Christmas is a bit of a weird one when you are church planting.
It can feel like it ought to be one of the key moments of your year, and yet it is often unclear exactly what you can do to make the most of the season.
Here are three suggestions to consider as you plan for Christmas in your church plant.
Make a Splash
For a lot of established churches, Christmas time presents a opportunity to put on attractional events that can be a first step into church for many people. Carol services often prove to be a big hit, and allow you to draw people in with some well known songs in your church’s characteristic style plus a short and punchy Christmas preach. Many of your people will be grateful for an event like this to invite their mates along to, and you might also get some cold visitors from well targeted Facebook ads or local leaflet drops.
The problem church planters face is that when you have fifteen people meeting in a tiny room, it’s not easy to put on a rocking event of this kind (especially when half of your people have already ‘gone home’ for Christmas!). The workload would be heavy on your time, and it would be likely that a large amount of your head- and heart- space between September and December is focussed on one event, that probably wouldn’t be that good anyway.
If you are in a position where you are confident that you could pull something like this off and would get a big enough bang for your buck, then it may be worth a shot, but if not you may be better off playing to your strengths (which at the church planting stage are probably bold faith and deep community).
As an alternative to a carol service, a number of church plants have put on ‘carols in the pub’, where they speak to a local landlord about a couple of musicians from the church performing a few carols one night in a local pub. This may or may not be accompanied by a (very) short Christmas talk, but you would probably be able to mention the church, and possibly leave some flyers around for people who want to know more (Bonus tip – buy a round while you are doing it, and you will instantly have lots of goodwill). This kind of approach is much less work-intensive than putting on a whole carol service yourself and still gives you a chance to make an impact in the community.
Whilst carol events are a typical option that churches go for, they are by no means your only option. Have a think about the gifts and passions of people in the church, look at your capacity, and get creative thinking of ideas that work for you and are not necessarily the same as what everyone else is doing (things that we are doing this year at CCM include a daily devotional advent calendar and a carol EP).
Bless Your People
Whilst your church is at a season of life where big attractional events may not work that well for you, smaller relational events definitely will.
One of your goals in the early stage of the church plant is to help your people build a warm and welcoming community that others will find attractive and want to join. The most effective way of doing this is through hospitality – and Christmas provides you with an open goal for this. Why not put on a Christmas dinner for the people in your church (plus a few people on the fringe/outside)? Why not do a cheese and wine night? Why not take everyone to an outdoor ice rink and then back to yours for minced pies and mulled wine? If you have kids, why not use the school holidays to arrange playdates with other parents? What about taking advantage of any seasonal weather and getting people together for a spontaneous snowball fight, winter wide game or leisurely stroll in the snow?
The opportunities are endless, and you may be able to make some memories and forge some traditions that stay with your people for a long time and help their hearts connect into your church.
As well as the organised and spontaneous times with people, consider other ways you can bless them this Christmas. Perhaps consider buying gifts, or sending hand-written notes in Christmas cards to express your appreciation of the people in your church, or take time out to pray individually for the people who are with you. Are there specific individuals in your church in some kind of need this Christmas (Short on money? Short on company?). Do what you can to get around them and help them to have the very best Christmas imaginable.
Take a Break
I am sure you have noticed, but church planting is exhausting.
There are good arguments for trying to put on some kind of carol event, and also good arguments for doing a lot of social events.
But perhaps the best arguments are for doing a whole lot of nothing.
One of the issues that we have been talking about recently on Broadcast is how to pace a church plant, and though it may often feel like Christmas is a ‘key season’, it is probably actually a time to slow things down rather than speed them up. Many of the people who are planting with you will be making their own plans to spend time with their family or friends, and you would serve them well by leaving plenty of space in the calendar for this. You are not likely to get many newcomers from the ‘Church at Christmas and Easter’ crowd, nor from people visiting the area, as they will probably end up at more established churches.
Perhaps the best thing you can do with Christmas in a church plant is take it easy. Spend some time with people who are close to you. Recharge your batteries. Eat. Drink. Laugh. Think about the wonder of the Christmas story. Catch up on sleep. Be a normal human being for a bit. Let your team do the same.
And then come back in January, full of energy and vision, and hit the new year with everything you have.
P.S. – At Broadcast, we’re going to be taking our own advice. We will be having a bit of a rest over Christmas, and so this is the last post we’ll be putting up here this year. See you in 2017!