Use Christmas for outreach

In this article, Heber Ticas, CMM’s National Coordinator, discusses how the congregation he pastors uses the Christmas season as a prime opportunity to reach out to unchurched people in the area served by his church.

Heber and Xochilt Ticas
Heber and Xochilt Ticas

The congregation I pastor in Southern California, Comunion De Gracia, is constantly looking for ways to live out a “missional mindset.” A primary way we do that is by taking advantage of the annual holiday seasons to create missional environments within our congregation and, most importantly, to be present within the community that surrounds our church building. When it comes to reaching out to the community, one of the most important holiday seasons for us is Christmas. In this article I want to share some of the things we do during the Christmas season to connect with our community.

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One of the things I enjoy about Christmas is that it extends throughout the whole month of December (in the season we Christians call “Advent”). If you think about it, this season affords multiple opportunities to create spaces for missional living. Doing so does not have to be limited to a Christmas service. For us, it includes opening multiple “missional lanes” within our various ministries. Here are several examples:

  • “Operation Christmas Child”: I particularly like to have our church participate in this program because it awakens the missional heart of the church. Because we are predominantly a congregation of immigrants, this program connects well with the congregation as a whole—helping them to connect with the realities of what it was like growing up in Latin America. In particular we have our children’s ministry prepare gift boxes and pray over them. Those gift boxes don’t necessarily have to be sent out with the Operation Christmas Child ministry. In past years we have also been able to express the love of Christmas with kids in our community by giving them gift boxes.

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  • Women’s ministry Christmas dinner: This has been a great way to get the women at the church in community and at the same time create a space for them to invite their friends and family to an event that fosters relationship-building. It’s also a good opportunity to take a look at our visitor database and invite previous visitors to an event that is not religious in nature. Youth ministry also puts together a similar dinner event that opens similar lanes for community connection. The idea here is to make sure that we are not a closed group but rather a welcoming and engaging group.
  • “Back to Bethlehem” community event: This is not an event that we do every Christmas, but we have conducted it several times in past years. I gauge the budget and the appetite of the church on this one since it takes a lot of energy and effort to put it together. The idea is to turn the parking lot of our church into a mini village and invite the community to participate in the event. The key here is to get outside the walls of the church and invite folks in. In that regard, it’s vital to be intentional during the event in befriending those who visit from the community. We typically schedule this event for a day near our Sunday Christmas service. In that way we use our Christmas service as a “comeback” event.

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  • Christmas worship service: We hold this special worship service on the Sunday before Christmas (though this year, Christmas falls on Sunday). We never have a Christmas Eve service because it generally is not well attended because it is not a common occurrence in the Latino culture. Even if it were well attended, we would have several out-of-town visitors (visiting family members) and thus we would not be able to intentionally connect with these non-local folks. For this service, we put together both adult and children’s Christmas choirs. Doing so creates movement and excitement within the church, and motivates members to invite local friends and family. This service is another good opportunity to go through our visitor database and send invitations to our friends.

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Yes, December for us is a busy month, but it’s “good busy.” I consistently have to ask myself and my leadership team if what we are doing is moving forward the vision and mission of our church and if it reflects what we value as a church. This is important because it’s easy to get caught up in doing things that sound cool but don’t do much to move us forward, on mission with Christ.

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Editor’s note: for some additional ideas from LifeWay on using Christmas to reach unchurched people, click here.

From Greg: Humanizing humanity

Dear fellow ministers of Christ,

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

In my many travels with Delta Air Lines I often read Delta’s Sky magazine (typically doing the crossword puzzle first in an attempt to exercise my mind!). On a recent flight, a particular article caught my attention. It highlighted the movie Born to Be Blue, in which actor Ethan Hawke portrays fabled blues trumpeter Chet Baker. Hawke is quoted as saying that Baker’s biggest struggle after a drug dealer knocked out his teeth was “to play and to play great again.” Noting the movie’s primary goal in telling Baker’s story, Hawke made this comment (emphasis added):

Some biographies paint [Baker] as the angelic-type figure, some have these deep-in-a-drain drug themes, and some paint him as a criminal. Everything about the guy, even his death, was mysterious. We’re just trying to humanize him.

In many ways, Baker’s story is the story of all humanity. We all were born into a fallen world, and yet, as noted by the apostle Paul, we all have hope:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Though the Born to Be Blue writers and actors were unable to fully humanize Chet Baker (or anyone else, for that matter), we need not be discouraged, for “humanizing humanity” is what Jesus has done because it is who Jesus is. Out of his deep love and rich mercy, Father God sent his Son to us when we were “dead” due to our “trespasses and sin”—walking around like living corpses (zombie fans will relate!). All of humanity was in this “living dead” state when the Son of God moved into our neighborhood by becoming one of us (John 1:14).

