There are several times during the calendar year when Jesus followers have a unique opportunity to connect the dots between God’s heart and the hearts of the multitudes of hurting people in our community. The Christmas season is perhaps the greatest of those times. In a way, we almost have an unfair advantage, because even skeptics are overwhelmed by all of the holiday endorphins and excitement. We can clearly target what people are hungry for, if we slow down just long enough to listen to what is on their hearts. We are here at Christmas to work in tandem with God’s Spirit as the time of the season allows us to get in touch with people in unique ways. The opportunities that lie before us are immense if we are willing to be focused.
This is one of the most powerful ways you can serve a person during this time of the year. It is powerful because you are able to engage in a genuine conversation with them as you wrap their gift. More times than not, they will ask you why you are doing this for them. That curiosity will provide a natural opportunity for evangelism. With that said, it is easy to get caught up in the physical action of present wrapping. We need to take care not to forget the spiritual aspect of serving them. It is always best to slow things down a bit. Take ample advantage of the opportunity to share God’s love.
Wrapping Presents – Large Scale Project
There are several pointers to keep in mind if you are doing this as a larger scale event. You will need to begin recruiting a fairly large volunteer force—don’t procrastinate—start vision-casting now! The key to this outreach will be the personnel you have gathered together. They must be enthused and on the same page. You are looking for the people that are excitement catalysts in your church. These folks thrive on the energy and joy of the season. Start gathering materials now! Don’t put this off. Order plenty of what you will need. Keep in mind you don’t want to frustrate your volunteer force. The name of the game here is to have “More than plenty” so people will not have to twiddle their thumbs waiting on restocking when they could be serving the public and having divine conversations. Start praying now! We will be connecting with people who are not yet connected with us nor are they connected with the God of heaven and earth. They are in immense spiritual need, no matter what walk of life they come from. We are his representatives. We are not only wrapping presents – we are spiritual ambassadors. We need to blend the spiritual act of praying with the physical act of serving. If we get out of sync with our serving we cease to be effective in our activity. We are merely chasing our tails.
Our role is to serve them all and let God sort them out. In the past people have suggested that we should only seek to serve the marginalized, but I would argue that their definition of poverty, may be too narrow. The beauty of wrapping gifts a shopping mall or department store is that you will encounter people with diverse socio-economic status, but they all have spiritual and emotional needs. That is what we are really seeking to touch. Do not get bogged down by skill. Even if you are all thumbs, chances are you are still doing the person a tremendous service. In fact I have had people take over the wrapping from me as I simply hand them the supplies and hold down flaps and strings while they do elaborate wrapping. What this is really about is the conversation you share while the gift is being wrapped. You don’t have to be a highly skilled craft person to do this activity. We can all engage in the simple sharing line of “We are here to wrap your present as a part of XYZ Community Church to show you some love this Christmas. Make sure you remind folks: “We are not a part of the mall / store personnel – we pay for this ourselves in order to show God’s love in a practical way to the community. Our intent is to give God’s love, not just talk about it.” Some simple chatter will do the trick until the other person clicks in with some acknowledgement of what you are saying. They will either engage with you or they will change the subject. Many will want to chat a bit. Keep in mind you will be planting a seed of generosity in the hearts of the majority of people we come in contact with. This will be one of many seeds that person will need to come in contact along their trek prior to their conversion to Jesus. We all have a unique path into a love relationship with Jesus. Very rarely was it a sudden conversion. Our part as his followers is to tell our story along the way between now and then to as many as possible. In wrapping presents we get plenty of chances to share our story and his story at the same time.
It should be noted that if you don’t have the resources or volunteers to do this at a mall or large department store, a smaller discount store with a limited schedule could be a perfect starting location for your group. You can always work towards the goal of broadening this event in future years. People will join up in your outreaches for many reasons, but they will stay for one main reason – because they enjoyed working with the people. You need to work with the shift leaders present to make sure you are not frustrating the people present in any way if that is at all possible. I recommend the primary leaders of this be connected with, be brought coffee while the shifts are going on, be asked in a jovial way, “Are we having fun yet?” – engaging ways of connecting the dots with the team by various levels of interactive approaches to show care to all involved.
Liquor Store Outreach?
