Every year I have to convince senior pastors that Christmas Eve is a powerful and great opportunity to reach out to their communities. Catholic churches have known this for centuries. Evangelical churches are just now waking up to it. But even the best intentions have flaws, so I'm going to give you the top 5 mistakes churches can make when planning their Christmas services.
1. Give the staff Christmas Eve off.
That's a critical mistake that a lot of churches make. Christmas Eve is a great opportunity to reach out to people who want to connect with God and their families and who are looking for an opportunity to do so. Done well, your Christmas Eve service could be one of the best attended service of the entire year. This is not the time to make do with a bare-bones staff.
2. Have only one Christmas Eve service.
Different time options give people a reason to say yes to an invitation to come to your service. Even if you only have two services, say one at 3 p.m. and another at 5 p.m. they give people a chance to come to church and then hit the road to visit relatives and friends without forcing people to choose between a church service or dinner at Grandma's. By the way, Grandma wins every time.
3. Go "Cutting Edge" creative.
If you know me, you realize that I'm drawn to high-energy, creative environments. But when it comes to Christmas, I'm looking for a traditional, warm, chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire type of service. And most everybody else is looking for the same thing. Most people I interview around Christmas time are displaced people away from most of their families who are looking to make traditions of their own. Christmas Eve for those of us who are far from home is a very sentimental time and we want to feel like George and Mary Bailey and not like Homer and Marge Simpson.
4. Don't have any preaching.
The number one reason people decide whether or not to come back to a church they visited is how they felt about the preacher. I'm not advocating an hour-long message; it's Christmas Eve after all, but the Teaching Pastor should have at least a 20-minute message so he can engage newcomers and share with them his heart and teaching style.
5. Don't give them a reason to return.
Ok, you had multiple services on Christmas Eve and it was beautiful, people showed up in droves, and you had one of your best days of the year. And then what? Well, the first of the year is just a weekend away. That's a key time when people make New Year's resolutions and often, one of them is to get back in church. Have a New Year's series ready to promo that day. Enclose the graphics and message titles in the bulletin for your Christmas Eve service. Produce a short video that promos the new series and invites people back. You'll be surprised how many people will take you up on that offer.
While most churches will have a musical program or play during the weeks leading up to Christmas, these have not shown to produce growth. Christmas Eve, however, has been a powerful introduction to the church if you use it effectively. I still get thank you notes from pastors who discover the potential of a well-planned and executed Christmas Eve service. Hopefully I'll get a note from you this year.