Big Events for Christmas

July 27th, 2011

After pastoring the same church for 31 Christmases, I’ve got mixed feelings about the holiday. For church workers, Christmas isn’t easy. It comes annually with the same songs and carols, the same chapters from Matthew and Luke, same parties and dinners and functions, and a crushing schedule that hits us as we’re trying to deal with our own Christmas trees, family obligations, and gift buying. And how many new Christmas sermons can I write while staying fresh and original?

On the other hand, Christmas provides a set of opportunities as no other time of the year. It’s happy, colorful, fun, and deeply poignant. You can be as creative as you’d like. It’s tailor-made for children and for those who are children-in-heart. We see people who don’t cross our thresholds any other time except maybe Easter. And how wonderful to be able to preach the incarnation of Christ! So at The Donelson Fellowship, we’ve learned to take full advantage of Christmas through several very special events. Here are four principles we follow.

1. Limit and Brand Your Events

We have four big events that punctuate our season. We’ve developed them over the years; and while we change them up each year, we protect their brand and seek to enhance their impact from year to year.

Christmas Production

The production changes each year but is always produced by our music, drama, and tech ministries. It’s typically a Broadway-type show that runs several evenings. Some nights are dinner theaters; other nights are more affordable dessert theaters; and at least one evening is a free open-seated presentation. At the end of each program, I present the Gospel in a brief message (three minutes), invite people to pray to receive Christ, and offer literature at the doors to those wanting it.

"Christmas in the Round"

Because our church meets in a multi-purpose sanctuary with flexible seating, we rearrange the chairs in concentric circles and build a stage in the middle. On a Sunday night near Christmas, we gather for an hour of carols, testimonies, homilies, stories, and music. We involve as many people as we can, turn down the lights, and offer an ambience shared by no other service. It’s my favorite of all our Christmas events.

Christmas Eve

We’ve developed a unique approach to this most traditional of Christmas services. We plan for no more than 40 to 45 minutes. In the glow of candlelight, we hear and sing poignant carols like “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” and have a time with the children as we dust off the old King James Bible and read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Sometimes we include the Lord’s Supper, though this year we’re omitting it because so many non-Christians attend.

The central presentation of the evening is an original short story written just for the occasion. I got the idea from Charles Sheldon, author of an earlier generation of Christian fiction. His In His Steps, published in 1897, gave us the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” As a pastor, Sheldon wrote novels during the week and read segments to his congregation on Sunday nights. I can’t imagine reading fiction for a weekly sermon, but I can see doing it once a year.  As someone quietly plays a keyboard or guitar behind me, I read a fifteen-minute short story I’ve written and end the service with a brief application of the Gospel. (These stories have been complied into the book The Nativity Collection, published by J. Countryman).

Weekly Advent Worship      

The fourth “event” is the set of four Sunday morning worship services that make up the Advent season. Because we have more guests than usual, we work hard to make them as special as we can as we build anticipation and set the stage for the celebration of Christ’s coming.

Those are the events on which we’ve chosen to concentrate. There are fifty or sixty others we’ve thought about, experimented with, brainstormed over, and set aside for now. Every church needs to find the right combination for its own setting. But we can’t do it all. Limit your events and work hard to “build their brand” year after year.

2. Prepare and Promote Well in Advance

Since we have a twelve-month warning that Christmas is coming, there’s no reason to be in a panic or flurry. We work well in advance. I’ve spent several months already thinking about the plot for this year’s Christmas Eve story, and I’ve set aside a week in September to write it. Our worship pastor has already selected this year’s Broadway-style production and we’re working now on developing the sets, finalizing the budget, auditioning the parts, and selecting menus for the dinners. By building on the same events from year to year, we can refine our planning notebooks, laying out the organization with military precision. By promoting our events starting in October, we virtually guarantee sell-out crowds and good attendance (barring blizzards like we had last year!).

3. Relax to Release the Power of the Christmas Spirit

While it’s a lot of work preparing for and promoting these big events, it’s important for staff and volunteers alike to relax and enjoy the season. That allows everyone to release the power of their personalities. We can take time to smile, to be cheerful, and to weather the holidays without losing our Christmas spirit. In one of his books, Norman Vincent Peale titled a chapter with the words, “Relax for Easy Power.” We’re much more effective, he pointed out, when we’re relaxed. It puts others at ease. It allows the Holy Spirit to oil and lubricate our work so there’s less friction and more joy. In a season when everyone is hurrying, it’s helpful for a church to see its staff well-prepared, relaxed, and leading the ministry with cheerful competence.

4. Follow-Up to Capture and Build the Momentum

After Christmas, it’s time to capture the momentum for the coming year. That’s done in two ways. First, all guests, visitors, and prospects need to be contacted with appropriate encouragements and on-going follow-up. Second, all church publications, websites, social media outlets, and auditorium screens should be filled with pictures of the joys just experienced. Post-event publicity is a giant catapult for next year’s success. It reminds people of what the Lord just did among us, and invests them with anticipation for next year!

Meanwhile, take time to recover. Every pastor and staffer needs time off to rest and refuel. As you do so, look back with gratitude at the wonder of God-Now-In-Flesh-Appearing.

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