There are a lot of conversations this time of year about what to do with those people who will come on Christmas and are likely to not come again. We spend a lot of time talking and writing about how to keep them. We desperately want them to come back to church. We obsess over our Christmas Eve hospitality, what announcements to make, what to hand out. We plan our guest follow-up program. We spend a lot of effort trying to get them to come back. But what about what will happen within them? What if we never see them again, but we make space for God to do something in their hearts that will stay with them?
We obsess over our Christmas Eve hospitality, what announcements to make, what to hand out. We plan our guest follow-up program. We spend a lot of effort trying to get them to come back. But what about what will happen within them? What if we never see them again, but we make space for God to do something in their hearts that will stay with them?
When I was a kid, my family and I didn’t go to church. We celebrated secular Christmas, but there wasn’t much (if any) talk about Jesus. I don’t recall ever going to church on Christmas Eve. However, there was a United Methodist Church right down the street from us. Every year, before Christmas, they put on a live nativity. One year, when I was probably about eight years old, they asked my oldest sister to sing Silent Night at the nativity. She didn’t go to the church, but someone there must have known her or heard her sing at school. I remember walking down the street in the freezing cold Western New York winter to watch and listen. I remember it very clearly. While I didn’t really know what the song was all about or much about the story behind the nativity, it was all very powerful and it stirred something deep inside me.
I retrospect, the live nativity probably wasn’t that amazing. (Although given my hometown, I am sure there were live animals.) I don’t recall the pastor standing up and inviting us to come back. I don’t think we signed in so there probably wasn’t a follow-up letter.
Here is the bad news: I never went back to that church. Well, that is not totally true. I preached at my mother’s funeral in that church; not because she ever became United Methodist, but because I did. Some twenty years later, I did go back to church and eventually became a United Methodist pastor.
So, was that Christmas program effective in getting people to come to church after Christmas? I guess it depends on how you look at it.
As we plan for Christmas Eve services at our churches, I think it is important to have great hospitality. I think it is important to invite people to come back and continue to get to know Jesus. I think it is important to follow up with our guests. But, I also think it is important to leave some room and have faith that God may be doing something we are completely unaware of.