Welcome back everyone to 101 Questions Church Planters Ask, I’m your host Danny Parmelee. Now that we’ve passed Halloween it’s officially time to set our eyes on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve had a couple of planters who are still in pre-launch phase ask me if they should do anything for Christmas Eve or Christmas services in general.
I feel like so many of the answers I give to church planters is, “it depends!” Like other questions, this one is not a cut and dry, it also is a “it depends.” Let’s think through a couple different things when evaluating whether you should or shouldn’t do services. We’ll also explore some other alternatives.
Option #1 Large Scale Christmas Outreach Service
As with any planning or decision making the first thing you need to determine is what you hope your outcome to be. What, at the end of the day, are you trying to accomplish? Often times Christmas Eve is an outreach event for churches. The goal or purpose is to reach as many new people as possible. For many churches Christmas and Christmas Eve services are the highest or second highest attended services of the year!
As a planter, sometimes you just do stuff because that’s what you’ve seen other churches do. If you’ve been a staff member or pastor you have ingrained in you the importance of having a Christmas Eve service. Now, as a planter its easy to think “I better put together a Christmas Eve service because that’s just what you do”. Don’t do that. Never do things just because you have in the past or see others doing it. Think through the why and how and if it is feasible.
I personally think that it is difficult for a church in pre-launch phase to effectively accomplish fruitful outreach through a Christmas eve service. The reason I say that, is that often an impactful Christmas outreach will take critical mass, significant resources, and high production. This isn’t always the case but as a general rule its true.
The other thing to consider is that successful Christmas outreaches are usually ones that build year after year. Why? Think about it, Christmas is all about tradition! Families will often do the same thing year after year. Imagine for a moment a family that on the 23rd drives around and always look at lights, and then goes to a live nativity scene. On the 24th grandma always comes over at noon. Christmas dinner is served always at 4pm and then its off to Christmas eve services. Maybe this even resembles your traditions. The thing is, the hypothetical family described above, will often repeat that year after year. Add to this, if there is a church location or church program that the family goes to this will likely be the case year after year even if this is the only time they go to church all year.If you think that your launch team will be able to break a lot of peoples already established Christmas traditions you may have unrealistic expectations.
One more thing is realizing that you probably don’t have much credibility in your community, yet. Even if you advertise like crazy most people are going to be skeptical to try something new on Christmas Eve. Yes, church planting is all about offering something new and fresh and it’s why church planting has the evangelistic effectiveness that it does. You just need to embrace the fact that often people won’t take that risk on an unknown, non-established organization for Christmas eve. Remember that most non-believers or unchurched people don’t consider you as a real church until you own a church building, or at minimum have Sunday weekly services. I get it, this is theologically inaccurate, but their perception means it’s your reality to deal with.
The second thing that you have to take into consideration if you are planning a Christmas service for the purpose of outreach is your own volunteer team. They too have traditions. Not all of them are even traditions that they personally like but still do them year after year. This is especially true the younger your launch team is in life stage. Young married couples will still often go back home to visit their parents. You might get all excited about some opportunity or idea you came up with but half your team will be out of town or already committed to other events. Even after we launched our church plant our first 5-7 years our Christmas and Easter services were actually some of our lowest attended services because everyone left to be with parents.
Hey, If God lays on your heart to do some huge outreach and there seem to be some amazing pieces falling into place then by all means go for it. Just be realistic and check to make sure you have a team to pull it off and do it well because it may be your first big impression in the community.
Option #2 Have a Christmas party or a very small worship event exclusively for your launch team.
For many launch teams that are formed, people don’t know each other. Maybe you are seeing this as an opportunity to build relationships among your launch team. Anything that you can do to build relationships amongst the team is really important. And Christmas is a perfect time to do that. Don’t forget that most of the team is there probably because of the relationship they have with you. Which is fine, but the more that you can get the team to gel with one another the better. Think to yourself how you might leverage Christmas to build relationships amongst the team.
Easiest is to Consider hosting a nice Christmas party. If your home is large enough, it can be really great to have it at your house. Having launch team members over to your house is more important than you think. It allows them to see that you are a real person and there is something special that happens when you open your home like this. Maybe you’ve already been holding team meetings at your house so it’s no big deal. Still, creating memories in your house as the lead pastor will have long term positive effects.
If your home isn’t big enough, then think of investing in renting a space or doing something that is special and fun. Remember, your goal is to get the launch team to know each other so think of how a space and party facilitates that. Even the activities, games, all play into that goal.
