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