Like many places of worship, Discovery Church is a lively place on a Sunday. But on a Sunday that also happened to be Christmas Eve, the church was the place to be to get in the holiday spirit.
Just before 9:30 a.m., the church on White Lane was quickly filling up, with just a handful of chairs open to latecomers. The worship team sang modern takes on Christmas classics like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World" before Pastor Jason Hanash took the stage to lead an impassioned sermon on how even Christians can miss Christmas and what they need to do refocus their holiday. The service wrapped with candle lights and "Silent Night."
Then the worship team, production team and Hanash started all over again.
To accommodate a fast-growing congregation, Discovery Church added two extra services to their normal four-service Sunday for Christmas Eve. With services at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., it would be a busy day for the team, but a satisfying one too.
"I hope that people find purpose in Christ, that they will ... be able to see the significance Christmas has," Hanash said on Friday. "Religion has been man's attempt to try to get to God, but God on Christmas came to us."
Opening his sermon on Sunday, Hanash told the church that it can be easy to get further away from the truth of Christmas the longer it's been since one has truly focused on its meaning. He showed a short video of the Christmas story as told by children, and reenacted by adults, that got plenty of laughs before the service returned to the message.
People miss Christmas now, and they missed it when it first happened too.
"Everybody missed the first Christmas," Hanash told the church. "The shepherds were the only people to show up to that Christmas."
People miss Christmas today, Hanash said, because they don't pay attention, they are crowded by other things and they don't think they need God.
"Today, people are going to be jammed in the mall ... millions of people are going to be pushing their carts, and overhead, what's playing?" he asked, naming Christmas songs all about Christ's birth. "They're pushing their carts, missing Jesus."
Hanash encouraged the congregants to remember that on the first Christmas peace was born, purpose was given and power was released.
"This Christmas, I hope that's what you'll do, open your life to the gifts God gives you," he said.
At the end of the service, the lights went down and Hanash lit a candle before lighting ones in the hands of the ushers, who then lit the candles of people sitting on the ends of each row. One by one, they lit their neighbors as the room grew brighter, all while everyone sang "Silent Night." As each person shared their literal light, Hanash encouraged them to share their spiritual light with the world.
The candle-lighting has been a tradition at Discovery Church for four years, since it met in a living room with a few families before it moved into the building on White Lane in August 2016. The church has an average attendance of about 850 a week, but Hanash expected around 1,500 for Christmas Eve. The church has other campuses, a reprieve as the new church begins to outgrow the building it's only just moved into; its renovation isn't even completely done yet.
"It's been an amazing journey," Hanash said on Friday. "We've seen a lot of growth here."
Hanash said the church's simple purpose of loving God and each other and changing the world, while sharing it in a laid-back, come-as-you-are environment, has been a beacon for people looking for a church that fits them.
"From the very beginning, we have called Discovery real, relaxed and relevant," Hanash said, adding that there is no unofficial dress code and that he often preaches in jeans. "It's this life-giving culture we have, in everything we do. It's authentic."
One of the people the church has drawn in is Jim Rivano, who has been attending since last April and has taken on a leadership role as production director.
"When I first came in, this was home," Rivano said. "Everyone was welcoming and treats you like family."
Rivano, like Hanash, was at the church all day, for each of the six services. He said he was looking forward to a barbecue between the fourth and fifth services, and he brought an ice chest full of Monster Energy drinks to keep him going.
Myrna Velasquez, a member since last Christmas and a hospitality leader of three months, said she regularly spends a good chunk of her Sundays at the church. She too said Discovery instantly felt like home, and she wouldn't be anywhere else on Christmas Eve.
"Jesus, for me, is the reason for the season," she said. "I just want to be with God this Christmas and tell him how grateful I am."