How can your congregation deepen its connection to the community this holiday season? Jessica Anschutz of the Lewis Center staff offers six ways to engage people of all ages, including the groups meeting at your church, in the preparation for and celebration of Christmas. From decorating the sanctuary to decorating cookies and singing beloved carols, there are lots of ways to engage people in the celebration of Christmas.
A few years ago, I was in my office working on the Advent bulletins when I heard a child’s voice say something like “is this the sanctuary?” I turned toward the door and saw a Girl Scout holding a box of Christmas decorations. During their meeting, the Girl Scouts observed church members decorating for Advent and asked if they could help. As I walked the scout to the sanctuary, I learned she had never attended a worship service and did not know what a sanctuary was. Her only experience with church was through her Girl Scout troop meetings in the fellowship hall. This experience led me to consider how the congregation and its ministries might better engage with those who were already at the church, but not yet connected to its ministries. As you prepare for Advent and Christmas, here are six ways your congregation can deepen its connection to the community this holiday season.
1. Invest in a child-friendly nativity set.
Another congregation I served displayed a large nativity set on a table across my office and just inside the main entrance to the church building. More than one of the nativity figures had been repaired over the years as they had been knocked to the floor by a curious child. The church hosted a local childcare program and as the children came in the building, I overheard their parents and guardians saying, “Don’t touch.” “Leave the sheep on the table.” “We need to walk straight to your classroom.” I heard similar instructions offered to children attending the church’s December pancake breakfast and was discouraged because I wanted the children to engage with the nativity figures and ask questions. So, we found a new place for this nativity set and invested in an unbreakable child-friendly nativity set. As families waited in line for the pancake breakfast, we invited and encouraged the children to engage with the figures and ask questions.
2. Deck the halls.
If your congregation has a Hanging of the Greens service or a tree lighting, invite the groups who use your building to participate. The Girl Scouts were so excited to help decorate the sanctuary that they asked if they could help decorate the following year. Consider how you can engage scouts, recovery groups, and other building users to actively participate in the decorating process and then invite them to help take the decorations down and safely store them.
3. Offer carols and cocoa.
I started Carols and Cocoa during the pandemic because people missed singing their favorite Christmas carols, then transitioned the program to be hybrid so that folks could participate in person as well as via the livestream. For the program, intersperse clusters of Christmas carols, both sacred and secular, with poetry and scripture readings. Invite anyone who plays an instrument to share a Christmas carol. This is a great way to engage children and youth musicians and musicians from the community and groups who use the church building. Gather in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, or around the fire pit. Provide song lyrics, hot cocoa, and candy canes and enjoy a joy-filled afternoon or evening of singing.
4. Decorate ornaments or cookies.
Cookie and/or ornament decorating is fun for all ages. Either or both activities can be added to a Hanging of the Greens service, Carols and Cocoa, or another ministry. They can also be offered after worship, during school hours in cooperation with daycares and preschools, or during meeting times in conjunction with support groups, scouts, and other building users. Food pantry patrons and their families could also be invited to decorate an ornament or a cookie or both!
5. Go Christmas caroling.
Choirs, children’s choirs, handbell choirs, and praise teams work hard to prepare special music for the holiday season, but often have limited opportunities to share the music. Choirs or praise teams can share their special music at a Christmas tree farm, mall, local restaurant, subway platform, train station, or local nursing home or assisted living facility and bring a smile to the faces of shoppers, diners, or commuters. Alternatively, they could sing or play for the scouts, recovery groups, or others who are already in the church building or even invite participants in those groups to join in Christmas caroling.
6. Invite, invite, invite.
Many people say they have never been to church because they have never been invited. Extend invitations to people meeting in your building, patrons at your food pantry, and families involved in the childcare center to participate in the Advent and Christmas ministries of the church. Invite people to join the short-term book club or Advent Bible study. Invite building users to support missions, donate to the food pantry, or to practice alternative giving through a financial gift supporting a particular ministry. A personal invitation is a powerful way to share the love of Christ this Christmas season.
- Connecting with the People God has Place in Your Pathway by Ann Michel
- 10 Ways to Reach Unchurched People at Christmas by Carey Nieuwhof
- 4 Clues for Inviting Others to Church Effectively by Doug Powe
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