
Lifeway said the telephone-based survey, which repeated a 2016 poll, was a random sample based on a list of “all Protestant churches” in the U.S. The group said its sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
A complete version of the report is online.