Christmas Eve is fast approaching. Historically, your worship service/s on that holy night will have the highest number of visitors who have limited or no church experience. Indeed, the Nones are more likely to attend your Christmas Eve service than any other service of the year.

If your church is like the typical North American church, it will miss out on Christmas Eve’s growth opportunities:

  • The typical church won’t get contact information from the visitors.
  • The typical church won’t do any meaningful follow-up with the visitors.
  • The typical church won’t offer a compelling reason to return on the following Sunday.

So as the Magi came bearing gifts to the Christ child on the very first Christmas, please allow me to bring you three gifts to help connect and retain the visitors you will have on this most special night, Christmas Eve, 

Gold: Deliver a Need-Meeting, Problem-Solving Sermon

You can tell the Christmas story through scripture, song and short videos, but instead of re-telling the Nativity story in your sermon, dedicate that time in the service to address the real issues people face during the holidays – stress, financial strain, family discord. By offering practical, scripture-based solutions to these problems, your church can provide real value to your congregation and visitors alike. Include a call to action; something tangible that people can do to improve their lives. This aligns perfectly with the season’s spirit of renewal and hope.

While you are at it, introduce to those gathered your “What’s next”.  Use Christmas Eve to promote a new series for the new year. The new year is a time for new beginnings, making it the perfect occasion for a powerful sermon series that addresses the most pressing problems. By creating a series that is both relevant and engaging, your church can demonstrate its value in providing practical, need-meeting, faith-based solutions. Offering a compelling series title and take-home reminders can help cement this message and encourage return visits.

Frankincense: Get Visitor Contact Information

Get your visitors to share their contact information by offering something in return. Here are some examples I have heard about or used.

  • Provide a gift to all first-time guests who will fill out a contact card, (not a pew pad)
  • One church I know of announces that they’ll give $5 to the local food bank for each first-time visitor card that’s filled out and put into the offering plate.
  • Offer a valuable door prize (a well-stocked Christmas gift basket on full display in the lobby) that requires a completed registration as an entry.  
  • Create a Photo Booth with a beautiful background setting. Have a photographer on hand to take a portrait photo of the families. Gather contact information from your newcomers and inform them that there will be a free framed 5×7 copy of the family photo with their name on it at the Welcome Center the Sunday after Christmas. Post your members photos on social media and ask them to share their photos with their contacts.

To help you set up an amazing Christmas photo-op, check out the free Christmas Photo Backdrop Guide from Life.Church Open Network

Once you receive this most valuable contact information (name, e-mail and home address, cell phone #) it is imperative that you follow up with expediency. Over the years I have used a combination of text messages, handwritten note cards, emails, and phone calls to follow-up with our local first-time guests, thanking them for attending and encouraging them to return the following week for the need meeting series I was beginning. I would also invite them to an upcoming newcomer’s event. (We called ours “Pizza with the Pastor”).

Myrr: Expand Your Hospitality Team

All hands-on deck! Every member must become a gracious host that’s “on duty” prior to, during, and following the Christmas Eve worship service.

Start with greeters in your parking lot … yes, even if it’s cold and snowy outside. Rotate these greeters every ten or fifteen minutes if necessary. Your greeter’s primary ministry is to extend a hand, a smile and a greeting to break down a first-time guest’s apprehensiveness. Attending a church for the first time is likely the scariest thing someone is going to do all week, so you should make that experience as comfortable as possible.

At our church, our hospitality team (HUGS Hospitality-Ushering-Greeting & Security) was responsible for making a positive first impression on each person’s arrival. No one should pass through your doors on Christmas Eve without hearing several “Welcome to _____” “Good to see you” or “We’re so glad you are her”. We would train our HUGS team to introduce themselves to people they did not recognize by saying, “Hi, my name is _____. What’s yours” After they introduce themselves to you, then you can follow up with “How long have you been coming to the church? If they are first timers, they will let you know.

I would also encourage our members to intentionally sit near newcomers. This is probably the least utilized and yet most strategic step that can be taken to become a welcoming church. People are creatures of habit and naturally do not like change, so we need to be purposeful in asking our members to be on the lookout and try and sit near a newcomer. Ask your ushers to seat guests near welcoming members. Congregants who intentionally sit by someone new, can help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing themselves and assisting them if they look unfamiliar with the order of service or in filling out the welcome card. After the service they can easily invite the guests to sit with them when they return next week.

Your goal should be to train your congregation to always be looking out for newcomers and to make sure that your guests are made to feel like V.I.P.’s (Very Important People.) In many congregations I have visited, I felt like an outsider, completely ignored by people who were busy talking to their friends who they already knew.

Take these three gifts I bring and use them: there’s just too much at stake this Christmas Eve. Ponder this in your hearts; Poor hospitality is the #1 reason first-time guests do not return to a church they visited.