Advent, of course, is the time before Christmas. It is the process of building toward Christmas Eve and, of course, Christmas morning. The problem is that once December 26 has come, it’s over.
Adam Hamilton, who regular readers to this blog know I respect greatly, uses Christmas as a lead-in to January. In his book Unleashing the Word: Preaching With Relevance, Purpose, and Passion, Hamilton explains his strategy for the Advent Season. Each January he presents a sermon series designed specifically to attract those who are “unchurched.” That series is heavily promoted in the weeks before Christmas and especially at Christmas Eve.
He figures that if they get themselves to church on Christmas Eve, they may have a need that the church can fill in January.
As you probably know, Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection is just 20 years old, but is the largest United Methodist Church anywhere in the world other than Korea.
There’s a chance he knows what he’s talking about.
How are you going to use the larger-than average crowd on Christmas Eve and other times this season to reach the unchurched?
Give them an excuse to come back after the first of the year. It may be a sermon series that attracts them, or it may be an outreach, such as a Good $ense personal finance program or the launch of a single parent program.
Pay attention to all of the messages visitors get from you. Make sure they don’t see “No Kids Sunday School This Week” signs when they come in the door. Have your warmest greeters on duty. Make sure the restrooms are clean and well-stocked.
Is there room for visitors at Christmas Eve? One of the great benefits of being in the choir is they arrive in time to grab all of the good parking places, while visitors may be left parking in the back 40, leaving them a slightly longer trek than the Magi endured. Encourage your healthy members to practice the Ministry of the Parking Place by leaving the best spaces available for visitors. And a couple of volunteers in reflective vests can help people feel welcome as soon as they enter the parking lot.
Church growth experts will tell you that if a visitor pulls into a parking lot or walks into a sanctuary that is 80 percent full, he may feel there is no room for him, so do what you can to make him feel welcome.
How seriously does the Church of the Resurrection take this approach? They actually ask their members to not attend church on Christmas Eve, encouraging them to come to a “Christmas Eve” service on the 23rd, and leaving parking places and seats for visitors the following night. Unfortunately few of our churches face such a crisis of elbow room, but it is worth the mention.
And since this is supposed to be a stewardship blog, I’ll refer you to a piece I wrote about the Easter Offering and the message that it sends. Go back and give this another read. The message works just as well for Christmas Eve.
If Jesus really is the reason for the season, we should remind our visitors that the reason continues well after the season is over.