Any idea what the best outreach opportunity of the year at your church might be? Christmas outreach may not have been the first thing to pop into your mind.
You might think it’s an event you do, or perhaps it’s Easter. But whether Christmas has historically been your best opportunity to reach unchurched people or not, I believe it could be.
Whenever I’ve shared these ideas about Christmas, people say “Hey, I wish you’d talked about this earlier.” So, here we are.
This isn’t your typical “Christmas Outreach Ideas” post, where you’d get a list of 25 random things. Rather, it’s a simple 11-step plan to supercharge your Christmas Outreach efforts.
Before we dive into the 11 steps, it’s important to ask yourself this question first.
This article was updated and republished on September 25th, 2023.
Why is Christmas Your Very Best Outreach Event of the Year?
As our culture becomes more and more post-Christian, we’re seeing far fewer times when the holidays of the church and the holidays of culture sync. About a decade ago, I remember hearing a Toronto DJ refer to Easter as “the first long weekend of summer” (in Canada Good Friday is a holiday, and schools still take Easter Monday off… a relic from Colonial days).
Good Friday and Easter were completely lost on him. It was simply time off.
Christmas is completely different.
Our culture still loves Christmas. Sure, the motives are commercial. But Christmas is the only time of year when you’ll hear malls belt out explicitly Christian songs like Charles Wesley’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
If you follow Christians on social media leading up to Christmas, you probably have noticed how many people lament over the culture’s disregard of Christ.
Well, you can see the obstacle. Or you can see the opportunity.
I choose to see the opportunity. You’ll miss so many connection points with our culture if you only see the glass as half empty.
This is no time for the church to be more cynical than the world, which still remembers something is different at Christmas, even if they’re not exactly sure what it is.
Stop complaining about the world and reach it instead.
As the general population thinks less about the Christian faith, Christmas provides a unique opportunity to reach people who no longer ordinarily attend church.
What’s surprising is that many churches don’t really leverage Christmas to make the impact it could.
At Connexus Church, where I used to lead and serve, our Christmas service wins hands-down every year for both overall attendance AND attendance by unchurched people. Although from a theological viewpoint, Christmas will never be bigger than Easter, when we think of it in practical terms, our Christmas outreach is always bigger than Easter simply because the culture is paying more attention.
Our culture pauses for Christmas in a way that it pauses for little else in the year.
TV and film celebrate Christmas in all of its expressions. Almost everyone decorates their homes, businesses, and cities.
On December 24th and 25th, the Western world comes as close to stopping as it ever does.
I’m not sure there’s any better time than Christmas to connect with those of your friends and neighbors who rarely, if ever, go to church.
11 Steps to Make Christmas Your Best Outreach of the YearChristmas is no time for the church to be cynical. Stop complaining about the world. Reach it. Click To Tweet
1. Design an event for your community, not for your members.
So what’s the biggest mistake many churches make each Christmas?
Simple. Too many churches hold a quiet Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service for members and leave it at that.
Others will do little to nothing special.
That makes Christmas the biggest missed opportunity of the year.
Unchurched people want to celebrate Christmas. Why can’t your church help them?
Here’s a hint: If you design your services with the community in mind, your members will love it too. Especially if their friends come and it changes their lives.Unchurched people want to celebrate Christmas. Too many churches fail to help them do it. Click To Tweet
2. Brand the event around the community, not your church.
One of the best decisions we’ve made in the last few years is to take our church’s name off the main branding for our Christmas services.
We simply use the names of the cities we’re in. So for Barrie, Ontario, we’re Christmas in Barrie. In Orillia, it’s Christmas Eve in Orillia, etc. Sure, we let people know it’s hosted by a church, but people are looking for a place to celebrate, and we want them to know we can host them and their family at an event designed for the city.
We’re expanding our Christmas outreach this year into four cities that are within an hour of each other (which makes specific theming more difficult), so we’re using Christmas Eve in the City as a larger brand.
3. Build a special website
If someone has to click through 15 pages of your website to find your Christmas services, they’ll probably give up. And even if you put it on the home page of your website, it’s still a church website.
We started building custom sites a few years ago for our Christmas services and have been thrilled with the results.
Again, people have Christmas on their minds, and when the site looks like Christmas and there are free tickets available (see below), it’s easier for people to say, “I’m in.”
