Making the most of Christmas
By the time you read this you may already have had your first (or tenth) mince pie of the season, you may be psyching yourself up to tackle the ever growing Christmas card list, and you may be regretting not starting the Christmas shopping earlier. Someone has likened Christmas shopping to a tumble dryer: you go round and round in circles, get very hot, and when you arrive home you realise you’ve been taken to the cleaners!
But more positively, 2,000 years ago the angel said to Mary that he brought ‘good news of great joy that will be for all the people’ (Luke 2:10). Christmas is the best opportunity churches have to get unbelievers together to listen to that good news of Jesus. In our increasingly secular society Christmas is the one time in the calendar when, for many, going to church or to a carol service is still an accepted part of our culture’s traditions.
In the early weeks in December, university and college Christian Unions will use Cathedrals, football stadiums, student union bars and lecture theatres to host carol services and reach hundreds and thousands of students with the gospel. So how can we as churches make the most of the opportunities this season gives us?
Here are some ideas from a couple of churches in North Wales. Nothing earth shattering, probably nothing original, and I’m sure there are more and better ideas out there, but they’re starters for ten, and we pray God will use them to build his church.
- A community carol service
For the last four years Christ Church Deeside have hired the local civic hall to host a community carol service. Christmas is the one time when ‘neutral territory’ is less important, people may still go, may even expect to go, to a church building for a carol service. However, the civic hall in Shotton has three big advantages: first, it’s right at the centre the community, most people there would walk or drive past it every week; second, it’s an official community building – helping to create the idea that this is the (unofficial) community carol service; and third, it comfortably holds 400 people, more than double the capacity of the church building.
For weeks before there are big banners up entitled ‘A Deeside Christmas’. Christmas card invitations go out to houses in the immediate area. The format is traditional (traditional is expected at Christmas) – seven Bible readings and carols with fifteen minutes of clear and accessible preaching towards the end, and mince pies and coffee afterwards.
There’s a choir (of good singers!) from the church, and the Deeside Silver Band come and play, which means there are at least thirty unbelievers there plus family and friends. One of the keys is choosing a date which doesn’t clash with school activities and work do’s – last year it was 23 December which saw the biggest turn out yet, over 400 people. That means about 300 unbelievers hearing the gospel. Christianity Explored is advertised during the service and runs from early January.
In Mold we’ve unashamedly copied Deeside’s approach. We don’t have the advantages of their venue. We would use the church building except that we’d like to see more people than we can fit in there, so we hire a school hall in the town which holds 350 people. We’ve not been full yet but we’re praying we’ll soon outgrow our venue. Previous years we’ve delivered thousands of fliers around the houses, but we’re not convinced how effective this is so we may go for banners this year.
- Schools’ carol services
One of the elders from Christ Church Deeside is a retired primary school headmaster. He used his contacts with local schools to offer to organise a schools’ carol service. The idea was to form choirs made up of children in the schools. A couple of musical members of the church (a part-time teacher and a ministry apprentice) visit schools to lead rehearsals for several weeks in preparation for putting on a carol service for their parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends in the community’s civic centre. Members from the church lead the service, the children sang beautifully and there was a short talk to children and relatives. Last year they held two of these services, 150 children singing in each and about the same number of adults in the audience. About 500 people reached with the gospel.
Not every church has the contacts and capabilities to do this, but it does illustrate what’s possible with a bit of creativity.
- Older people
We run a weekly ‘coffee morning’ for retired and older persons. Most weeks we have about thirty-five coming along. At Christmas we put on a Christmas meal for them and their friends and family, with a short talk afterwards. We also ask one of the local primary schools to bring a class or two of children along to sing for the older folk. That gives us good contact with the school and an opportunity to give Christmas tracts and carol service invitations to the children.
- Reaching the needy and lonely
We haven’t done this yet but are hoping to this year! It’s an idea stolen from a church in Ammanford. For many people Christmas is about families getting together and eating, which gives us a great opportunity to model the gospel, by getting the church family together for a meal. So on Boxing Day (Sunday this year) we plan to put on a meal in the church building after the morning service. It will be for anyone in the church family, but we’re particularly doing it for those who may be by themselves at Christmas. We’ll also say to the church family to invite along anyone they know (neighbours, etc.) who are by themselves or who are needy. It’s an attempt to model Christ’s invitation to His great Messianic banquet (Luke 14:15ff).
- Churches working together
Earlier this year five of the evangelical churches in North East Wales got together to put on a couple of evangelistic events in the region as part of the Passion for Life initiative (organised by the gospel partnerships in England). It was exciting to be partnering together for the sake of mission and to begin to think regionally not just locally. We’re trying to maintain that momentum and plan to bring our churches together in November to pray for the Christmas events. We’re also thinking about doing some joint publicity for Christmas – an advert in the local newspapers and using the same design on all our publicity with the hope that people will keep spotting the same design as they drive around the area.
As I said, there are plenty more ideas out there to be stolen. These are small attempts to reach the hundreds of thousands in our region who have no idea why Jesus came into the world. Christmas is a unique opportunity in the calendar and we need to keep finding ways to make the most of it for the sake of the gospel.
John Richards is a pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Mold.