The Blue Christmas service came to a close and several members and guests remained in the sanctuary, sitting in the light of candles and Christmas tree lights. I walked over to a woman in a pew and introduced myself. After hearing her name, “Suzie,” I asked what brought her out that night and if she knew anyone in the church. Quickly, she reached into her purse and held up the invitation card our church sent to the homes in our community. “No, I don’t know anyone here,” she said, “I came because I was invited.”
Suzie had lost a friend 3 weeks earlier to cancer and when she saw the Blue Christmas service she knew this was for her. When she walked in, she described feeling comfort and sensing God’s presence, which is what she needed. I was glad she God used the worship service to minister to His daughter.
Later that night, hours after our conversation, her words echoed in my mind. “I came because I was invited."
I wonder how many others long to be present. Are there more who would say the same thing?
The truth is, during the Christmas season, churches have the opportunity to serve people that are unreached other times of the year. There are people in our communities who are more open during the holidays, both to the story of Jesus, and a warm invitation to engage in celebration. During Christmas we celebrate God who is with us, who comes near to where we are. How will we invite those around us to participate?
My guess is, your church already has many great things going on at Christmas time. You have your annual Christmas brunch, Christmas concert, or maybe a community canned food drive you do each year. It’s worth it to take the time to put all of these opportunities into one place. Many times the task is not to create new events, but to explore what we are already investing in and decide who and how to invite others to participate.
Create an invite card, along with Facebook and website banners to share the story of what your church is doing is helpful. Then the next step is to share it. Print these cards and allow your members to use them to invite friends, family, and co-workers. Take young people out door-to-door to the homes immediately around the church. Do a mailing to your zip code. Put an ad in your local paper (both online and in print). Hang posters in the local restaurants, hardware store, or coffee shop. Share with the community center. Send an invitation home with each of the students in your school or children’s center so that the parents are invited. In all the ways that work best in your area, spread the word about what’s happening and make it easy for people to get involved.
In the process of creating your invitation, you start to think about all that will happen during the Christmas season. When will the potluck or fellowship meal take place? Do you want to add a cookie social after the concert? What community need will people be invited to give to? This is a great opportunity for collaboration with ministry leaders in your church. Bring together the music ministry, social ministries, and Adventist Community Services (or someone else invested in outreach) to talk about what you can offer during Christmas. Christmas is also a great time for your collaboration to extend beyond the church walls. Does the neighborhood shelter need supplies for those they serve? Does the city need a place to host the Christmas event? Can you partner with the local hospital or cancer treatment facility to invite those who have lost loved ones to a Blue Christmas service? Does the public school have families that need extra support to make the holidays special for their family? There are so many opportunities for collaborative efforts that fit both the gifts and strength of your church and the needs of the community.
Over the years, the Christmas invite card at the churches I’ve served often invited people to a special sermon series, Christmas concert, Christmas meal, and a service opportunity of some kind. One church even did annual caroling and invited the community to participate in bringing cheer to the neighborhood! Whatever you decide to do, invite others to be a part of the holiday fun.
Review your sermon series, Christmas concert, Christmas Eve service, or any other event with the guest in mind. Ask yourself, “If I weren’t from this church, or any church, how would I experience this?" Many times the changes necessary to make a guest feel welcome are small. But it does take intentionality as you work through the service. During the welcome, do you include guests? Do you have a card in the pew or bulletin for them to fill out to get connected? Is there a way for your church to follow up with the people that come? For the offering appeal, will you acknowledge that you don’t expect guests to give? Would someone new know what to do during the service or are there times for standing, sitting, or kneeling that need some explanation in the bulletin or from up from in order for a guest to understand? Do you preach like someone could be hearing it for the first time? In all you plan, imagine someone there who is walking into your church for the first time.
You plan, pray for and anticipate what God will be doing during the Christmas season. Now it’s time to be on the lookout for stories to celebrate. Who came? What did we give? How did we make a difference? Talk about it. Celebrate the way God’s Spirit shows up and is at work among us.
“I came because I was invited.” These words still move me. I’m moved to outline Christmas messages before school is in session. I’m moved to collaboration with other ministry leaders. I’m moved to dream of what needs our congregation can meet. I’m moved to pray, months before Christmas, for those that will walk through these doors and who will hear the story of God who is truly with us. May we continue to say, “You’re invited.”
Tara J. VinCross is the senior pastor of the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, California