Sites like this don’t have to be expensive. Get a teenager in your church to design one. Or, for a thousand dollars or so, you can have a basic site put together.
Find an easy-to-remember URL (like ChristmasEveIn[insert your city name].com or ChristmasIn[insert your town].com) that makes your site more findable, local, and shareable.
4. Experiment with multiple service times.
Not everyone can make it to your ‘one’ service. One year at Connexus, we did 8 services over two days (the 23rd and 24th) in four cities.
Yes, those are long work days for staff and volunteers, but you can reap a harvest all year long from that investment.
We always offered more than one service time because the reality is that different families have different needs. Young families seem to prefer earlier services so they can get their kids to bed early or have dinner together. Retail workers need a later service.
Providing multiple service times gives families multiple opportunities to attend and invite their friends.The investment you make in your Christmas service could reap a harvest all year long. Click To Tweet
5. Stretch yourself and experiment.
To be honest, pulling off Christmas services in four cities stretched our team. But it’s a good way to test out new venues, new places, and new communities in which you might one day have locations.
Sometimes stretching yourself calls out the very best in people, and challenges them to invite, and brings your church into communities in brand new ways in a season in which people are already looking for events to attend.
Sounds like a great combination to me.
6. Give your congregation invitation tools.
Did you know that 82% of people would attend church if a trusted friend invited them?
Yet, in a typical year, only 2% of Christians invite a friend to church. Heartbreaking.
Create some full-color cards with details on them that people can hand to their friends.
One year, we tied candy canes to Instagram-like cards to make them easier to hand out to friends. Another year, we printed business-size cards and some full-size posters. The posters popped up all over our cities in places like Starbucks, hockey arenas, community centers, and more.
It’s easier to invite a friend to something like Christmas than to a regular Sunday morning.82% of people would come to church if a friend invited them. Only 2% of Christians invite friends. Click To Tweet
7. Use social media.
Sure, maybe you don’t have the bandwidth to build fresh websites. Just do it for free using social media. Create a Facebook event or promoted posts. Use all your social media channels and get the word out.
Encourage your people to share with their friends. They are your number one source for promotion because they’re already invested and engaged.
One year, we designed and built photo booths at our campuses that created fun Instagram moments with dressed-up kids and people holding a “Join us for Christmas Eve” signs.
8. Distribute (free) tickets.
Why not ticket your Christmas services? Free tickets, of course, but tickets help create demand.
Plus, having tickets drive decisions and commitments to attend.
9. Love your community.
One year, we made a goal to double the amount of money we normally give to our community partners, like the local food bank, right before Christmas.
We also participated in local Christmas parades and community events in ways that show our community that we’re for them and that God is for them.
Love and generosity make a pretty irresistible force when unleashed on a city, and especially on unchurched people.
10. Invite them back.
Every year, without hopefully sounding like a commercial, we invited people back for January.
They got a card explaining the new series, dates, times, and locations.
I know inviting sounds basic, but you’re dealing with unchurched people. Think about it; you would never go to a party unless you knew you were invited.
Unchurched people don’t know they’re invited unless you invite them. So invite them.
11. Plan a call to action.
God’s grace is sovereign. We’ve had people commit their lives to Christ during volunteer events and during series about tithing. So God can do anything.
But you need to do your part. Don’t let people walk away bored or with just a big warm fuzzy. Challenge them. People will leave mostly unchanged unless you create a different expectation.
Almost every year, we gave people an opportunity to surrender their lives to Jesus… and it’s amazing how many people do. And when we invite them back and offer them steps to take in the new year (like beginning Starting Point), Christmas starts a journey for them that often ends with them surrendering their lives to Christ.
Next Steps: The Christmas Outreach Toolkit
If your church is ready to make this Christmas outreach your best one yet, I’d love to help.
The Christmas Outreach Toolkit is a resource you can get instant access to inside The Art of Leadership Academy.
Following the 11 steps above, the Toolkit comes with done-for-you website designs, social media templates, brochure templates, and more so that you and your team can hit the ground running with your Christmas efforts.
In addition, you’ll get a complete guide that walks you through each step so you, your team, and your church can make a meaningful impact in the lives of people in your community this Christmas.