You only get one chance to make a first impression. Perhaps for a few more years, unchurched people will come to a Christmas Eve service, especially if they are brought by your members!
So what can you do? You already are trying your best to have a nice service. But chances are you are overlooking something. So the encouragement is to get pastors and people to look at the following content and make a decision about each point.
First how can you identify new and especially local people? Leaving it to the pastor’s memory isn’t going to be good enough, even if you have a small church. Multiple ways to catch people’s contact information is the best strategy. Invite all folks to fill out pew pad registration, greeters encouraging them to fill out the prominently placed guest book is a good start. Then put something in the bulletin that they can tear off, fill out and put in the plate. Perhaps the best is a personal conversation with your members. Share with your members that the service is for God. It is not so much for them. Sure they will be blessed through Word and worship. They will be blessed as they are no doubt reunited at the pew and altar with their family that may have been separated by many miles. Yet it is a special opportunity for connecting with people who may be separated eternally from God Himself. Yet they came that night, for whatever reason, and this is God’s invitation for regulars to show newcomers the gentle love of Jesus. If you have video screens, then in addition to your bulletin, point newcomers to a number and words to text to get more information. Share your Facebook page, your web site, twitter and Instagram accounts. (Don’t have them? Why not? Time to get them and use them now!) Let people be anonymous if they want to be. But provide ample opportunity for them to let themselves be known. Social media, twitter and texting to get more information cannot be emphasized enough in this regard.
Speaking of the “next” thing, intentionally and carefully schedule some things that will welcome them back - concert, sermon series, lecture series, fellowship event, community service event. Yes a community service event! People are always curious about “making a difference” and if they can do that through the church, and meet your good Christian members, then all the better! Promote that next thing or next things to continue the relationship. Be clear about this and redundantly communicate it in writing and verbally at the service and on the home page on your web site and on your Facebook page as well.
Preach on hospitality to your members in the weeks prior. Encourage them to introduce themselves and ask them if they are here for the first time. Teach regulars to Invite others to come to the next event. If appropriate have them ask for their contact information and promise to call, text, email or otherwise invite them to get to know you better at the next event. Give some demonstrations in church during the offering time or through other creative means. Teach them a few questions to ask people gently. “Hi, welcome to St. John’s. I’m sorry I don’t know you. My name is…” Help them avoid ridiculous comments, “Gee the sermon was short tonight” Or “Nice to see the church filled with people for once…” Just help people focus on loving people. Simple as that.
Don’t forget the nursery. Safe, secure, available, accessible with a good ratio of adults to children. Make sure that you have clearly marked bathrooms. Don’t forget visible fire extinguishers if you still light candles to sing Silent Night. It will signal safety and care and thoughtfulness.
Make the service your best. From the time you start (on time) to the sound and music and message. Don’t forget the gospel! It will shock some people! Enjoy sharing the mystery of God’s unconditional love in Christ! Don’t forget about ending in less time than they thought (yes! less is more!). This is not the time for a “kitchen sink” service where you throw everything in but the “kitchen sink!” This probably means you will not go over an hour. That also means you probably don’t want a “kitchen sink” sermon either! Less is definitely more! You might want to stay all night but not everyone will. So as attention spans shrink these days it means do it well and choose not to put everything in. Be thoughtful and deliberate and make the most of every second of service time and sermon time.
For not too much longer, people will be coming to church on Christmas Eve who wouldn’t darken your door at any other time. Many might have never walked inside a church before in their lives. Prepare your service for those people, those who are not there. That means spell out everything. Written instructions on screens and/or bulletins. Over communicate instructions. Even simplify the service somewhat. If it is traditional, give clear instructions for the uninitiated. Consider some narration (do you ever listen to the televised services of the Vatican on Christmas Eve? Someone is giving a voice over to explain things) either verbally or in writing or both. This is not the time for people to get frustrated and mentally check out and not pay attention.
Worship the new born King by knowing it is a great opportunity to make new friends and build relationships with those who are not yet believers in Jesus. You’ve got about 3 weeks before Christmas. How will you decide to upgrade your outreach to these people for whom Jesus died?
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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