Church leaders have a huge opportunity this year as church attendance begins to rebound.
Like many church leaders, you’ve probably been working twice as hard and seeing half the results you’d wanted. That’s a recipe for disappointment, not to mention fatigue.
When you’re discouraged as a leader, it can be easy to miss the opportunities right in front of you.
And right now, there’s an opportunity.
The opportunity? Christmas. It’s literally the biggest outreach opportunity you’ve had in two years, and if you’re not careful, you might miss it.
What if you could reach more people than you have in several years with an effective Christmas outreach? And what if that became a catalyst that could jump-start your church into a better 2022?
In this article, I’ll outline three strategies you can use to help reach more people at Christmas.
First, some context and some somewhat encouraging news when it comes to church attendance: It’s (finally) slowly rebounding.
Some Hope: 2021 Church Attendance Is (Slowly) Trending Back Up
According to Lifeway research, the average attendance at church for the majority of churches in 2021 is at 50–70% of what it was pre-pandemic. While that might sound discouraging, it’s an improvement over a year ago.
More encouragingly though, for 22% of churches, attendance is between 90–100% of pre-pandemic levels. And almost 10% are beyond their 2019 attendance.
While it still means that some people aren’t coming back, it also suggests that others are taking their place.
Christmas Still Syncs Up With Culture—and Offers Hope
The good news is that perhaps—just perhaps—this is your opportunity to actually see a surge in people you reach this Christmas.
Other than the fact that the Gospel itself carries power (which is always true), Christmas is one of the rare moments left when the culture is more open to the message you’re preaching.
Radio stations play Christmas music and people who normally access Spotify for Drake and Dua Lipa start searching for Christmas playlists.
At a deeper level, with cynicism, fatigue and burnout running at all-time highs, people are looking for hope—a message that is the opposite of the despair that has become the daily diet of almost everyone in the culture.
Add to that the fact that almost everyone is free to regather with family and friends and more mobile than they were a year ago, and there you have it: the biggest potential outreach of 2021.
So what should you do? In addition to what you already know about hosting great Christmas experiences, here are three strategies that can help make 2021 even more effective.
1. Buck the Skimpflation Trend. Be Generous. Be Personal.
2021 in many ways has been a harder year on people than 2020 was.
In addition to the pandemic, people feel frustrated by further polarization, inflation and global supply chain issues.
Skimpflation is the new trend many businesses are embracing: Offer higher prices and poorer services and products ever as a response to everything we’ve been through.
Go to a hotel, and housekeeping isn’t offered but only on request. Restaurants have cut out menus and now use QR codes. Businesses have shrunk package sizes and quantities while raising prices. Short-staffed service businesses have increased wait times and cut back service and hours.
Some of this is a genuine response to the challenges around us, but some of it isn’t, and people are frustrated. While everyone blames COVID, we know menus don’t spread the disease, nor does having housekeeping service your room while you’re out.
This is a tremendous opportunity for churches to do what we should do best: Be generous and be personal.
People are longing to be treated with dignity, care and personal attention. Put your best people on guest services. Look people in the eye. Smile.
Treat people like they matter, to you and to God. Because they do.
In a world that is increasingly indifferent, a generous, personal approach suddenly makes a huge difference.
2. Leverage Tradition and Quiet Moments.
I led a “contemporary” church for years, doing the latest music, etc.
One year I thought it would be a good idea to ‘modernize’ Christmas and avoid Christmas carols altogether. No one knew in advance other than the service programming people and me (whose idea it was). We ran multiple services and the room was packed out.
So, how’d it go?
Well, the service bombed.
As in complete failure. As in I was fortunate not to be run out of town.
The lesson? People want tradition on Christmas Eve. And yes, even unchurched people want it.
“O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are exactly what people are expecting and exactly what you should deliver. Sure, you can put a modern spin on old carols, but there’s something deeply powerful about “Silent Night” and candles that nothing with a 2021 copyright date can quite match.
Don’t get me wrong—moving forward we updated some of the songs and played them with a great band. But they were definitely recognizable. And I preached on one or more of the classic Old Testament and New Testament Christmas texts.
Christmas is really the only holiday left where the Christian story and mainstream culture still sync up (at least sync up a bit).
People know what the story is and want to hear it again. Your job is to show them why it matters.
Another great approach this Christmas is to put some quiet moments in your service. Our culture has become so loud and unreflective that a few minutes to breathe, to reflect, to stand in awe, might be the only quiet people will have this Christmas.
The culture is increasingly looking for an alternative to itself, not an echo of itself.
Your Christmas service can provide that.
3. Don’t Ignore Online. It’s Your Front Door to 2022.
As the drive to get everybody back in the room continues (perhaps not the wisest strategy … but it persists), it will be easy to ignore your online presence or shut it down hoping more people will show up in person.
That’s short-sighted for more than a few reasons.
First, as has become clear even in the final months of 2021, not everyone is comfortable going into a public service. Shutting down or skimping on your online options excludes them. For sure, some people won’t come back. But others will when the pandemic finally reaches endemic status.
But the reasoning goes way beyond that.
Do the math on your online service.
Let’s say your building holds 200 people and you live in a community of 20,000 people, even a packed room with standing-room-only means you’ve reached 1% of your community. Add a second standing-room-only service and you’ve reached 2% of your city. Which means 98% are unreached.
As you know, everyone you want to reach is online. Your online presence as a church isn’t a backdoor for churched people as much as it is a front door for the unchurched.
Finally, you have no idea who’s watching and what’s at stake.
I take that back. Actually, you do kind of know—because almost everyone who has shown up in person in your church over the last few years has told you they found you online first.
Ignoring your online presence as a church won’t close the back door on your church at Christmas. It will simply close the front door.
And again, see Point 2 and be generous and personal in your online presence. People will know whether you’re glad they’re there or not.
And the people you reach online in the last few days of 2021 will be the people most likely to join you in person in the new year.
It is more than possible to see dozens or hundreds of fresh faith stories begun on Christmas Eve that will continue into 2022.
People are longing for good news and open to church at Christmas in ways they just aren’t in February or October.
So prayerfully embrace the opportunity to reach more people this Christmas.
This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.