True story that prompted this blog:
As part of the process of planning their upcoming Christmas outreach, the communication team from a church, that will remain unnamed, asked me how they could get a better response from people who attended their Christmas outreach last year.
The presentation itself was not the problem. It was an almost Broadway-quality musical drama paired with a gourmet dessert buffet. Each night was full with visitors from the community and their response was enthusiastic.
But the following Sunday almost none of huge turnout for the Christmas program showed up for church and as far as they knew, nobody became a Christian because of the event, even though they did it as an evangelism outreach. Why, they asked me, didn't more respond?
A quality program is only part of the reason people come to church
I knew the program was fantastic, the content was biblically inspired and compelling, but I needed to know more before I could help them. I then asked to see what communications they gave to people at the event to:
- Get their contact information so the church could follow-up and invite them back both digitally and with a postal mailing.
- Tell people about the church, who they were, what they did regularly, their website and other social media contacts.
- Explain the gospel message in printed form along with resources to explore online and contacts to interact with if they had more questions.
- A specific invitation to come back to the church the following Sunday with the service times and any more information that might be helpful to a visitor including children's ministry information.
- A short message from the pastor at the end explaining the meaning of Christmas and salvation in Jesus and inviting people to connect with the church and find out more.
They responded with blank stares and then, “Uh….we don’t give them anything. The pastor thanked them for coming and wished them a Merry Christmas. We don't ask for any information from them."
“Why not?" I asked.
They continued, “We don’t say more, give them anything, or ask for anything from them because we don’t want to be pushy at a festive event.”
I was stunned, but fortunately kept my mouth shut for a few minutes as my mind raced through what I really wanted to say:
- I wanted to ask if they assumed their community had mind-reading chemicals 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.
- I wanted to ask if they would rather be pushy and tell people about salvation in Jesus or be polite and quiet and miss an opportunity to turn souls from hell to heaven.
- I wanted to ask why they went to all the bother if they were just interested in putting on a dinner-theater wannabe production.
Fortunately, “Oh, my,” was my reply. After a few deep breaths and a silent prayer for patience on my part, we went on to discuss the following 4 suggestions to help them get a better response for their next Christmas outreach:
4 suggestions to overcome the fear of being too pushy
1. Realize that some people won't like what you do or say or the program itself.
There are many things about the gospel that are easily misunderstood and can be offensive. The reality that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," is not exactly a happy thought, but if the reality that sin is what eternally separates us from our Creator isn't clear, the incredible wonder of the Word made flesh so that He could one day die for our sins and offer salvation, is lost. If Jesus didn't come to earth to be our Savior, the Christmas story is no more than a charming folk tale.
But it is more. History broke in half. The Eternal God became flesh. The promise of the ages, the mystery pondered by angels, came to fruition.
But not everyone will understand this, no matter how well you communicate it or how entertaining the program that contains it. As the Apostle Paul reminds us,
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
If you clearly communicate the gospel message, some people will be offended, but don't allow the possible negative response of a few people to keep you from sharing the real meaning of Christmas with your audience. As has been said, you want to be clear enough so people have something to be offended about.
In addition, a negative response can be the start of a dialog. If someone cares enough to respond negatively on a comment card or to an email—they were listening—don't pass up that opportunity to see if they are open to further interaction.
2. Your audience came to a church for the Christmas event, on some level they expect a church-related response.
People are looking for ways to find peace and meaning in life—but they won’t know about what your church offers if you don’t tell them. Many guests who come to holiday events do not know what churches do regularly; they honestly don't know you do more than host family-friendly 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 more” and that then list your regular services and programs will make a huge difference in the number of people who come back after your special event.
Visitors may attend your event and not a community-sponsored one because they are looking for a spiritual component to the holidays. If you don't give them one through a clear, biblical view of the importance of Christmas, the plan of salvation, and how they can find out more, they will walk away thinking churches are no different from any other place that puts on a good show.
3. You have a responsibility to share the gospel.
Whether or not you share the true meaning of Christmas clearly is about much more than the professional quality of your program and your fears of appearing pushy. If we've been called to share the gospel, we need to take every opportunity to do it. We sometimes forget the seriousness of the consequences:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself (Ezekiel 3:17-19).
You don't have to appear on stage after the Christmas program dressed as an Old Testament prophet and scream judgement or remind them, Johnathan Edwards did, that they are "sinners in the hands of an angry God," though we do well to remember his words.
You message can be joyous, gentle, and appropriate to the culture of your audience—but if God has given you a church and an audience of unchurched people at your Christmas events, you need to take your responsibility seriously. You care in the company of saints in Hebrews 11 who endured, suffered, and persevered through far more than fears of being considered "pushy." If you want to walk worthy of their company, your message, and your Lord, you must clearly share the true meaning of Christmas and how your audience can connect with your church to learn more about Jesus.
4.Translate your good intentions into practical communications.
Conviction in your heart doesn't communicate with anyone. Turn that conviction into tangible communications: connection cards and programs given out at the service, updated website and social media, people ready to answer questions on the phone or by email, follow-up plans for mailings and social media, and what you'll say to introduce connecting communications to the audience and to challenge them to consider Jesus.
Putting together and producing these tangible and virtual communications is not nearly as much fun as rehearsing Christmas carols or the living nativity. The work required is time-consuming and often tedious. Follow-up of responses and the data entry, mailing and emailing is detailed, hard work. But this work is essential if you want to turn conviction in to tangible interactions.
Once you've done all these things, pray for God's favor and that He will open hearts to connect with your church and Jesus. Then be at peace. You can't force the outcome, but if you do all the things suggested here, you will be an obedient servant, people will respond, and you can celebrate, because pushy or not, you've shared the true joy to your world—that the Lord has come.