As Jesus often demonstrated, we need to hang out with the sinners. The name of the game is, “We are here to connect with people who don’t go to church.” This is always the objective to keep in front of you. The object is not to serve churchy people. For the most part those folks already understand the notion of God’s love. I ran into a group who had latched onto the gift wrapping concept last season, but they got the application pretty much backwards. They set up shop in front of a Christian book store. I suggested they move across the parking lot to a liquor store. They laughed heartily at the suggestion. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t kidding. Not in the least. Another pastor friend was present when this conversation took place. He chimed in. “Yes, that’s a very good idea. If you are after the head tilt with this project you really need to switch locations. I did an outreach like this a few years ago when I was working for a Church in California and we set up the outreach in front of a liquor store. One guy came in planning to just buy some booze and other supplies for a party, including a last minute gift—the ultimate one stop shopping. Not only was he converted by this radical love he certainly wasn’t shopping for, this guy became a member of the church and over time became one of its most influential leaders!”
Keep in mind not everyone that shops at a liquor store has drinking problem—we are wise to not generalize. We are also wise to go to places that have historically been cast off by the church culture in general. Once again: “serve them all, let God sort them out!” A liquor store may be prime real estate for holding a small, outdoor gift-wrapping outreach. Make sure you clearly explain your intent and the point of the outreach with the owner / manager of the store prior to doing the outreach. This conversation is key to the success of the outreach making it or not.
The Taste of Christmas
Here is a quick and easy outreach you can put together as either a business blast kindness event, or a take-home kit for you to give to church members as the exit from weekend services. The materials are easy to gather: 1) A bulk supply of Ziploc snack size baggies 2) Well crafted connect cards with a holiday design 3) High quality Christmas candy.
Candy Canes are always welcomed it seems. If you really want to make a dent in people’s lives, purchase different colored candy canes other than the standard red and white colors. Apparently there are now even exotic fruit flavors available in neon colors, but with the traditional shape. Make sure you have some chocolate. This is crucial. Hershey’s makes a seasonal version of Kisses that are decorated in green foil or red foil. There is actually a large variety of seasonal candy that you will find on display starting in early November. You are going for a mix that is attractive in appearance and flavor. The connect card is the anchor. In fact we have a few new fantastic designs available now at Kindness Resources LLC. The name of the game is to give away as many of these as possible with a small connect card inserted into the Ziplock bag. One candy cane, a few pieces of candy is all you need for each bag to make a small effective touch. If you purchase in bulk you can keep your cost efficiency to between $0.07 to $0.12 per touch!
Black Friday Outreach
Some daring people / churches have the courage to take on enormous crowds that gather for shopping specials the day after Thanksgiving. This outreach needs to be done in connection with the store that is willing to allow you to do something spectacular directly in front of their location. I have never heard of a store that wasn’t anything less than tickled at the offer of having a Black Friday outreach done in front of their location. I have on occasion heard of stores where they pay for part or all of the outreach materials so long as the people from the local church manned the labor aspect of the outreach. This is actually easy to do. Think of any nice touch to get the attention of a frenzied shopper:
- Free Coffee/Hot Chocolate (check out the cool back pack dispenser)
- Free Battery Packs
- Free Ribbon
- Free Scotch Tape
- Free Wrapping Paper Kits
- Free “Pop Up” Bows
- Shopping Cart Valet Service
- Umbrella Outreach
- Windshield Cleaning Patrol
This season, make sure that you remember that people are hungry for relationship. The holidays remind us we are more ill-equipped for relationships than at any other times of the year. We get around those who are perhaps challenging to us, yet they are the ones we love. We are hungry to see progress made in relationships, but we don’t know how to make progress without being driven crazy at the same time. This is a time of year when people are in some ways the most open to a “Big God” encounter. There is a sort of collective verbal outcry that goes very much like this:
“Dear God, if you are real and if you answer prayers, please hear mine. I ask that you would change my family and make us more loving toward one another. Amen.”
It is also important to remember that people are in a hurry. Nearly everyone is on a short emotional fuse. Thus, we must be mindful of the tendency on the parts of everyone to be a bit odd about things in general. If it is ever appropriate to proceed with caution now is the time of year for those words to be taken to heart.
We should also make sure that we invest time and energy on retail employees. Given the current economy, this holiday season is predicted to see a record number of new seasonal part-time employees hit the work force. For many this grim reality of a second or third job will be a shock to their system. They will be in as much need for kindness as they will the extra funds they hope to gain by adding ten to twenty hours onto their already exhausting hours of employment just to make ends meet or to gather extra holiday cash. Our hope is to scatter our seeds at the Christmas season in order to see a return to our love language throughout the rest of the year. During the final part of the calendar year we may end up seeing a return that is greater than all the other weeks and months we go out and serve folks. In fact, I think it will pale by comparison. Let’s make the most of what we have before us. Let’s connect the dots and see what God is up to right around us. That will happen as we serve with all our hearts and lay caution aside.