Advent is a prime season with rich potential for engaging church members and new people. There is arguably no time in the year when people are more interested in what the church is offering than during Advent. What attracts many to church this time of year is the realization that the church shares this season in a way that has greater meaning and integrity than their local shopping mall or holiday show in the theater. Whether with a gathering of neighbors singing carols in a small country church, or with a large choir and organ in a tall steeple sanctuary, the church understands how to celebrate Advent and Christmas.
What attracts many to church this time of year is the realization that the church shares this season in a way that has greater meaning and integrity than their local shopping mall or holiday show in the theater.
A group of church members at the church Tom serves discussed Advent and Christmas and shared what the church could do to make the season more meaningful. One of the themes that became clear was music. People said that while they appreciated sermons throughout the year, the message of Advent and Christmas was often best conveyed in song. They shared that some of their best memories of the season were found in singing at local community events. While they loved the hymns of the church, they wished that Advent could include a service of singing similar to what they found at the “Christmas sing-a-long” at the nearby park amphitheater.
Some pastors find it inappropriate to sing Christmas carols during Advent. The tradition of the church is to sing songs that reflect Advent as a time of preparation, and not break into the celebration of Christ’s birth before the time. The problem with this thinking is that the surrounding culture of the United States does not follow the lead of the church, and this culture now leads the way for the experience of the season. Radio stations in most major markets now start playing non-stop Christmas music not after Thanksgiving, as they did in past years, but after Halloween!
Churches that refuse to sing Christmas carols until December 24 are in danger of being the only venue where such music is not sung during December. The church, therefore, becomes a place people may avoid, since the experience of hearing and singing this music is offered abundantly elsewhere. What is lost is the sacred nature of the music. When choirs appear at the local mall, they mix “Joy to the World” with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Soon, the message of the sacred is so blended with the secular that it has no power and certainly no significance for worship.
Hearing this desire to sing the music of the season, the leaders of the weekly 5:00 p.m. service in the church Tom serves reformatted worship for the first week of Advent as a time to sing the carols of the season. This service was held immediately following an event where families made their own Advent logs and shared supper. The usual worship attendance of 150 swelled to over 500 persons as the sanctuary filled with joyful music.
This material is from Tom’s and Lovett’s book Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit (Abingdon Press, 2013). It is used with permission of the publisher. The book is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.