By Bill Easum
Whereas Easter is the most important day of the year for Christians, Christmas Eve is the most important night of the year for the unchurched and non-believer ( I’ll call them the “unconnected” from here on). I’m amazed at how many dying churches have Christmas Eve services designed mostly for their own pleasure and fail to understand this might be the night some unconnected person might walk in the door and connect with God. When I was pasturing a church, it was not uncommon for our attendance to double that night and a large portion of the attendees were always first time people.
The church I pastured for 24 years always had something on Christmas Eve but, alas, in the early years it was mostly “Come and Go Communion,” not something the unconnected would flock to ( I didn’t know any better and didn’t have any mentors). However, I remember that Christmas Eve when we had our first full worship service the worship center was overflowing and we hadn’t advertised it outside the church. All I could think was, “what would happen if we advertised Christmas Eve to the public? It’s not rocket science to explain what we did the next year – we added a second service and advertised them and both services were full! So we continued adding another service each year until we had a service at 3,5,7,9, and 11.
It wasn’t long before we noticed a pattern in people’s worshipping preferences on Christmas Eve. The 11:00 o’clock was our least attended service. The 5 o’clock service was always maxed out (we had a lot of children), followed closely by 7, 3, then 9, with 11 falling way behind. Since consulting I have found the preferences continue to this day.
So, I thought I would go over the basics of Christmas Eve.
Anytime you reach 80% attendance start another service. Don’t wait until it’s full. Of course this is true for everything you do.
Make it a point to give them a taste of what they will find when they return to a Sunday service. Give them your best sermon. I can’t tell you how many churches make the mistake of either not preaching or doing a short homily. Make sure the music is top drawer and mirrors the type of music on Sunday morning. If you have a service that uses a band, then use the band on Christmas Eve. If you have a choir, then use the choir. If you have both types of services, then have both types on Christmas Eve. Don’t make the mistake of doing something different on Christmas Eve than you do on a regular Sunday
Direct the service primarily to the unconnected. This is their night- the night God said, I love you even though you don’t love me! So make sure you welcome them royally. But don’t single them out. Don’t make the mistake of doing “carols and lessons.” That is directed to people who are connected. I would also avoid having communion unless you do it at a service that is not publicized.
That brings up a key point- make sure you publicize the services. We sent out 20,000 hand-addressed Christmas cards inviting people to attend. We even put a stamp on the envelope instead of using our bulk mail permit. That’s how important we thought Christmas Eve is.
If you’re a church that still registers attendance make sure the people who register are responded to within 48 hours. And if your church is under 500 in worship it is best if the pastor makes a personal call to each of them. We had a lot of singles who couldn’t afford to leave town for Christmas, so we had a party for them on Christmas and they delivered a Christmas gift to all our visitors who signed in during worship.
This Christmas, don’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of making the Christmas Eve worship a gift to the first timer. You’ll never regret it.