It’s Christmas crunch time, and I’m not talking about those red, green and gold boxes of chocolate-drizzled popcorn and nuts. I’m talking about those few short days that are left until the big holiday.
Most churches are in full Christmas swing … but is it too late to use this time for outreach? As it turns out, it’s never too late—and we’ve got a trunkful of ideas to prove it.
As a pastor and freelance writer, it’s always a privilege to connect with churches and pastors across the country. So I thought it would be fun and helpful to reach out to some of them and ask about their last-minute Christmas outreach ideas. I received responses from coast to coast.
So, let’s take a holiday road trip and collect some ideas that are perfect for Christmas crunch time.
We start our journey out west—way out west, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to visit Tim Savage, director of media and production at New Hope Oahu in Hawaii.
“We are releasing a new Christmas CD titled Hope of All Hopes,” says Savage. “We’ll be offering the CD to our congregation for a discounted price, which includes an invitation to our Christmas services.”
Making a CD is definitely not a last-minute idea, but why not go to your local big-box store or Christian retailer and pick up some CDs that are on sale? (Christmas music doesn’t sell much after December, so maybe you can talk with a manger about getting a special deal.) Add a Post-it note with a simple handwritten invitation to your church’s Christmas services. You can give the CDs to your congregation this weekend to pass out to friends, family members—or even head out to a crowded shopping area. People will be pleasantly surprised to receive a gift, and it can spark some great conversations.
Merry Christmas, Dude
Back on the mainland, we land on the sunny shores of Southern California. Brandon Setter, video storyteller at ROCKHARBOR in Costa Mesa, says one of the church’s outreach initiatives is found in the lobby, hanging on a tree.
“On the back of each ornament, there are ways to step into serving,” Setter says. “Everything from donations to local ministries we partner with, to going shopping for a family in need. There are practical things to donate like food, school supplies and more.”
Brandon says that church members are encouraged to take an ornament and commit to fulfilling the accompanying service opportunity.
Imagine setting up a tree in your church lobby this weekend (or utilizing one that’s already there), and decorating it with ornaments containing service and outreach opportunities. The ornaments can be simple paper cutouts or something from the dollar store that has a blank back for writing on. Service opportunities can include one-time gives or a project families can keep doing throughout the year. Keep the tree up during Christmas services and even during New Year’s weekend, and empower your congregation to ignite outreach in the community.
Go Tell It on the Mountain (or in the Desert)
Next, let’s hop on Interstate 10 and cruise out east to Mesa, Arizona, where Ryan Visconti is lead pastor of Generation Church. His suggestion: “Order postcards announcing your Christmas weekend services, and send them to anyone who has attended your church in the last few years. It’s a targeted mailing campaign, so it’s cheaper than a mass-mailer.”
There’s still time. Many copy and print stores make it easy with preprinted fronts, and all you have to do is fill in the back. In many cases, you can get printing done the next day. Or if you’re in even more of a time crunch, simply purchase Christmas cards and handwrite an invite on the inside. Visconti says, “You are very likely going to connect with someone who is not currently attending any church.”
Dreamin’ of a White Christmas
We’ll now put it in high gear and head northeast to the Rocky Mountains. Here, we find Doug Dameron, lead and founding pastor of Orchard Church in Brighton, Colorado. Dameron says the best way to get new visitors to come back in the new year is to make Christmas Eve services fun.
“We always play a crowd game at our Christmas Eve services and give out Starbuck gift cards to the participants,” Dameron says. “Our most popular games have been to finish the lyrics to a popular Christmas song, or finish the line from a Christmas movie.”
Dameron’s team invites people on stage and gives them multiple-choice questions. He says that people remember this from year to year, and regulars ask about the games ahead of time. Christmas Eve is a natural draw for new guests, so add a last-minute element of fun to your service program. If you bring up guests on stage to compete for prizes, consider only drawing from first-time visitors.
Merry Christmas, Y’all
We now drive southeast and into the Lone Star State. Lantz Howard is the executive minister at High Pointe Church of Christ in McKinney, Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas, but Lantz says that this year, their focus is small. They want to reach the neighborhood surrounding their church.
“We’re taking a different approach and bringing Christmas Eve service to a front lawn and offering a hay rides,” Lantz says.
This wouldn’t take too much planning, depending on the area outside your church (and the weather). You can even ditch the sound system and go full acoustic. You can step it up a bit by passing out hot chocolate and cookies, as well. Church on the front lawn? What will the neighbors think?
Have a Cool Yule
We continue heading east and then turn south into the heart of Florida. Troy Schmidt is the downtown campus pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC) of Windermere. He says that they put Christmas outreach into the hands of every church member.
“We don’t advertise in newspapers or with mailers,” Schmidt says. “We give everyone a card with the service times on it and tell them to go do the inviting.”
Consider printing several invite cards to hand to your members this weekend. Then, encourage them to prayerfully consider who they can invite to Christmas services.
On a side note, FBC Windermere is well-known for Christmas in their community. They host a “Light up Windermere” event at the end of November. They bring in snow machines and circle city hall with thousands of lights. These are far from last-minute ideas, but it might be a good outreach to begin planning for next year. In some communities, this might take a year of planning to pull off.
Christmas at the Capitol
Next, we’ll make a left turn and head up the mid-Atlantic seaboard to Germantown, Maryland. Robert Walker is the pastor of Germantown Baptist Church, about 45 minutes north of Washington, D.C.
“An easy outreach is to get a bunch of donuts, coffee and orange juice and set up a table at a rest area along the interstate,” Walker says. “People are amazed that you’re giving away free coffee and donuts and will lend an ear or receive literature.”
This could be done any time of year. Walker says to make it holiday themed, give out Christmas cookies and cocoa. Depending on where you live, the interstate rest stop can be very busy at this time of year. You can reach people in your community and invite them to church, as well as reach a hurting heart with the gospel.
There’s No Place Like Home
Finally, we’ll take a short jaunt north and a bit east. We’ll stop just short of Philadelphia, in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Here we find Marty Machowski, family pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church.
“Our church changed our Thanksgiving meal outreach to a Christmas meal outreach. We call it ‘Boxes of Love,’” Machowski says. “We give our folks empty boxes and a grocery list. They fill them up and bring them back to the church.”
Machowski says that the church contacts local service agencies, who direct their clients to the church. Some of these needy clients come back to attend a church service. “Just coming in our front door and meeting some of our members is a great icebreaker to them coming back to church,” Machowski says.
Although it might take a few weeks to set up a system with a local agency, consider handing out grocery bags to your Christmas service attendees, and encouraging them to go shopping and fill them up with non-perishable groceries to bring back to the church for needy families in the community.
Simple tools and simple methods might make the biggest impact this Christmas season. Just about everyone I spoke with affirmed that at Christmas, hearts are more open to the gospel. Let’s make an extra push to reach them.
If you have any other last-minute Christmas outreach ideas, share them in the comments below. We’d love to get more ideas and continue the road trip!
Jeff Chaves is a freelance writer and pastor. He has been married to Peggy for more than 32 years, and they have four children. He is the pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.