Using Christmas to Grow a Small Church
Nearly a half-century ago, at the young age of 17, I was baptized into Christ at the Woodlawn Church of Christ of Abilene, Texas. I came from a Baptist background and was surprised to find that there were a few members of my new church who did not celebrate Christmas. My greater surprise was discovering that the church did not decorate or even sing any songs about the birth of Christ in any of the December services.
In youth group, we did prepare baskets for the widows of the congregation and, while taking these gifts to their homes, we would sing some non-religious carols like “Frosty” and “We wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe we’re missing out on many opportunities. For instance, the Baptists’ most-attended service is their Christmas service, when nearly every member attends and brings many visitors. These visitors become prospects for new membership. Each of their churches tend to grow spiritually and numerically (along with their contribution rate) during and following the holiday season.
By contrast, one of the lowest-attended services of the average church of Christ can be at Christmas, as members rush off to visit grandchildren or parents or make other holiday plans.
May I suggest that we reevaluate our opinion of the season and use it for the cause of Christ instead of presenting the usual lessons of “Why Christ Couldn’t Have Been Born on December 25”?
As you prepare, you might want to study and engage your leadership in these points:
Christ celebrated at least one holiday that was not found in his (Old Testament) Scriptures (John 10:22). This was the Festival of the Dedication, today known as Hanukkah/Chanukah. This was not a “Scripturally ordained” religious holiday, but Christ celebrated it anyway.
Days of feasting, joy, and giving presents were God-ordained ways of celebrating holidays (see Esth. 9:22).
Decorating using greenery and other decor was a God-ordained practice for holidays (see Lev. 23:40). By the way, Jer. 10:3-4 does not describe a Christmas tree but the practice of shaping wood and covering it with gold to form an idol.
Celebrating holidays is a matter of opinion. It is okay to celebrate if we want to (Rom. 14:5-6).
After studying with the leaders, you should spend time talking about this with the congregation. Once the congregation’s attitude toward Christmas changes, then you are ready to use the season to bring more souls closer to the Lord.
Here are some practical suggestions for preachers in small churches.
Develop a Christmas series of lessons for the Sundays in December. Topics could include biographical lessons on Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the Shepherds. Or perhaps you could preach on the great gifts of Christmas: God’s love, true joy, peace, forgiveness. With the abundance of sermon books written on this topic, you should find ample ideas for these sermons.
Print up a simple but nice-looking invitation to this series of lessons. Encourage members to bake cookies or bread and take to their neighbors as Christmas gifts, inserting the invitation to the service.
Take advantage of free listings in the local newspaper and on social media to advertise the series.
Participate in local holiday events and advertise your church. This is particularly effective in smaller towns and rural areas. Here are some specific ideas.
Many small towns do a “Tour of Homes,” usually benefiting the chamber of commerce or other organization. Volunteer your home, or get one of your member-families to volunteer theirs. At the house, give away inexpensive candy canes attached to the invitation.
I have played Santa Claus for events in town and furnished candy canes for the children. I create a little write-up about the message of the candy cane: three red lines represent the Trinity, one big red line represents the blood of Christ, etc. On the other side of this write-up I do a simple, short invitation to the church events.
Volunteer to read the Christmas story (combining portions of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew) at your town’s Tree Lighting Service.
Participate in your town’s Christmas parade. If allowed, throw out candy attached to the sermon series services invitation.
Consider hosting a Christmas dinner or lunch for members of the congregation who do not have families to celebrate with. Encourage them to invite their friends, especially those who are prospective new members. This can be costly and will need careful budgeting.
Consider hosting a Christmas party for children and their parents. This could include a visit with Santa, receiving a gift, singing, playing Christmas games, etc. Make sure each parent receives an invitation to the church’s services.
Finally, don’t skip the follow-up on anything and everything. In my humble opinion, a successful event is not one that gets the most attendance but one that gets the most results. If we’re going to use the holidays for evangelism, then each visitor should be contacted, visited, invited to services, and offered Bible studies.