Christmas Eve is often one of the biggest services of the year, second only to Easter. Unfortunately it can look like Black Friday at Wal-Mart; lots of people unaware of what they really need, served by lots of people unaware of how to help them. We celebrate the crowds that show up, sometimes unaware if anything significant actually happened.
So how can we leverage the impact of Christmas Eve? Here are five suggestions to make the most of this incredible opportunity:
1. Resist the urge to wow
This one is counter-intuitive. To attract a crowd we want to hire an amazing band , bring in a trapeze artist, and reenact the incarnation live on stage (more on that later). The challenge is when we put on an amazing show on Christmas Eve (or Easter) we are creating expectations we can’t meet next weekend. We invite people to come back to experience something completely different. No light show, no live animals, no trapeze; just a band, a singer and a preacher.
Christmas Eve is a special occasion, so we certainly want to do the best we can. When we have new friends over we make sure the house is clean, we put out the best china, and we serve a great meal. But we don’t put on a circus.
2. Tell the story
We get tired of telling the Christmas story year after year after year. We try to find a new angle, a different perspective, dress it up and make it new. The thing to avoid is emphasizing style to the point of obscuring the story. The story is powerful and we can trust that power. (More on that in a minute)
Don’t underestimate people’s desire to hear the story. The Nutcracker never changes, but plays to sold out audiences year after year. Its a Wonderful Life is still one of the most watched movies every year. When a Charlie Brown Christmas comes on tv most of us will stop and watch even though we’ve seen it a hundred times.
The story of God in a manger has more staying power than all of these combined.
3. Don’t shock the audience
During a family Christmas Eve service at Seacoast Church a talented actor (and future church planter) re-enacted the entire Christmas story by himself. What we didn’t realize ahead of time (he left it out of dress rehearsal) is his portrayal included pantomiming the actual birth of Jesus. (Later referred to as “live birth on stage”) This did not sit well with the hundreds of families in the audience. They came for a Christmas Eve service, they left explaining the facts of life to their 2nd graders. Oops.
People invite their neighbor, their boss and their grandmother to Christmas Eve. They are praying like crazy that something that said or sung will tug at the heartstrings of their guest, but when we choose that moment to do something shocking and edgy we can undo everything our people have been praying for. Incorporating AC/DC into Christmas Eve makes a great Instagram post, but it’s probably not worth the collateral damage.
4. Invite them in (rather than back)
Imagine meeting a neighbor for the first time when they ring your doorbell. You chat for a few minutes and realize you have a great deal in common. As they are leaving your porch at the end of the conversation you call after them, “Hey, why don’t you come back in a couple of weeks and we’ll talk on my porch again.”
That’s what we do when all we invite Christmas Eve guests to is another service. We are in effect saying, “You aren’t really welcome into the house, but you can stand in the yard.”
How can you invite guests into the life of the church? What is the equivalent at your church to sitting down to a great meal together? How can you say to the guest, “Me and some friends are going to hang out, I’d love to have you join us.”?
5. Trust the Holy Spirit
Jesus said, “If I am lifted up I will draw all men to me.” Do we really believe that promise? Do we believe that the Gospel illuminated by the Holy Spirit through us really changes lives?
This Christmas Eve let’s expect spectacular life change when we share the simple story, invite new friends to join us on our journey and trust the Holy Spirit to do what he does best.
[After I started writing this post I saw my friend Carey Nieuwhof did a post titled 10 Ways to Leverage Christmas to Reach Unchurched People. Since Carey is twice as smart as me it makes sense he has twice as many suggestions as me. Read his post, do what he says.]