4 December, 2014 Gerry Straker
At Church by the Bay we started thinking about Christmas in October. In terms of Christmas preparation, there is nothing more important than preparing for the Gospel opportunities that Christmas brings us. We have realised that we started too late in previous years.
We are doing two things this Christmas to gear up for our Christmas guest services. (Chapter 8 of Ray Evans’ book, ‘Ready Steady Grow’, is really helpful: some of the thoughts below are his.)
The 50 Christmas Card Challenge
Instead of flyering the streets of Morecambe, we decided to give personal invitations to people we know using pre-printed Christmas cards made by The Good Book Company. We set a target for each committed adult of sending 50 personal invites. We know this sounds like a lot! But we can invite anyone we know to Christmas events. We encouraged people to stretch the limits of acquaintanceship: parents in the playground; clubs and groups; colleagues; neighbours; the delivery man; shop assistants and so on. You don’t need to know someone’s name to invite them to Christmas. We asked the church not to say people’s ‘no’ for them – that is, don’t assume people will say no and not invite them: let them say ‘no’ themselves. Not least because an invitation is almost always a positive experience for people. We also reminded the church not to give up on people, but to ask again those people who turned down the invitation in the past.
We asked the church to go away and write lists of all the people they could think of and then share them in their small group for prayer and to help spark ideas for others. As we started the thinking process early, on the whole people have responded well. Some will hit 50 and some won’t. But it is not a competitive exercise. It may help some realise how few unbelievers they know. We hope that the challenge will spur them on to take a step to get to know more unbelievers in our town. We also encouraged people to use the cards – perhaps with a chocolate – to doorknock, meet and invite their neighbours that they don’t yet know.
Suppose our 40 committed adults do invite 50 people each. That would be 2000 personal invitations going out, and if just 10% were to come, that would be 200 people! So we’ve hired a bigger hall for our evening carol service. Time will tell whether it will be big enough!
We know that there will be some overlap of friends and acquaintances, and we know that not everyone will use 50 Christmas cards. But this will be a vast increase in personal invitations, and we hope will spur our people on to meet more unbelievers in Morecambe.
The 12 Dates of Christmas
We have four small groups at Church by the Bay, and each group was also tasked with arranging three informal Christmas events for unbelievers to meet Christians.
Things happening include: a Christmas pudding making evening in a home; a mums’ coffee morning; neighbours’ drinks; school parents’ drinks; a men’s curry night; an introduction to Medieval Christmas (one women in our church is a member of a living history society); a Christmas craft evening; and carol singing.
The idea is that they are low-key, easy-to-organise events which are not organised centrally. The events are then open to all the groups to use if they have friends who might come. These are opportunities to show unbelievers a taste of Gospel community, and we pray for Gospel conversations, as well as to invite people to Christmas services and Christianity Explored in the New Year. Some of the 12 Dates of Christmas may have a ‘Gospel taster’ talk.
I am writing up a list of events, with the details of who is organising them – when and where and so on – so that the church family can pray and invite. We’re doing these 12 Dates instead of organising anything big and central, with the idea that more church people will be involved in owning and helping, and there will be a range of things that appeal to more types of people.
All this is probably really obvious. If you do want to use any of this, but you don’t have an invitational culture in your church, you may want to wait until next year – we found that starting early has really helped!