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New Year’s Eve Watchnight Service at an IFB Church Near You

starting new year with god

New Year’s Eve Watchnight services are quite popular in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. Church members are encouraged to come to the service so they can pray in the new year. What better way is there to start the new year than fellowshipping and praying with fellow Christians? the pastor asks. This is a rhetorical question because church members are expected to be in attendance no matter what.

Typically, in the churches I pastored, the New Year’s Eve service started around 9:00 pm and lasted until just after midnight.  Families with young children were expected to bring their youngsters to the service. If the children were too tired to stay awake, parents were encouraged to let them sleep on the pew. Imagine being a parent of children who normally went to bed at 8:00 pm. On this one night, you were expected to keep your children up so they could “experience” praying in the new year. Needless to say, there were plenty of cranky children (and parents) at the service.

While each New Year’s Eve service was unique, there was a program of sorts. Following the food, fun, and fellowship methodology, each service would have a time when church members shared a communal meal. Usually, this meal was a potluck. After eating we would gather in the church auditorium to watch a movie. One year we watched the Bob Jones classic, Sheffey. Another year we watched the rapture thriller A Thief in the Night.

After the movie was over, it was time for the fellowship part of the service. Church members would give testimonies about what God had done for them over the past year. Often, these testimonies were quite emotional, as church members focused on the wonders of salvation and how merciful and kind God had been throughout the year. While no one was “required” to give a testimony, not giving one meant that you didn’t have anything for which to thank God. Most church members, even those who rarely spoke in public, gave a testimony.

Around 11:00 pm, I would preach a short sermon, exhorting church members to do great exploits for God in the coming year. One year, I had every church member write down spiritual goals for the upcoming year. These goals were then put in a sealed envelope, only to be opened at the following year’s New Year’s Eve service. Once I completed my sermon,  we would sing songs to prepare our hearts for praying in the new year. A few moments before the clock struck Midnight, every able-bodied church member would kneel at the altar and silently start praying. After fifteen minutes or so, I would begin to pray out loud, signifying that the prayer session was over. We would then arise from our knees, embrace one another, and wearily return to our homes.

Once the Gerencser family became larger, it became increasingly difficult to deal with our children during the New Year’s Eve services. Other families were facing similar troubles, so I decided to do away with the service. Not one church member complained about us NOT having a Watchnight service. In later years, we would invite church members to our home on New Year’s Eve to play games.

Do you have any stories you would like to share about attending a New Year’s Eve Watchnight service? Please share them in the comment section.


One reason for having a New Year’s Eve service was to keep church members from ringing in the New Year in the manner of the “world.”


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Woww, you guys had it MADE!! At Calvary, the service started at 7. Preachers took turns screaming & berating us until around 9. Then, we took a break to eat & came back for more screaming until 12:00. If the las preacher were long winded, you were FUCKED!!

    My oldest daughter is grown & on her own now, but I remember one really “special” watchnight where God really “moved”. It was a really powerful service & I was encouraged to start the new year off right for Jesus. When I got to the nursery, at 12:20, my wife was not feeling any of the Spirit, as she had been alone with our young daughter the whole time, very sick & throwing up! UGH!!

    But, the story ends good: we are divorced today & are both atheists!

    • Avatar

      Steve, (sarcasm ahead) All you needed (and obviously didn’t get) is the cavity search, the spiritual cavity search that lays bare your wicked heart and mind so that the Trio can fix you up for good! Fucked indeed!
      Your watchnight service memory really made me laugh: Such a great example of God’s ordained patriarchy at work in the world…. I am so sorry that your wife was unable share the glorious spirit of freedom and renewal that night and selfishly complained. Women just cannot see the deeper meanings in matters of faith, huh?

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    What an awful way to spend New Year’s Eve. I can’t imagine being bullied by circumstance into giving a testimonial.

    My family had a completely secular, and exceedingly quiet, New Year’s Eve. My parents might watch a bit of TV, but not with any great attention. I remember struggling to stay up until Midnight. I might well have curled up on the couch and napped. Just before midnight, my father would dig out an ancient bottle of Norwegian Aquavit (a distilled spirit) and pour two tiny liqueur glasses full, and a third glass with just a sip for me. We would ceremoniously toast the new year at midnight, and then Dad would turn off the Christmas lights and we’d go to bed.

    The last year I was part of that would have been 1979; I married in the summer of 1980. Husband and I substituted champagne for the Aquavit, and pretty much repeated the ritual for many years. Big partiers, we are not.

    Fast forward to 2002. On New Year’s Eve my mother had been in a coma for three weeks, and was dying by inches. That afternoon my dad was asked to either authorize more permanent breathing support, or remove breathing support. In accordance with my mother’s oft-stated wishes, they removed breathing support. He and I left her hospital bedside about 6 pm. It was a half-hour drive to Dad’s house. When we got there the phone was ringing; Mama had died.

    Back to the hospital, and the ensuing hours are a blur in my mind. I remember Mama’s cardiologist being extremely kind, and what seemed like a long drive home in the fog. A little before midnight, Dad looked for the Aquavit bottle, but couldn’t find it. He poured brandy in two liqueur glasses. At midnight we toasted the new year, and we toasted my mother. And I’m not sure either of us slept much that night.

