Anyone who has ever thrown a party or event of any kind knows there’s a lot of pressure to do the thing that everyone will like. Should it be inside or outside? Should there be music or no music? Should there be food or just appetizers? Will someone be offended if we serve wine? If we over prepare and people don’t show up, what will people think? It’s nearly enough to make people forego having a celebration altogether.
I feel like Christmas services can sometimes fall into this category in our minds as we prepare as ministry leaders. Christmas is the celebration of our God becoming human to rescue His people from sin. It’s a story we are compelled to tell and that we desperately don’t want to forget, but there’s a lot of pressure to create an experience that people will like.
The statistics show that almost three times the amount of people attend church at Christmas time over a regular weekend, and most stats show that a service at Christmas time is the most highly attended service of the whole year followed closely by Easter. This is one time of year that you can easily predict that people are going to be at church, and THIS is why there is pressure. Pressure to engage individuals in the right way. Pressure to have the right amount of tradition included and pressure to inspire people to want to come to back to church. So what should you do?
here’s why “sacred” services are amazing
Traditional Christmas services conjure up every warm and fuzzy thing that people feel during the holidays and bottle them up for one 60 minute extravaganza.
Here are some traditional Christmas activities that feel sacred and holy because they’ve been passed down for generations.
- Singing traditional Christmas carols and hymns.
- The overwhelming appeal to the holiness and miracle that God would rescue humanity through a baby.
- Candles. Is there not something so collectively beautiful about hundreds of people lighting candles in unison?
- Celebrating Advent in the weeks leading to Christmas like so many people have done before.
- Taking communion altogether in remembrance of our Lord.
- Highlighting activities where the less fortunate are intentionally cared for is a big part of our
- Christian faith traditions.
- Presenting a live nativity or something similar to cultivate the worship of the infant Christ.
- Choirs, handbells, and so much more
These types of activities are things that can invoke awe and reverence to someone who grew up in church. Even someone who doesn’t regularly come to church, but who has always come at Christmas might find these activities oddly familiar and comforting. They highlight the idea that our God is the same yesterday, today and forever and no matter how much time has passed the traditions we expect from church will persevere.
I can personally share that my eyes have welled with tears in corporate worship experiences such as these. As someone who understands the faith tradition, I find it beautiful and sacred, just as this list suggests I should. However, to an outsider, our traditions are foreign and ancient.
Eating bread that represents bodies and barnyard animals to celebrate God. A person who is searching for something new and real and relevant in their life could easily walk away saying the church has nothing to offer to my life. I’ve personally attended a service I thought was fantastic with unchurched friends and they left thinking “that was weird.”
here’s why “secular” services are amazing
The facts are ninety-one percent of Americans celebrate Christmas and yet only forty-seven percent of Americans attend church at Christmas. That means there are a lot more people getting giddy on Christmas lights, decorations, candy canes, hot cocoa, and both consumerism and generosity, then there are celebrating the birth of our Savior. I know there are a lot of people who say that there is a war on Christmas, but only thirty-eight percent of the younger generation see it that way according to a 2014 Lifeway study.
So, needless to say, there might be some room to embrace some things secular in a way to get people to church who enjoy Christmas, but who aren’t so sure about religion. If you have an event that celebrates the tenants of our faith like love and family and generosity, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could walk away saying, that was a bad experience.
Like it or not, more people are coming to church with the desire to be inspired. The church is often behind culture in terms of progress, but one thing we still do really well is inspire. Tradition often provides reflection and comfortability, but innovation and fresh presentations can really inspire someone to take a look at the life they are living. A non-traditional service has the ability to create a completely different feel.
here are some of the things a more secular service can create
- Fun, people don’t expect to come to church and have fun, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t create an experience that makes people want to come back.
- Without tradition, anything goes. The sky is limit for your creative juices and that’s a really cool place to start.
- People will expect a show, and shows attract a lot of attention, which can ultimately point more people to our Christ.
- The music can be something that your crowd loves. (Think Nat King Cole or Big Band or even Boy Band Christmas Songs, millennials might for real show up for that!)
- Snow, glitter, confetti and all the fun extras have a place.
- Santa, snowmen, reindeers, hot cocoa, sure these things have nothing to do with Jesus, they just don’t, but they are traditions in their own right, and we want to meet the people where they are.
- You have the opportunity to create with the guest in mind. What would draw someone out in your specific home town?
- Christmas lights and light shows are extremely popular Christmas activities. Having the right kind of environment can draw people to church.
- Kids (need I say more?)
here’s why you have to be yourself
Okay, so as in everything there’s always reasons why people land on both sides of an issue. So, you just have to ask what is going to serve your faith community best? At everything.church we often talk about how churches have events for events sake, this is neither beneficial or successful to your church’s strategy. If you can’t define why you do what you do then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Why do you have a Christmas service? Is it for your church family? Is it to honor tradition? Is it to have your highest attendance number of the year? Is it to reach that person who only comes to church one time a year? Is it all of these things? If it it’s all, which area is weighted more heavily? Whether you are in Student Ministry, Kid Ministry, Media and Worship or Executive Leadership, you should always be asking yourself these questions? The only way to grow is to know these answers. Why do we do this thing?
Knowing the ‘why’ will guide your outcome. You will more easily be able to decide if your Christmas service should have a one hundred percent sacred focus or possibly a 50/50 mix is where you should land. Regardless of what you choose, choose it with intentionality. Don’t pick it “because you’ve always done it this way” or even because “it needs to be better than last year”. Choose it because it’s right fit for what you are trying to accomplish. No matter what you do, honor the miracle of Christ becoming human, because it truly is a special thing indeed.