We refer to this astounding miracle and amazing gift of grace as the Incarnation. It’s the focus of our Advent-Christmas celebrations when we give thanks for Jesus’ birth, which heralds the coming of the Son of God into our state of death (alienation) to grant us true, everlasting life. Amazing grace!

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds
Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The grace “package” addressed by Paul in Ephesians 2:5 reminds us that we have been made alive by Christ. No longer are we lumbering corpses because Christ has redeemed us—Christ has re-created humanity by becoming one of us to unite us to his humanity. And Christ, in his now glorified humanity, is seated on the throne of heaven (and thus Paul can say that we are seated there with him—his union with our humanity is permanent). This grace “package” thus speaks to the humanization of humanity accomplished by the one who created us and saved us by sweeping us up into his very life. Jesus, the one truly “human” human, by grace, has humanized us all!

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When the second member of the Godhead willingly emptied himself to take on the form of a human being, a plan was set in motion established by the Triune God before the creatoin of the world. That plan was for the Son of God to become the Son of Man to enable us all, God’s created sons and daughters, to become the humanized, fully adopted children of God that now, in Christ, we truly are.

During the Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas season, I hope you’ll join me in reflecting on the beauty and mystery of the Incarnation, including Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. As we do, let’s thank God for sending Jesus who, in redeeming us as one of us, made us truly human!

With love from my family to yours,

Greg Williams

PS: As we publish this issue of Equipper, Susan and I are preparing to travel to North Carolina (on Delta!) for one final journey of 2016. While there, we’ll be participating in the graduation ceremony of our son Garrett. He has completed his studies and he will earn his Masters of Business Administration. As stated in the old poster that some of you will recall, “MBA=BMW.” For Garrett, a BMW looks more like a Ford F150 4X4. We are proud of you, Garrett!

Kid’s Korner: Use Christmas to teach kids about Christ

Childrens mininstries have the responsibility (and wonderful opportunity) to teach children about God and his love. This teaching is offered in many ways and at various times. A significant “teachable moment” arrives each December in the Christmas season. Though we may (understandably) object to the commercialism associated with this season, we can take advantage of this annual opportunity to help children learn about the stunning miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives. (Proverbs 22:6)
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives. (Proverbs 22:6)

By focusing on Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that, through the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, took on human flesh to become Immanuel (God with us)—God come to be one of us in order to save us. Glory to God in the highest!

The biblical message of Jesus’ birth, winsomely presented at Christmastime, captures the imagination and hearts of children everywhere. Think about it—God chose to enter our world in the flesh of a baby—Jesus, fully God, yet fully now a human baby! Amazing grace!

Why the triune God came to us in this way is part of the mystery of Christ. In coming as a baby, God fully identified with our lowly state—sharing fully our experience, including our suffering. What a powerful way to show children just how much God loves (and likes) them!—he was once a child, just like they are. The Christ child grew up, became a man and died and was resurrected so they can be with him and share his joy forever.

Jesus in the Manger (public doman via Wikimedia Commons)
Jesus in the Manger (public doman via Wikimedia Commons)

Christmas offers childrens ministry workers a wonderful opportunity to share Jesus with the children they are called to serve. This can be done by reenacting the stories of Jesus’ birth—his nativity in a stable, the visit of the shepherds, and eventual visit of the Wise Men. Many children delight to participate in these reenactments. They also make powerful outreach events.

Christmas-themed decorations in the church building also serve as teaching tools. An evergreen Christmas tree can be a captivating illustration that Jesus is eternal life. Lights on the tree illustrate that Jesus is the light of the world. A manger scene can be used to illustrate the entire nativity story.

To help you capitalize on the opportunity of Christmas, here are some ideas adapted from “Help Your Child Discover the Real Christmas,” published by Gospel Light:

  • Help children learn the simple facts of Jesus’ birth. Read the story of the first Christmas to them from Bible storybooks or from easy-to-understand versions of the Bible. Work with your pastor to provide a family-friendly Christmas service (note that Christmas in 2016 falls on a Sunday). This is a great time to feature the classic Christmas hymns and carols that powerfully preach the gospel.
  • Visit a Christian bookstore and choose “Baby Jesus” books or videos that will appeal to your students. By doing so, nurture feelings of joy, love and thankfulness.
  • Sing with them the songs of Christmas. Emphasize those that are Christ-centered.
  • How about having a birthday cake for Jesus during the Christmas season? How about singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Then give Jesus a birthday present as a group by doing something extra special for others. Make cookies and deliver them to homebound members. Take canned foods or personal care items to a rescue mission.
  • Keep Santa Claus in perspective. If the issue arises (and young children may raise it), explain that Santa legends are based on the real Christian leader Nicholas (Saint Nicholas), who loved God and gave generously to the poor. When a child wants to talk about Santa Claus, listen attentively. Then turn the discussion to Jesus and his birth.
  • You might want to print out a related GCI.org article (online at https://www.gci.org/christmas/teach) and give it to the parents of the children you are serving in your childrens ministry.

