Reaching New People This Christmas Is More Important Than Ever


Ann Michel and Doug Powe of the Lewis Center write that the pandemic makes connecting with new people this Christmas more important than ever. But new ways of being and doing church adopted in the face of the coronavirus present some natural opportunities for outreach and evangelism during this holiday season.

Earlier this year as churches adapted to the emerging coronavirus threat, few of us imagined we would not have returned to “worship as usual” by Christmas. Yet here we are. Congregations across the country and around the world are planning novel and creative ways of observing Christmas Eve and Christmas responsibly during a pandemic.

Even in a time when it seems that everything has changed, there’s one thing that probably hasn’t — Christmas is still one of the few times of year when people not normally interested in church take an interest and when church members are open to inviting family and friends. As you work to reimagine your Christmas observances, consider ways to carry on the tradition of inviting and engaging newcomers.

In fact, it’s more important than ever. Many families are unable to gather and celebrate as they normally would. Some bear the burden of personal loss or financial setbacks. Isolation and loneliness will reverberate loudly as the usual din of holiday busyness falls silent this year. Rarely have we entered Advent with a greater longing for the hope that the Christ Child brings.

How can we share the joy and hope of Christmas with others this year?

Fill the void

In normal times, the days leading up to Christmas can be frantically busy with shopping, parties, cooking, family gatherings, and travel. This year, many will be celebrating Christmas at home in smaller, quieter ways. Churches can join this trend. National United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, for example, is offering a virtual seven-day countdown to Christmas with special musical events, worship services, devotions, and children’s performances, all of which are based on the theme of comfort and joy.

Get outdoors

Long before the pandemic hit, many forward-thinking churches were seeking ways to extend their spiritual presence beyond the walls of their church to engage people who might never cross the threshold of their building. (See “Taking Church to the Community,” Leading Ideas, January 25, 2015.) Now, churches in some parts of the country are holding outdoor events to minimize the risk of transmitting coronavirus. For example, in Texas, where the weather is mild in winter, First UMC in McAllen has purchased a large, inflatable outdoor screen and projection equipment to offer an outdoor Christmas Eve service. Remember, even when gathering outdoors it is still imperative to maintain social distance, wear masks, and follow local guidelines on the size of gatherings. But in situations where outdoor gatherings are feasible and safe, they can be a means of evangelism, making your church more visible and accessible to your community.

Update your website

Potential visitors almost always check a church out online before engaging in any substantive way. Your congregational websites may not reflect the major changes in worship and programming that have occurred since March. This may not be the time for a comprehensive website overhaul, but at least make sure your current worship options and any special Christmas events are front and center going into this holiday season. This is also a way to share information about assistance your congregation is offering during these challenging times when more families need help to make it through the holidays.

Enable virtual evangelism

The ease and comfort of “virtual evangelism” may explain in part why many congregations have enjoyed increased attendance for online worship services. (See “Online Worship Makes Evangelism Less Intimidating for Many,” Leading Ideas, June 17, 2020.) Posting on social media is a natural and spontaneous way for people to share their enthusiasm for what their churches are doing online. And it isn’t nearly as scary as inviting someone to attend an in-person church service or starting a conversation about God or the church. Christmas events are already low-barrier points of entry, so churches should maximize the opportunities for virtual evangelism by posting information on Christmas services and events to social media platforms where their members can easily comment and share. For example, sharing a message on social media platforms about a special music program is low-hanging fruit for virtual evangelism.

Connect with others

Many people may not have the support of family or friends over the holiday, including homebound individuals or those in nursing homes. Having volunteers from the church call consistently during the holidays can help them feel connected to the church and others. The holidays can be lonely even when we are not in the midst of a pandemic. This year it is critical to be more intentional about reaching out to others.

Bring church home for the holidays

More than any other holiday in our culture, except perhaps Thanksgiving, the celebration of Christmas is centered in the home. One reason fewer and fewer churches offer Christmas Day services is that they compete with the home-centered rituals of opening gifts, preparing special meals, and sharing family time. But virtual worship means we don’t have to set these things aside to “go to church.” Instead, we can welcome church into our homes and incorporate it into our home-centered family rituals. Since many family groupings will be smaller this Christmas, it’s the perfect opportunity to encourage families to gather together at home for online worship.

The pandemic makes connecting with new people this Christmas more important than ever. But the pandemic also has given rise to new ways of being and doing church that present new opportunities for reaching people. Christmas 2020 calls us to meet new people in new ways. Don’t miss this moment.

Related Resources


About Author

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr.

F. Douglas Powe, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and holds the James C. Logan Chair in Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He is also co-editor with Jessica Anschutz of Healing Fractured Communities (Palmetto, 2024) and coauthor with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Sustaining While Disrupting: The Challenge of Congregational Innovation (Fortress, 2022). His previous books include The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Abingdon Press, 2020); Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations; New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations; Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith; and Transforming Community: The Wesleyan Way to Missional Congregations.

Be the Welcoming Church cover image of a smiling person warming embracing anotherLewis Center video tool kit resource
Be the Welcoming Church

Learn how your church can make visitors feel truly welcome and comfortable!

The Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit will help you develop a congregation-wide ethos of hospitality and institute best practices for greeting newcomers, making them feel at home, and encouraging them to return. The resource includes engaging videos, a Study and Discussion Guide, and more. Be the Welcoming Church may be used for hospitality training or in adult classes or groups. more. Learn more and watch introductory videos now.