Add Off-Site Christmas Eve Services This Year


Rev. Mack Strange suggests conducting off-site Christmas Eve services at restaurants, nursing homes, prisons, and even bars to connect with the community.

Many churches know they are not connecting with the world around them but don’t know what to do about it. One marvelous way to reach out in a grace-filled way occurs on Christmas Eve. The celebration of God’s incarnate love for us in Jesus Christ provides the church with an incredible opportunity for outreach. Even in our secularized society, there is still a thread of understanding that perceives Christmas as holy time. On Christmas Eve, it’s as if the world stops and looks at the church and says, “We don’t pay much attention to you through the year, but tonight, we’ll listen. What do you have to say?”

What I have learned in my experiences of reaching out on Christmas Eve at restaurants, nursing homes, prisons, football stadium parking lots, and bars, is that on Christmas Eve people want to remember. For a few moments on Christmas Eve, they want to go to their proverbial home and believe that there can be peace on earth and good will toward all. In addition to having Christmas Eve services at your church, I hope you will consider conducting off-site Christmas Eve services this year.

If you are uncomfortable with this idea, you are in good company. Remember how hard it was at first for John Wesley to reach out beyond the walls of the church. But through his experience at New Gate Prison and other outside-the-church venues, Wesley began to engage the unchurched on their turf. At times it was the market square, at other times a church yard, or beside a coal mine, or on a city street, or a natural amphitheater.

Where is God leading you to offer Christmas Eve services?

Christmas Eve is one of the most special times of the year, and, as such, a time when many establishments are open to partnerships with churches. Even if some are only seeking increased traffic flow, opportunities are still available. It is important to communicate your intent to reach out to the community in a loving, hopeful, and celebrative way and that you will not bring a judgmental or harsh attitude to the people attending this service that will be open to all.

One thing we did to help create trust and a true sense of partnership when conducting a service at the Wildhorse Saloon was to ask the manager to bring his family to the service and light the Christ candle on the Advent Wreath. He was thrilled to do so and after the service commented how meaningful it was for him and his family. After the service that night, he suggested we add a homeless component to next year’s service, where together we would feed the homeless who gather on the banks of the river just a few blocks from the downtown area of Nashville. Keep in mind, this is the manager of the Wildhorse Saloon! The heart of God, in the heart of the manager, was revealed as a result of a creative partnership.

Not all of the following venues will be available in your community. However, review each of them, add to the list, and lift them in prayer as possible venues for the service you plan to offer.

Bars. Your outreach here is to the patrons of the bar or to those who would not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

Casinos. You may at first feel uncomfortable about this venue. Ask yourself, “Would Jesus go into such places to share love and grace?”

Hospitals. Many hospitals have chapels, and you can offer a service there for patients and their families. Some conduct services for emergency workers through this venue.

Hotels. Many hotels would love to offer to their guests the opportunity for a Christmas Eve service in the hotel itself.

Malls. Christmas Eve day or afternoon would be a great time to offer a Carols, Candlelight, and Communion service for all the shoppers.

Nursing homes. Request to conduct a service and ask if invitations can also go to family members of the residents.

Police stations or fire stations. If you live in a larger area, there may be enough on duty to have a service.

Restaurants. Many restaurants have a party room where you can set up your service. The restaurant can then offer something no other restaurant can offer in your community — a great meal and Christmas Eve service with carols, candlelight, and communion all at the same place!

When we finished our Christmas Eve outreach last year in Nashville, a local news station filmed a segment for their newscast that evening. At the close of the report the newscaster unknowingly said these prophetic words, “For the folks at Brentwood United Methodist Church, if you can’t come to church, the church can always come to you.”

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About Author

Rev. Mack Strange is a retired pastor in the Tennessee–Western Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church. He most recently was senior pastor of Fellowship United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, TN.

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