Church growth guru, Bill Easum, says that Christmas Eve is the most important night of the year for the “unconnected”. How many of our churches, though, design Christmas Eve worship for the first-time visitor, for the person who is not connected to a community of faith or to a real relationship with Jesus Christ?
Most of the time you’ll hear me say that you can’t just advertise your church’s worship service and expect people to show up. Christmas Eve is different. Christmas Eve is the most “sacred” of times for the unchurched. It’s the time of year when even the most secular sing Christian carols, listen to handbells, imagine choirs singing the Hallelujah Chorus, and long for candlelight. We complain about the secularization and the commercialization of Christmas, rightly so … but it’s still a time for hallmark moments, for a genuine glimpse or hope of peace and joy. Christmas Eve is still a longing for the simple, the stable, the serene.
The most likely time an unchurched or previously churched person will walk into worship is Christmas Eve. Do we prepare for that? Bill Easum reviews things to think about on Christmas Eve in his post “The Most Important Night of the Year.” Here’s my list … his, plus a few thoughts of my own.
- Publicize your Christmas Eve worship. Use the newspaper, your church sign, Facebook, your website, etc. Make sure that people who want to know can find out where, when and what to expect when they get there. Check out A Presbyterian Christmas a first-time attempt at publicizing Christmas services throughout the bounds of New Brunswick Presbytery.
- Invite your friends and family to worship with you. Many who are longing for the “Christmas Spirit” will be embarrassed to suggest going to church, but will jump at the chance to attend with a friend or relative.
- Greet holiday visitors with joy and hospitality. The convenience of parking, the smile on the greeter’s face, the friendliness of members in the pews, the ease of following along in the bulletin — these are things to consider when thinking about the first-time visitor.
- Make your worship service “real” to the spiritual longings of the visitor, don’t just take into account the needs or desires of members. Be sure to express the real love of Christ given freely to and for each one of us, no matter how far we may feel we are from it.
- Don’t do something dramatically different from your normal worship experience, but make it excellent. Preach your best sermon, use your choir or praise band that you’d normally use on Sunday mornings. Let the visitor see your congregation as you are, but at your best.
- Collect visitor’s contact information and follow-up with a telephone call with a day or two at most. Be careful, though, not to draw undue attention to the first-time visitor.
Easum cautions against a communion service since it is frequently awkward or seemingly non-inclusive of seekers or visitors. It’s good to consider, of course, how the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is perceived by a non-insider, and make your preparations accordingly. Whatever you do, make it genuine, make it authentic, make it joyful, and make it meaningful.
May God bless you and your congregation this Christmas with joy and peace, and may you be a witness to the light of Christ throughout this season.