How To Make Christmas Your Best Outreach of the Year

Any idea what the best outreach opportunity of the year at your church might be?

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.

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. I remember about a decade ago 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 a lot of 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. There are so many connection points with our culture you’ll miss 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. 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.

Over the last few years, I’ve run posts on how to leverage Christmas. People keep asking for more….so this is the 2016 version.

At Connexus Church, where I 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 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 neighbours who rarely, if ever, go to church.

Here are 11 ways to make Christmas your best outreach of the year.

leverage Christmas

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.

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.

You can see the way we designed it here.

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. Here’s this year’s version.

Again, people have Christmas on their mind, 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 or that makes your site more findable, local and shareable.

4. Experiment with multiple service times

Not everyone can make it to your ‘one’ service. This year we’re doing 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 offer 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.

This year at our broadcast location, our services will run at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. At our three other locations, we’ve picked the middle to later service times.

The reason? Providing multiple service times gives multiple families lots of opportunities to attend and to invite their friends.

5. Stretch Yourself and Experiment

To be honest, pulling off Christmas services in four cities is going to stretch 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, challenges them to invite, and it can bring 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 come to 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-colour cards with details on it which people can hand to their friends.

Last year we tied candy canes to Instagram-like cards to make them easier to hand out to friends. This year we’re also doing business-size cards and some full-size posters. The posters pop up all over our cities in places like Starbucks, hockey arenas, community centres and more.

It’s easier to invite a friend to something like Christmas than to a regular Sunday morning.

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 when it comes to promotion because they’re already invested and engaged.

This year we’re doing a Photo Booth at our campuses that will create some 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.

They have also helped us manage fire code.  Eventbrite is an inexpensive and easy solution.

Plus, having tickets drive decisions and commitments to attend.

9. Love your community

This year, we’re attempting to give double the amount of money we normally give to our community partners like the local food bank, right before Christmas.

We’re also participating 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 makes a pretty irresistible force when it’s unleashed on a city. And generosity makes an impression on unchurched people.

10. Invite them back

Every year, without hopefully sounding like a commercial, we invite people back for January.

They get a card explaining the new series and dates, times and locations. Last year we even played the trailer for our January series during the services (you can see it here), even though it was anything but “Christmassy.” Because our January series dealt with a felt-need (people don’t like their jobs and find life overwhelming at times), it created a huge buzz and many guests returned in January simply because they saw the trailer.

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 give 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.

What Are You Learning?

Got any tips?

Share them in the comments section below.

A Better Start To 2017

Want 2017 to be better for your church? So do I.

My latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow, is designed to tackle seven of the biggest issues that keep churches from realizing their mission: why people are attending church less often, why your church isn’t growing faster, how to engage high capacity volunteers and more. Join the thousands of church leaders who have led their team in the discussion that can change everything.

Plus, I wrote it so you could tackle the issues together as a team. The team edition is available now, with full videos, study questions, and action steps.

Want to know more? You can read the reviews here. And if you’re looking to order copies for your team, you’ll find some special bulk discounts here.

Here’s to a better 2017 for every church!

How To Make Christmas Your Best Outreach of the Year


  1. Karaoke in St Paul on November 16, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Music is the best way to intimate people at a place and entertains them. During this Christmas, ProHost Entertainment is the best for Karaoke and DJ services. We offer current and updated equipment, a lot of great music from the oldies to today’s popular songs, great books, a spectacular light show.

  2. Shane Smith on November 30, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    I wonder what Connexus is doing differently in order to “design an event for the community, not for your members?” How do they design this experience/service differently than they design the services each week?

  3. Mike on November 22, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I dunno. To me this feels exactly like what the stores do. People are in a buying mood so let’s capitalize on them.

    This is one of the reasons I have a hard time trusting churches. It doesn’t seem like they care about the individual. They seem to only care about the individual purchasing their services.

    • Vikki Ruby on November 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      The reason we want people to attend our church -ANY church- is because we believe those people can discover a joy and peace for their lives. Not to buy anything. Because my life was changed… like I found a million dollars, it’s right there and I want to share it with everyone!

      • Mike on November 24, 2016 at 12:02 am

        That’s awesome, Vikki! 🙂

        Let me ask you a question, though. Do you get opportunities, personally, to share it with everyone while inside the building? Sitting in the service, in a pew or chair, staring at the back of someone’s head for 2 hours?

        I’ve been attended church for almost 40 years and have served on stage as a volunteer musician alongside paid staff. I can tell you behind the scenes it’s run just like a business. Everything is crafted to maximize the platform for the pastor to present his sermon. It’s all about square footage, budgets and numbers. I wish it were different but it’s not.

  4. […] How to Make Christmas Your Best Outreach of the Year by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  5. Ryan Holck on November 16, 2016 at 2:19 am

    Giving invitation tools is something I’ve been encouraging recently. It can be incredibly awkward trying to remember special service times and details. Having a card to share or a social media image to post as a part of a normal conversation can make it so much easier.

  6. Agianst the grain on November 14, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    We are doing many of these things and we are challenging all our staff to think of ways to create what we are calling ‘sticky
    events to draw people back. But we need to be honest.Most people who are our visitors are not looking for a church community as part of their lives. They are looking for a spiritual experience as part of their Christmas.’
    Christopher White

  7. Christoph Koebel on November 14, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Perhaps one more item. Go attend some Public School Christmas program and see what folks know about “Christmas” or their lack of it

  8. Christoph Koebel on November 14, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Yes, all great ideas. A church in my town, located in a poor neighbothood have Christmas banquet at the church FOR THE COMMUNITY. Members buy ticket to give to their friends. That church does many other things throughout the year. Check out was Claude Houde does or did in a suburb of Montreal, with last impacts

  9. Brandon A. Cox on November 14, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Good stuff, man! It’s a great point about the fact that the culture stops shopping and running in order to pause and ponder. We’re doing an afternoon service on Christmas Eve this year and repeating it on Christmas day, also in the afternoon. Families love having the mornings together and often have dinner plans, so we’re slating both services at 4 pm. It’s an experiment. We’ll see how it works.

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