Earlier this week, someone asked us to list five things that churches really need to do at Christmas. We brainstormed and came up with the following ideas based on our own experiences (read nightmares). Hopefully you'll benefit by avoiding some of the mistakes we've already made.
If you have something you'd like to add, we'd love to hear your ideas and some of the lessons you've learned:
- Stick with the basics, but go deep. Tell the baby Jesus story, and use terms that a child or someone new to the faith can understand. But don't shy from talking about Emmanuel and the incarnation. Get beyond the cute baby story and really deal with what Christmas means for Christians. The fact that God became a human to save humanity is mindblowing, but it takes creativity to help people see that truth in a fresh way each year. Unfortunately, in the church we often excel at making the extraordinary seem ordinary. If the Christmas story becomes old hat, that's an indictment on us, not the story itself.
- Plan early and often. If you're responsible for pointsettias, candles, offering envelopes, or other supplies and decorations, order them as far ahead of time as possible. There are few things more unprofessional than church representatives who come unglued and get testy with sales clerks because of their own lack of organization. Start planning early and update everything weekly—even more often as Christmas gets closer. And if you're in charge of recruiting staff or volunteers for the nursery or other ministry areas, don't wait until the last minute. People have their own plans to make during this busy season.
- Advertise, advertise, advertise! Have your worship times promiently displayed everywhere, especially if you do additional or special worship services. Take advantage of your worship guide/bulletin, the church sign, your church website, and social networking accounts. Never assume that most of the people in your congregation know what's going on. In fact, it's usually safer to count on the opposite being true!
- Take breaks and get plenty of rest. Make sure your staff has downtime before going into this busy season of the year. If you're the lead pastor for your congregation, it's especially important for you to model sabbath. In most organizations, people take their cues from their leaders. If you're running around like a chicken with a severed head and not taking time to recharge regularly, odds are your staff and volunteers will behave the same way. Remember, when ministering to others, it's important to take care of yourself so you actually have something to give.
- Make Christmas different this year. Think about ways this Christmas can be different for you and your family. As pastors and church workers, some of us have heard, studied, preached, taught, and sung Christmas to the point that there's a danger of it becoming rote for us. Be intentional about stopping and reflecting on what you can change from last year—especially if last year was too busy, frantic, and commerical.
The Christmas season is "prime time" for churches—it's one of the best opportunities you'll have this year for reaching the unchurched in your community. Leaders need to understand the limited window for outreach and do everything possible to "strike while the iron is hot." In a time when boredom with church has become pandemic, doing just enough to get by isn't a viable option anymore.