The crowds are typical for this time of year and especially welcome at the larger, more traditional churches, which include the Catholics at St. Augustine, Elizabeth Seton and St. Michael's, Lutherans at Trinity and Our Savior, Episcopalians at St. Clare's, Methodists at Lynnewood United and Presbyterians at Centerpointe.
At the fast-growing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), standing-room-only capacity is expected at a Christmas concert planned this Sunday at its church on Paseo Santa Cruz.
But nowhere are the crowds bigger or growth booming faster than at the three megachurches in the Valley: Cornerstone Fellowship, CrossWinds Church and The Well Christian Community. These non-denominational, independent churches have traded out the hardback pews for theater seats. Wearing your "Sunday best" may mean shorts and sandals. Cornerstone doesn't even call its massive warehouse-style church a sanctuary.
"It's an auditorium and the services are presented on a stage, not at an altar," said John Gilpin of Pleasanton, who is in charge of church development at Cornerstone. "Founded 20 years ago in Pastor Steve Madsen's living room, we have grown to be a church of over 10,000 people with campuses in Brentwood and Walnut Creek in addition to our main one in Livermore."
The Rev. John Merritt, CrossWinds' founder, said the thousands of parishioners have outgrown the building it occupies in Dublin and will find more room in a new church CrossWinds is building near the Livermore Outlets along I-580. CrossWinds, which uses all the latest media to conduct its services, also broadcasts its services on Facebook.
Former Oakland Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman retired from the playing fields in 2001 "in response to God" and today is senior pastor of The Well Christian Community, another megachurch that recently moved from San Ramon to larger quarters in Livermore. . Besides preaching, he was just hired as Bishop O'Dowd High's head football coach.
The Rev. Luther Werth of Our Savior Lutheran in Livermore, said the new big-box churches have found a niche in technologies that the older traditional churches need to recognize: pull-down screens instead of Bibles and hymnals, social media to spread the message, bands and even some entertainment as part of church services.
"Today's changes in church style are not unlike the evolutionary changes of the 16th century when Martin Luther relied on the newly-invented printing press with movable type to spread the word that led the Protestant reformation," Werth said. "These are changes that again are advancing the Christian faith."