    Nowadays, I just go to bed. The new year can ring itself in.

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    As one of the resident Christians here at Bruce’s blog, I must confess to being more than a little annoyed when I end up trapped in a situation where some unfamiliar preacher or fellow Christian does this little number:

    “Hey!!! I know what would be fun!!! Let’s all gather around in a circle, and each one of us will give his or her “Personal Testimony. Cindy, you can start, and we will just go around the circle to the left.”

    I remain convinced that most people in that circle are thinking: “Oh my gosh!!! Testimony. Testimony. Testimony. What is that? Well, I don’t really have one—I guess. Geez. Gotta make up something plausible fast!!!”

    Being from a mainline church background where no one ever requires anyone to memorize a pat testimony of any sort or to even have one, I was really caught off guard while attending a party at the home of a local, highly conservative Southern Baptist. I resolved to never be unprepared again. Therefore, I decided to create from thin air the ideal fundie Personal Testimony and memorize it so I would be sure to “wow” the people in the circle the next time I fall into one of these traps. Here is my Personal Testimony:

    “Before I accepted Jesus, I was addicted to crack, heroin, alcohol, ecstasy, and seven other dangerous drugs—and cigarettes. I was schizophrenic, bipolar, and stark raving mad. I was also blind in both eyes—and all my arms and legs had been amputated at the trunk of my body. Everyone in my family died on the same day—even the uncles, aunts, and cousins—leaving me totally alone in the world. I had no friends in the world, and even though I had health insurance, my doctor would not even see me. Then in the twinkling of an eye in the tent revival down at the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church, I was shot through with fear, accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior like a bawling baby, and He saved me from Hell. In that very moment, the Spirit of the Lord seized me, and instantly, all of my drug addictions ceased, my mental illnesses went away, the scales fell from my eyes, all four limbs reappeared on my body, and all of my relatives came back to life again—and I got a doctor’s appointment. I grabbed both poles of the battery in God’s Silver Ford Thunderbird, and I felt the power of the Lord surging through my body!!! Praise the Lord!!!! Praise the Lord!!! Praise the Lord!!!”

    What? You don’t think God owns a Ford Thunderbird. Of course he does!!! It’s already been documented:

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    The “Notes” confirmed exactly what I’d suspected.

    It’s ironic that a church would have a New Year’s Eve service on 31 December when the year beginning with 1 January has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.

    I think the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches of which I was a member had similar services but I never participated in them because—confession time!–I used to allow myself a “moment of sin” with friends, whoever they are/were. Honestly, my favorite celebrations were on the Staten Island Ferry–when friends and I popped our bottles of bubbly as fireworks flashed over the harbor–and on l’lile St. Louis in the Seine.

    And, as I recall, the Catholic church in which I grew up didn’t have a New Year’s tradition. It did, however, have rather extravagant midnight masses on Christmas Eve/Day.

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    Not a New year’s Eve anecdote, but an american pastor has been sent to my UK village to plant a church, cos, though we’re a lovely community with a lot of care for each other, we are in heathen darkness. Just pre-C19, he advertised that the Carols by Candlelight would be held in the Village Hall that year, not his church. As usual it said ‘All are welcome’ and to phone if you needed a lift. I was sorely tempted to call and ask if they’d pick me up, a drag queen I know and my neighbours, wife and wife, Mary and Anne….clearly, clearly ‘All are welcome’ is a big lie. Oh, and you’d also not be welcome unless you only read the KJV. All other translations are erroneous and devil-twisted. (I used the phrase, ‘all are welcome’ countless times in my christian days of organising outreach events, mea culpa, I hate it so much now.)

  6. Avatar

    That New Year’s Eve service sounds God-awful (oh yeah, I went there)! I don’t remember our church having something like that. If we did, there was no way my grandparents would have gone, even though Grandpa was a deacon and on this and that committee, and Grandma was a Sunday school and Women’s Missionary Union leader for years. I do have memories of trying to sleep on a hard pew as a small child during Sunday evening services. At some point in the late 70s or early 80s the church bought long cushions for the pews, but I had outgrown pew sleeping.

    The potluck and games may have been fun, fun the praying and sermonizing and all seem horrible, especially torturing small children and parents with a late night.

    This kind of reminds me of my Polish friends’ Christmas Eve. They are supposed to go to midnight mass as a family, and when they get home that’s when their Santa has arrived and the kids get their presents. It’s after midnight and a bunch of overtired kids are opening presents – sounds like a good idea (NOT)!

  7. Avatar

    More torture porn from Joe/Tom/James/Tiny Dick Johnson 🍆

    You might want to Rewatch “ Thief in the night”.
    It tells the story and future for all who choose to reject and live without Jesus Christ

    • Avatar

      “A Thief in the Night” – evangelical apocalyptic porn based on John Nelson Darby’s compilation of ancient apocalyptic points in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, etc…… made popular by Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and a variety of other apocalyptic preachers for profit. Lol!

  8. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I’m tempted to look for “A Thief in the Night.” It sounds like it is, to Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, what “Reefer Madness” was to what would become the so-called War On Drugs.

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Bruce Gerencser