Advent, Christmas and Epiphany
Christmas is a busy time for everyone, so avoid the temptation to do too many things. It is much better to focus on one or two events – and do them really well.
High quality material for publicity etc.
Good Book Club (www.thegoodbookclub.co.uk)
Tracts etc. for Christmas
Nooma DVD’s (www.nooma.com)
Christmas Unwrapped (SU) £8.99
Book packed with Christmas ideas
Making the most of Christmas (CPAS) Making the most of Christmas 2 (CPAS)
Packed with ideas to celebrate Christmas
Many attempts at ‘outreach’ in the past have been of a non-relational type. That is, seeking to bring the Christian message to people without having to engage with them personally. For example, giving out a Christmas card which invites people to attend a Christmas Service may have its place, but on its own it probably attracts very few people.
“Relational evangelism” is about getting to know people as its starting point. John Finney’s research (though somewhat dated) shows that most people become Christians through getting to know people who are already Christians. It is people who are significant and not meetings. As others see the Christian lifestyle being lived out, they will take notice of the “difference” our faith makes to our daily lives (of course, if our lives are no different from those around us ….). How can people believe the message of reconciliation between God and people unless they see it at work among those who profess to believe?
When a local church is truly “together” then it has a magnetic appeal. When people are excited about going to church then there is something attractive about us. So here is the challenge:
- Does the life of my local church (and the lives of individual members) have a distinctive Christian lifestyle?
- Does my local church engage in relational activities?
The Christmas season offers many opportunities for relational activities – concerts, Nativity Play, Crib Service, pantomime, carol singing, supper, party etc.
These events could be described as “Track 1” events – building relationships with those outside the immediate church family. Such events could be happening throughout the year so that people are exposed to Christians and a Christian lifestyle. We also need to be praying that people will want to know more about the Christian faith.
Alongside these events, we need to offer “Track 2” events – the information track which provides a series of options apart from church services where people can discover more about the Christian faith. The size of the local church will inevitably influence the number of options available, but there is no reason why a number of churches cannot work together on this – and do not be afraid to think ecumenically.
There are quite a number of courses available, including Alpha, Emmaus, Christianity Explored, Christian Basics, Credo, Y Course – and others. There should be something to suit every church!
Some would argue that these courses start too far down the line, so there may be a need for something even more “basic”. For example, we have been running a series of meetings based on “Nooma” DVD’s, presented by Rob Bell.
A recent survey suggested that over 20% of adults intended to attend a church service over the Christmas period. For many their preferred service was a traditional Carol Service and people said that they would almost certainly attend if someone invited them and sat with them. When church members were asked if they were likely to invite anyone to a Christmas Service, a significant number said that they did not want to risk losing a friendship by bringing religion into the discussion. What a strange situation! Here were non-Christians asking to be invited, whereas Christians were reluctant to offer an invitation! Even so, it is estimated that about 15% of people attend a service over the Christmas period – far more than at any other time of year.
So what else, apart from a Carol Service, can we offer? Do not be afraid to include a short talk/meditation as part of the Service.
- A Christmas Concert, possibly the Saturday before Christmas and in the early evening. An hour’s programme of Christmas music – secular and spiritual – would be greatly appreciated, especially if you are able to include children and the church choir (if you have one). The compere will have plenty of opportunity to make appropriate Christian comments through readings etc. and it may well draw in people on the ‘fringe’ of church life – you might even include some of them in the concert. If simple refreshments could be provided, so much the better.
- Midnight Communion Services (11.30 p.m. on Christmas Eve) are still very popular in many communities, and provide an excellent opportunity for a challenging talk on the Christmas story. Many who come will not receive communion, but a warm welcome should be extended to all.
- Crib Services have a great appeal – possibly around 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve when shopping is over and people are waiting for Christmas to arrive. A half-hour service will carols, prayers and a short talk is a good but simple formula. Our Brownies put on a Christmas Tableau (very simple) and the church is always full (250-300 people).
- Much effort usually goes into church flowers at this time of year. Why not have a special time (just a couple of hours) when people are invited to come and look at the flowers. Seasonal music could be played and refreshments served – and there could be a leaflet giving details of Christmas Services.
- New Year Cabaret! An “in-house” event where individuals/groups are invited to perform their favourite poem, magic trick, song, story etc. With the right compere this can give an excellent start to the New Year, and everyone can be challenged as to their New Year resolutions. Have food and drink as appropriate and invite church members to bring a guest (or two) with them.
- If you are aware of people living on their own, why not organise an afternoon tea on one or more afternoons during Advent (could be any day). Advent candles and crowns can provide a suitable focus and the event might conclude with a reading and prayer. Venue as is felt appropriate – would the church building be warm and welcoming enough? You could always invite people to the Carol Service, offering lifts as appropriate.
- Christingle Services have a wide family appeal and this time of year is a great opportunity to hold such a service. Full details from The Children’s Society.
- Advent Carols by Candlelight can be a very moving way of starting the Advent season.
- Banners – are there people in church (plus friends) who could get together to make a suitable set of Christmas banners?
- Advent Course. If you struggle to get people to commit to a “home group”, why not offer a three-week Advent Course. Lots of material is available for a variety of styles.
- All-Age Epiphany Party. An event for families early in the new year with lots of games and activities around the visit of the wise men to Jesus.
- “True Meaning of Christmas” evening. A way of reviving the spirit of Christmas and introducing friends and neighbours to the meaning of Christmas. You might offer some recipe suggestions – and a chance to sample them!
- Carol Singing still has some value, though try not to collect money. Offer the singing as a “gift” to the community (though some might not appreciate it!). Can be difficult with double-glazed windows and loud TV’s.
- Invite families to build up a Jesse Tree in their homes.
- “Christmas Tree” weekend where families and community groups are invited to decorate a tree on a given ‘theme’.
- “Angel Festival” weekend around Advent Sunday.
- “Posada” – Church Army have devised a programme around this whereby the figures of Joseph and Mary are taken from house to house during Advent.
Many of these events are “Track 1” and the challenge therefore is how to move people into “Track 2” activities.