Every December, the average attendance rises in our churches. Thereís something about the season, the special music, and the cultural vestiges of the meaning of Christís birth that causes more people to attend than in November or October. And Christmas Eve usually brings a crowd, (even in a small church where a crowd may mean 35 instead of the usual 19!)
With all the December activity in some of our churches – childrenís musicals, adult cantatas, dramas and plays, special services, nativity scenes, Candlelight services, communion services, special mission initiatives, Sunday school parties and dinners – the temptation by many pastors and church staff members is to see the crowd without seeing the people (akin to seeing the forest without noticing the trees). Let me suggest that we prayerfully consider how to make Christmas as personal as possible.
Consider sending personally signed Christmas cards to all your member and visitor and constituent households, signed by the pastor, and enclosing a brief reminder of the Christmas Eve service schedule. I know that all that information is already in the church bulletin, the newsletter, and on the website and the sign out front. But consider the personal touch, and the extra effort. For years, I personally signed five hundred or more cards each December, and I was amazed at how grateful the members and friends of the church were to receive a personal note and a simple contact that wasnít about money.
Try to make as much personal contact as possible during December at Christmas gatherings, church parties, and other special services. Especially look for the seasonal visitors, the non-regular members, the friends of members who attend. Foster a relationship, begin a conversation, make contact. The culture is singing our song during this season of the year, and if people step forward toward even marginal participation, we should meet them there and make them feel welcome and use the God-given opportunity of their brushing up against the church even casually.
Maximize contact before and after services, especially on Christmas Eve. These are not the services for pastors to wait in their vestries until the service begins and then slip out unseen when the service has ended. These are the services for the pastor, the staff, and the ushers and greeters to greet people at the front door, to meet their guests and relatives, to reacquaint ourselves with members we havenít seen for awhile, and to linger after to visit with those who likewise seem reluctant to leave or desiring to visit a few minutes longer. The same is true for childrenís programs, music programs, nativity scenes. God has brought all these people to us this season; letís not lose any opportunity to invite, welcome, meet, and engage them.
And nothing is more effective than a personal follow-up call, or personal note from the pastor, a staff member, or a member of the congregation after someone has visited. Follow-up gently, personally, and genuinely to anyone who visits any of the special services or activities. Thank them for coming, and invite them to attend worship again or to come to a new study or ministry that is starting in January.
The extra people during December moves us to systematize, organize, and methodizeÖ.as well it should. But also it should move us to personalize in every way possible. After all, what does incarnation mean if it doesnít involve the ìWordî become extraordinarily personal, and very specifically inviting, loving, and human.
Yours in Christ,