For many churches, their idea of successful Christian outreach means finding and buying the best looking, professionally done postcard and then paying lots for mailing lists and a large mailing.
It doesn’t matter how great your outreach marketing piece looks, how flawless the printing, how inspired your slogan, no one piece can carry the weight of assuring a good turnout for a Christmas event. Even if you do get a good turnout, that doesn't mean that the response of the people who attend will be anything more than appreciation for a good time.
This is not to say that these things don’t matter, because they may be steps towards a connection with your church and Jesus, but the key thing to remember if you want your Christmas outreach to be ultimately successful, is that it takes many actions by every part of your church and here are some suggestions:
1. First for leaders and decision-makers in the church, spend time in prayer asking God to impress on your heart the seriousness and the privilege of our opportunities this time of year. Remember, this might be your one opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus with visitors and relatives. The eternal destiny of people can be decided at your church this holiday season.
Challenge yourself to go beyond a nice little devotional thought to make your congregation feel good at Christmas—pray for fire in your soul as you prepare and motivate your people. Jesus is the reason for the season, not because we needed a reason to buy stuff, but because at Christmas we needed God to become flesh to save us from our sins. What prophets and people anticipated for milennia, as they looked forward to the Messiah, we must be careful not to trivialize.
2. Based on your time with the Lord, as a ministry team, decide what you want your Christmas message to be. Come up with one overall theme and a slogan that summarizes it. This is key because you want all of your advertising, publications, and preaching to reflect that one theme. You will change the medium that you use, but your core message must stay the same for maximum retention and response.
3. Select graphics, colors, images to portray that theme and use them consistently throughout all your advertisements. People often say to me, “If I keep saying things the same way, my audience will get bored.” Wrong. Audiences don’t get bored, audiences get confused. Great advertising campaigns always keep a core message the same for a lengthy period of time for it to have impact. Think about the “Got Milk?” or "Just do it!" or any other marketing campaign that is successful for illustrations of this.
4. Decide on a variety of ways to communicate your message; use and repeat as many as you can. We live in a time of multi-channel communication where we need to use different ways to reach different age and interest groups. Communicate your message through postcards, bulletin announcements and inserts, invitations, web page entries, email blasts, verbal reminders, phone calls, social media, Facebook, Twitter, whatever you can as many times as you can.
5. Once you have the overall approach and the communication pieces, now recruit the rest of your team: your people. For any holiday outreach to be really successful, every person in the congregation has to be convinced that THEY need to be the ones inviting their friends, praying for them and working hard to get them there. Remember it isn’t your job to get folks there, your job is to equip the saints so they can do the work of the ministry.
Not only is the best way to get a large group of people to your events this way, but even more important, your people will grow in their understanding of outreach and commitment to it. If the church buys advertising and an outside company does the addressing and delivery, your people haven't learned anything. If instead, you create 5 postcards, or door-hangers, or invitation cards for every church member, give them out and challenge them to pray for and invite their friends, they will become involved in outreach.
6. Space out the message in your preaching and comments. Starting as soon as possible, start saying things like, “As I look ahead to Christmas, I remember what it was like before I knew the Lord,” and then follow-up with comments on how important it is to think about the people in their circle of friends or the business people they interact with who are in a similar situation. Share with your congregation who you are praying for, how you give out or send out invitations, how you follow up. Never, ever expect your congregation to do more than what you are doing.
7. Be sure to prepare materials that you give out at the Christmas events themselves that explain everything that is going on at your church. It will have a very negative effect on the gospel message if guests can’t find the bathrooms, coffee, or are confused about where to take their kids for child care. Create a program, an expanded bulletin, signs, PowerPoint explanations for people who know nothing about why your church does what it does.
4. Don’t forget that this is a fantastic opportunity to let guests know about what else will be going on at your church after the holidays. In addition, ALWAYS include a gospel presentation, either one written by the pastoral staff at your church or one of the tasteful tracts by the American Tract Society, from your denomination, or written by your pastor. If you need ideas, CLICK HERE for a number of articles with examples of Gospel presentations.
To illustrate the importance of these pieces, let me share a story. Some church leaders were asking me how they could get more of a follow-up response from people who attended their huge Christmas outreach. They did a fantastic job and yearly put on an almost Broadway quality Christmas play—but seldom had much response from people, in terms of coming back to the church after the event, nor did they know what effect the play actually had on people coming to know Jesus, though they did it as an evangelistic presentation.
When I asked to see what they gave to people at the event to both explain the gospel message in printed form, what they linked to on their website, how they got information from them to follow-up, what they gave out to let people know what their church does on a regular basis and to invite people to events the coming week, all I got was a blank stare.
“Uh….we don’t give them anything,” was the reply, "and we don't ask for any information from them."
“What?” I said, rather incredulous, while wondering if they lived in a community where perhaps mind-reading chemicals were distributed in the water, because if you don’t tell people these things in print, digitally and verbally, there is no way other than mind-reading for them to find out. They continued, “We don’t give them anything because we don’t want to be pushy at a festive event.”
I wanted to ask if they would rather be pushy or allow people to spend eternity separated from God, but I thought once I got started, I knew I might not be able to quit yelling or crying and I knew neither would teach anyone anything.
“Oh, my,” was my reply and we then went on to discuss more effective communication methods. But what I really wanted to say was:
It isn’t being pushy to share with people the greatest gift of all, salvation in Jesus!
And it isn’t pushy to let them know the holiday events hosted by your church that will help them grow in their Christian faith and live a meaningful life. Many guests who come to holiday events do not know what churches do on a regular basis, they honestly don't know you do more than host community events. A simple insert or invitation that says something like: “We hope you enjoyed our Christmas program and we would love to have you come back for……” and then list your regular services and programs will make a huge difference in the number of people who come back after your special event. People are looking for ways to find friends and meaning in life—but they won’t know about what your church offers if you don’t tell them.
The holidays are a demanding time, but a great time to welcome people into the kingdom of God. Be sure to spend time daily praying for strength to everything in preaching, communications, involving your people and the follow-up the Lord wants you to do as we celebrate His birth.