Christmas? In August?
The sun is shining and the barbecues are smoking – so why are we publishing three stories with a Christmas theme? Well, in 2015, Cornerstone Church in Nottingham decided to start planning their Christmas events over the summer. As a result they increased their congregation numbers at Christmas outreach events significantly.
These three articles first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Together magazine (you can sign up to receive it here) and we thought they would be helpful to everyone – especially as Christmas is just four months away now.
We start with Cornerstone’s story before hearing from two other churches to help inspire your seasonal outreach.
Christmas at Cornerstone by Kathryn Jackson
I’m not sure how you feel about Christmas. I have to confess that I love it; although that’s not how all of us on the staff team at Cornerstone feel.
But, despite our different views on how much fun Christmas is, we are united by our conviction that Christmas presents us with almost unrivalled opportunities in British culture to share our faith with people and invite them to church.
As a staff team we read Ready, Steady, Grow by Ray Evans – pastor of Grace Church, an FIEC Church in Bedford – and we were struck by some of his observations about the possibilities for evangelism at Christmas. So with a fresh determination to make the most of the opportunities, we went back to the drawing board and looked again at what we were offering at Christmas.
And last year we didn’t wait until the autumn term – our planning started well before the summer holidays.
We asked ourselves questions about the timing of our services, the names of services and the types of services we offered. We looked at what other churches did and then made some alterations to our own programme.
Out went the 6.30pm carol service (we figured it clashed with tea-time in many homes and certainly with dinner time in the student halls of residence) and in came two 7.30pm services and a 4.30pm service instead. And the 4.30pm service was an all-age service, something that was new for us.
But perhaps more significant than any change to our programme was that throughout the autumn term we sought to encourage and equip people to invite their friends. And the slightly uncomfortable place we began was with ourselves!
In his book Ray Evans writes:
“Leaders should model this. Too many pastors, vicars, ministers and elders challenge members to bring people, but don’t do it themselves. Once you start, others will begin to catch the vision that God reaches people through Word settings.”
So in a team meeting we asked ourselves some questions. Why don’t I invite people? Do I excuse myself from inviting people because I’ll be at the front? Who can I invite this Christmas? Can I be freed up from serving in any role in order to invite someone?
And then as a team we spent time praying for our friends, family and neighbours who don’t know Christ and who we could invite.
At the start of October we really began the push with our members, asking them to think about inviting friends. Everyone was given information called ‘Christmas is Coming’ which gave them all the dates in advance and encouraged them to plan to invite friends. We spent time in a service in October praying for Christmas and praying for our friends. And then we made sure our publicity was ready early.
On the first Sunday in December we gave each household at church a gift. We’d wrapped up copies of Tim Chester’s Advent devotional One True Light and as a church we read through it in December.
Why did we do this? Because in the midst of all the excitement and encouragement for evangelism we didn’t want our members to miss out on the opportunity to once again marvel at the God who became flesh and dwelt among us.
Our prayer was that with our eyes fixed on Christ and on the beauty of the incarnation we might be bolder with our invitations and more winsome with our words. And God was good. In 2015 we had a 40% increase in numbers at our carol services in comparison to 2014.
Uncovering the Christmas Story by Paul Gamston
Each year we have one explicitly evangelistic series on a Sunday morning at South Craven Evangelical Church in Yorkshire.
We usually use a published resource for our materials and 2015 was no different.
We chose Advent for our evangelistic series and I adapted UCCF’s Uncover Luke and Rebecca Manley Pippert’s Uncovering the Life of Jesus for a six-part series.
The mix of videos from the web and questions from Rebecca Manley Pippert’s book were a really helpful way of presenting timeless truths in a fresh and contemporary way.
Rather than an interactive Bible study, I created a presentation for the congregation where I asked the questions and answered them by keeping the Scriptures on the screen. This showed people where the answers to my questions were coming from.
I find using other people’s material really helpful in ensuring I keep my gospel preaching fresh rather than constantly reusing the same old phrases or style which I am more comfortable with. I really found the question and answer style refreshing and could see it drawing people in to the message.
We have a good number of young children on a Sunday morning and I am very conscious of how quickly they are growing in their ability to listen. I find that an annual explicit gospel series ensures they hear and know the gospel.
We had new people come to church for most of the series which was very encouraging.
Some continue to show an interest but as is the hard reality of gospel ministry, others who initially seemed enthusiastic then stopped coming along altogether.
So I’d love to report that we have seen people saved directly through these initiatives but that is not the case yet – as far as we are aware. But each year new people have come, been welcomed, heard and moved forward in their spiritual journey.
During our 2015 series, church members commented on how they found it helpful for themselves spiritually and in particular the story of the prodigal son and the wonder of God’s grace left several pairs of eyes moist.
In 2016 we are planning a shorter series using Glen Scrivener’s evangelistic resource 321 before moving to UCCF’s Uncover John in 2017.
Reaching Children by Dorothy Hamilton
The routine of going to church on a Sunday is not part of children’s upbringing anymore. A child’s experience of going to church is attending weddings and school carol services.
Here at Clarkston Baptist Church in Glasgow, we have 10–15 kids who come to Sunday School on a regular basis and we wanted to arrange something where they could bring their friends to church and experience something different.
So we started to think about an alternative Hallowe’en party with a ‘superheroes’ theme. We set ourselves a target of reaching 30 children but the results were much more rewarding than any of us expected!
The invitations went out as the leaders were planning and arranging the day itself and God provided us with 53 children. Some were from the toddler group held in the church, while others were school friends of other Sunday School kids or grandchildren of church members.
It was amazing. We had relay games at the start and then we split the kids into more manageable groups and arranged bases for them to visit. Our bases included doughnuts on a string, cake decorating, superhero crafts and superhero beanbag toss.
The kids had a blast. The positive comments from the parents were overwhelming. What they saw was much more than a kids’ party. They saw more than fifteen people giving up their Saturday afternoon to arrange a free party for their children. They experienced the love, care and kindness of those who make up the church.
Encouraged by the feedback, two months later we arranged a Christmas Party, entwining the real Christmas story through every game and activity.
And the result? We’ve seen two new children join us in Sunday School since these evangelistic parties which is a real encouragement to all those who organised them.