Imagine finishing your meal at the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant. The server brings you the bill and snuggled up against it is a very special Fortune Cookie. I say it’s special because this time it’s going to accurately predict the future. With great anticipation you break open the cookie and eat it completely before you read it – that’s the house rule for making sure the fortune comes true – and then you uncoil the paper to read,
“Very soon your church will have a worship service and that will host the most unchurched guests for the year …”
You smile with anticipation and as you get ready to pay your bill, you notice that new words begin to appear on the Fortune Cookie’s strip of good news. You unfold it one more time and watch as the rest of the fortune fades in
“… and you will likely squander the opportunity.”
That Fortune Cookie accurately predicts a truth that will be manifest itself on December 24th in churches across the US. Although most pastors are aware that the Christmas Eve service will be one of the two largest worship services of the year, they fail to realize that it will also be the one service of the year they can expect a large number of the unconnected.
In today’s secular world, if a coworker casually mentions that they’re going to attend church on any given Sunday, someone is bound to ask incredulously “Why would you go to church?” Church going is not a particularly savvy thing to do, especially if you’re not already a practicing church goer. But something almost magical and significant occurs during the season of Advent. It somehow becomes politically correct, or at least not incorrect, to drop into church on Christmas Eve. There’s still enough of a national ethos to allow for a one-time pass to church. So if that same coworker announces they’re going to a Christmas Eve service, no one in the office will so much as blink. They might even invite themselves!
But how does the church respond to the one opportunity to really reach out and touch someone who’s unconnected with Jesus and the church? We sing carols. We read scripture (typically from the Good News for Modern Man of 1611 version). The pastor might say a few words, but if s/he does, they’re often laced with sentimentality and lacks any relevance to life’s burning questions. We light a candle, sing Silent Night and go home.
Did I mention that we almost never even bother to try and use the “Pew Pads” or “Friendship Rosters”? We not only allow the unconnected leave with their needs unmet, we endorse and encourage their anonymity.
Great leaders of growing churches recognize Christmas Eve as the best opportunity to connect with the unconnected and they move heaven and earth to ensure they do. They unapologetically create a worship service that’s more meaningful to the unconnected than it is to the well-churched. They ensure there’s a hand-off, an invitation to a near-future event that’s been designed to both pique the interest and meet the needs of the unconnected (like a sermon series or a seminar on Undoing Devastating Debt or Reviving Relationships). They get the guest’s names and contact information. They follow-up with a meaningful Christmas Eve gift (within two hours of their Christmas Eve attendance) even if it is inconvenient for us Christians to do so … remember, this is not about us – it’s about those unconnected with Jesus. They do whatever it takes to capitalize on the opportunity to reach the unconnected. They take Paul’s words to the Colossians seriously: “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (4:5).
And so, you’ve just unwrapped your Fortune Cookie. What are you going to do about it this year?