Is your church ready to roll out the holiday welcome mat? Ann Michel offers seven suggestions for helping people meet Christ anew this Christmas. Equip your congregation so that visitors are warmly welcomed online and in person this holiday season.
Many congregations are joyfully anticipating this year’s Advent and Christmas season. In some parts of the country, congregations haven’t gathered physically at Christmas since 2019. And absent a winter resurgence of COVID, they look forward to resuming their normal pattern of holiday activities and services.
Christmas is always a prime time for welcoming those who don’t normally attend church. As Rev. Mack Strange has written, “On Christmas Eve, it’s as if the world stops and looks at the church and says, ‘We don’t pay attention to you through the year, but tonight we’ll listen. What do you have to say?’” Moreover, in almost all churches a sizable percentage of those who worshiped regularly before the pandemic have not yet returned. And Christmas is the ideal time to welcome them home.
But your church may have lost a bit of muscle memory when it comes to putting out the holiday welcome mat. So now is the time to review your outreach and welcome plans and help people meet Christ anew in the celebration of his birth.
1. Equip church members to invite their friends, families, and neighbors.
Churchgoers are often timid or even downright uncomfortable inviting friends to church. But not at Christmastime. The widespread observance of Christmas in American culture means that even highly secular folks are in the holiday mood and more open to attending church services and events than at any other time of year. Print and distribute special invitations or flyers your members can share with friends and neighbors. Create social media posts they can share with their online networks. And schedule some low-barrier events that would appeal to their potential guests, such as a carol sing, a special Christmas concert or cantata, or a live nativity.
2. Make a plan to personally invite church members you haven’t seen in a while.
Rebekah Simon-Peter says that folks who got out of the habit of attending during the pandemic and haven’t come back to worship yet are only “one invitation away from returning.” She says one sincere, guilt-free, person-to-person invitation can make all the difference. And Christmas is the ideal time to encourage these folks to come home.
It’s always important, and this year even more so, that those returning to church at Christmas are celebrated and not shamed. Avoid the temptation to remind people that services are actually held 52 weeks a year or the passive-aggressive farewell that says in essence, “Hope we won’t have to wait another year to see you again.” Instead, honor and affirm the special claim that the church has on all hearts at Christmas as you welcome people back into the fold.
3. Enhance hospitality and follow-up efforts.
Make sure you have a capable team of greeters on duty, even if you have to look beyond your usual suspects to find folks free to serve during the holiday period. You might prepare small holiday gift bags for new or returning folks. Include a small gift like a mug or ornament that references your church, holiday cookies or treats, and information on the church’s mission and ministries.
4. Plan community-facing events and services.
As happy as many congregations are to be back in their buildings, it’s important to not lose sight of the need to connect with people beyond the doors of your church. And Christmas can be the ideal time to plan outward-facing or offsite events for those who may never cross the threshold of your building. Some congregations conduct offsite Christmas Eve services in hospitals, nursing homes, bars, restaurants, mall shopping lots, or community centers. Others offer live nativities or Christmas music in areas frequented by shoppers and passersby. The idea is to go where people are rather than expect them to come to you.
5. Up your game online.
If your holiday services will be offered online, be prepared to receive new worshipers in the digital sphere, as well. Prepare ahead of time a brief video welcome message that introduces your church to new digital worshipers. This message can be broadcast as online viewers are waiting for the service to start. Prepare a similar message for the end of the service sharing your regular worship hours and other opportunities to participate online. If your service is hybrid, take some extra time to make sure your worship plan is fully accessible and meaningful to online participants.
6. Give your Christmas visitors a glimpse of what matters most to your church.
While new and longtime worshipers will expect your service to focus on the familiar narrative of Jesus’ birth, you’ll still want your visitors to come away with a sense of what’s unique or distinctive about your church. If you are open and affirming or orthodox in belief, say so. If you’re proud of your pipe organ, make sure it gets played. If you have the best children’s music program in town, make sure to spotlight it. Highlight some of your missional priorities while taking the offering, and make sure your mission and values are clearly presented in the worship bulletin or other visitors’ material.
7. Give visitors a reason to return.
Plan and publicize special events in the new year that can serve as on-ramps for your Christmas visitors. Promote a January sermon series on a provocative or timely subject. Launch a new Bible study or small group. Talk up your MLK Day community service project. And invite people to take these next steps as your service concludes and in any follow-up communication.
At Christmastime the church truly offers joy to the world. Now is the time to focus on ways to share that joy with as many others as possible.
- 50 Ways to Welcome New People, a free resources from the Lewis Center
- One Invitation Away from Returning by Rebekah Simon-Peter
- 4 Ways to Make Christmas Eve Hospitality the Pattern for the Year by Doug Powe
- 10 Ways to Reach Unchurched People at Christmas by Carey Nieuwhof