If you choose to have a service for just your team, then you probably want to focus on intimacy, relationship, and spiritual encounter with God. This could take place in your basement. Or maybe there is a place that you could rent out….but I highly suggest that you don’t advertise this because this isn’t about reaching new people or putting on a show. Consider how a team member might lead in a couple worship songs. Maybe even incorporate a time of sharing. How about a time of prayer and reflection. Make it a truly worshipful event.
Remember before when I said that many people leave town. If you do an event like this, this is for people who aren’t leaving. I would caution against putting pressure on people to abandon their holiday plans to be at this service. I can speak from personal experience that I botched this one. I didn’t recognize it until later, but I subconsciously was thinking to myself “If I’m sticking around for Christmas, the rest of you better too. I think I was resentful to be who left.
I probably judged them for not loving Jesus as much as I did. I mean didn’t Jesus say that the believers were his true mothers and brothers? Mark 3:31-35?
Y’all are getting a feel for how prideful and messed up I was as a planter. I’m just trying to have you avoid the same mistakes I did! Trust me, you don’t want to burn out our ask your launch team to sacrifice for this service. Save that ask for a different weekend or event such as your launch, or maybe Christmas or Easter after you launch and have more momentum, resources and critical mass.
This way, if only a handful of people show up, it’ s still a success because the goal was building team relationships not seeing how many people and new people you could gather in a room.
Option #3 Do absolutely nothing
You may be shocked to hear this one, but this is a viable option I coach church planters to consider. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something that flops or wears you out with minimal impact.
You could literally tell your team. “Hey I know we don’t have a building, we haven’t launched yet, and many of you are going home. So team members, if you’re leaving town have a wonderful time can’t wait until you are back and we can all gather again. And just fyi I’m also going to be out of town visiting my family as well.”
Option #4 Partner with another church for their Christmas Eve Service
In simplest form, you can choose a church to worship at, and invite your launch team members to go with you. If you decide to do this, it’s a good idea to let the pastor of that church know you are coming and to make sure it’s ok to bring your team or a handful of people. For some churches, there is limited seating because of packed out Christmas eve services. They might not even want you to take up seats of true visitors or might ask you to choose a lower attended service.
While you could just pick a large church in the area and be anonymous in the crowd there is a strategic opportunity in your pre-launch phase to demonstrate Kingdom mindedness. You might be able to find a church that would welcome you not only to attend but participate in their service. Maybe the pastor just has you or your team do some of the scripture readings. Possibly someone from your team does a special music or maybe you have enough people to help with the worship portion. There are a number of different ways that are low-risk for you to be involved.
This often works if it’s a smaller church that also isn’t threatened by “the new church plant coming into town.” The other thing to consider is partnering with a church that is a different culture than yours. Could be different ethnically, racially, stylistically, denominationally, etc. This often works well as it doesn’t seem as threatening to pastors that you’re trying to come in and steal their people. If there are some churches in your area that you think this might work, take a posture of humility as you talk to the pastor. You could say something like “Hey, I’d love to bring some of our team to worship with you since we don’t have a facility and our team isn’t ready to have our own service yet….but also I want to make ourselves available if you want to have us help with any part of the service.” Don’t force something! And whatever you do, don’t try to take over their service. Be a good guest and honor that pastor and church. Let it be a win for the Kingdom.
You might be a boost of encouragement to that church as you add some critical mass and excitement. At the same time your team grows in relationship with one another. Finally, the onlooking community begins to realize that churches are on the same team. Kingdom Win!
Option #5 Service Project
Oftentimes soup kitchens or homeless shelters have services that need volunteers during this time. Their usual base of volunteers are busy with their own church events they could use the help. Plugging your launch team into that will probably hit some of your core: Serving the Community, Volunteering, Giving, Kingdom collaboration. To top it all off, your team will be making memories and building relationships with one another.
I gave a number of different options but the reality is that you can mix and match some of these.
The biggest thing that I want you to sort through is what are you hoping to accomplish and how does that play into the reality of where your team is at. You have to look at the cost benefit ratio or your plans. In other words, if you’re asking for a big sacrifice from your team is there really a pay off. Being careful sink a lot of financial investment into something that might even do you more harm than good. On the flip side, don’t waste the opportunity to accomplish launch team building, community outreach, or building partnerships with other churches.
“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”