–Ted Johnston

PS: If you as a childrens minister have some ideas for conducting Christmas-themed childrens ministry programs and classes, feel free to share them in the comments box below. For some free resources you might find helpful, check out these websites:

Advent-Christmas celebration resources

In the Western-Christian tradition, Advent and Christmas celebrate the coming (advent) of Jesus Christ into the world. Advent-themed worship services are held on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (in 2017 the first Sunday of Advent is November 27). Advent celebrations often follow the progressive themes of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace (sometimes in a different order). By beginning with Hope, Advent looks forward to Jesus’ “second coming,” which then points back to his Incarnation, followed by the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas.

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Source

Below are resources for celebrating Advent and Christmas. Up first are four short Advent-themed videos from GCI media. They would make excellent sermon-starters, or accompaniment for lighting the Advent candles. Following the videos are other resources you may find helpful.


Advent: Hope


Advent: Love


Advent: Joy


Advent: Peace

Preparing for Advent-Christmas

Below are links to the five articles in the November Equipper, which offers resources to help congregations and ministries prepare for Advent-Christmas.

From Greg: Humanizing humanity
Greg Williams reminds us of a central truth of the Advent-Christmas season: Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has humanized humanity.

adventAdvent-Christmas celebration resources
Here is a series of GCI-produced Advent videos and other resources to enhance your worship in the upcoming Advent-Christmas season.

Use Christmas for outreach
Heber Ticas offers tips about how a congregation can use Advent-Christmas as an opportunity to connect with unchurched people.

Sermon summary: God’s “one and only”
Lance McKinnon’s sermon celebrates the Incarnation of God’s “one and only” Son, who has included us with him in the “bosom” of the Father.

Kid’s Korner: Use Christmas to teach kids about Christ
Ted Johnston notes how children’s ministers can use Christmas as a “teachable moment” for showing kids how much God loves them.

Sermon summary: God’s “one and only”

Lance and Georgia McKinnon
Lance and Georgia McKinnon

This sermon summary is from GCI-USA Pastor Lance McKinnon. He preached this Christmas-themed sermon a couple of years ago in his Dallas, GA, congregation.

Theme passage: John 1:10-18

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Gods—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”)

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Here we see that in coming into the world, Jesus addressed two problems: our inability to recognize God and our inability to receive God. In John 1:1, the apostle John makes it clear that Jesus, “the Word,” is God. Being the Son of the Father, he is the “one and only” (John 1:18) who for all eternity has lived in a relationship of recognizing and receiving the Triune life.

God wills that all humanity share in the life of loving communion enjoyed by the Son with the Father and the Spirit. Humanity’s fall from trusting God has led to our pervasive blindness and rejection of him. The Father sent the Son in the Spirit to restore our sight so we can receive the life he is and has for us. It’s this coming of God, in Christ, into the world via the Incarnation that we celebrate at Advent-Christmas. By becoming human in the person of Jesus, God the Son has made the Father known.

Nativity of Jesus by Botticelli (public domain via Wkimedia Commonns)
Nativity of Jesus by Botticelli (public domain via Wkimedia Commons)

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human—God in the flesh. By becoming human, he revealed to us the grace and truth of God, for Jesus is the full revelation of the Father and in him we see that God is grace and truth from start to finish.

This is the truth of who Jesus is and thus who God is—“If you have seen me,” said Jesus, “you have seen the Father.” Only Jesus can show us who his Father is. John leaves no loopholes or ambiguities in his statement that, “No one has ever seen God.” Jesus alone is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18 ASV) and therefore, with the Spirit, has a unique, intimate knowledge of him.

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus, through the Spirit, has taken us into his own “bosom” and there restored us to the relationship he has with his Father and ours. As we grow in our trust in Jesus, our eyes continue to see more clearly who God is, and we are able to receive the life he holds out to us. We recognize and receive the glorious truth that the Father has made each and every one of us his beloved children in Jesus.

And that is what we celebrate at Christmas!