In just nine days we will start Advent (or as I heard one radio DJ say, “the Christmas gift buying season.” Ouch!). What is your church doing to leverage opportunities for reaching out to non-believers in your community during the season? Do you have a plan? And does that plan look beyond Christmas into the next year?
Don’t panic. My questions aren’t meant to create angst for you as you head into the holidays. But I do hope that if your church does not have a plan, you will shift your thinking just enough to find a few ways to reach out.
I also hope that you’ll think about more than just Christmas. It’s great if guests come to your church for Christmas Eve candle lighting services, but it’s a missed opportunity if you’re not engaging those guests with an invitation to events in January and beyond.
Here are several ideas that might be of help to your church.
1) Is your “home” ready for guests?
If you’ve got houseguests coming next week for Thanksgiving, you’ve already made plans to clean the house, get the bed linens ready, buy extra food, etc. Have you done the same thing for your church home? Is everything spiffied up around the grounds and the sanctuary? Have all the brochures and fliers been updated? Bulletin boards refreshed? Is there a plan for providing fresh coffee and maybe some Christmas cookies? Could the church afford some sort of guest gift?
2) Are you showing off your best face to the community?
If you have a website, has it been updated for Advent? Is all information on the site current? Is there advice to guests about what to expect? Where to park? What the childcare arrangements are?
What does the front of the church and the parking lot look like? Any quick-fixes or weeding that needs to be done? Do you have a professional-looking banner inviting the community to Advent or Christmas services?
For a reasonable cost and in a short amount of time, you can have business cards or postcards made up so that members have an easy-to-carry invitation to holiday services at the ready. I have used an on-line printing service with great success. Encourage members to carry a few cards with them, and to be thinking and praying about people they could invite.
4) How is your congregation blessing the community during the holidays?
Could your congregation collect food for the local food pantry? Are members helping out at non-profits that distribute food and presents during the holidays? Those organizations would be thrilled if a team came from your church to work various shifts throughout the season. Is there an organization in your community in need that your church could adopt, one that wouldn’t normally get a lot of attention at this time of year? And, how could you partner with other organizations, churches, community members to serve? For example, could members invite friends and neighbors to donate food to the food drive, or sign-up to volunteer with the group at a non-profit?
5) Do you have something to invite guests to beyond the holidays when they visit on Christmas Eve?
Is there something happening in January, or in the next quarter, that might be of interest to them? A special event? An interesting class or a class that gives a beginning look at Christianity or discipleship? A meet-the-pastor event? New Members class? A get-together for young families? A luncheon for older adults? What about offering a way to accept prayer requests?
6) Do you have a way to collect information about your guests?
If you have guest pad, remember to ask people to fill it out during worship. Not everyone is going to want to identify themselves, but give them the opportunity and then follow up with a letter from the pastor, or some other kind of welcoming note.
7) Who is praying for the church and the community throughout Advent?
Do you have a prayer team, or small group, that could hold the church, the pastor(s), and most importantly, the surrounding community, in prayer?
One note: don’t get so caught up in the details of reaching out to the community and welcoming guests that you forget to focus on what Advent is all about. Take time to pray, to worship, to enjoy God’s presence. Invite the Holy Spirit into the planning and into all your church does this season. Your church and the community will be richly blessed.
What does your church do to reach out to the community/welcome guests during Advent? Share with us in the Comments section so we can learn new ideas from each other!