If you are not thinking about welcoming guests to church on Christmas Eve, you may get more first-time visitors, but it is possible none of them will come back again.
This is part 5 of the series, “Is it too early to start planning for Christmas? Or is it too late?” Feel free to start here. Or, go back to the beginning of the series.
If you have been following along with this series and have done everything you can to plan, invite, and prepare, you are almost ready for Christmas Eve. If you have done the hard work of inviting people or, if your church historically sees a lot of guests on Christmas Eve, you will likely be seeing some new faces and the faces of people you haven’t seen for a while. Some churches make the colossal mistake of labeling these people as “Christmas and Easter Christians” and just assuming they won’t be back again. That is wrong for so many reasons that it would take another post to even begin to go into it. Let me offer the short version.
Everyone who joins you on Christmas Eve is a beloved child of God. God yearns for a deeper relationship with them and, whether they know it or not, they yearn for a deeper relationship with God. Their experience with us on Christmas Eve has the potential to change their lives forever.
I hope you are already planning for an excellent worship service on Christmas Eve. In my previous post, I listed some resources to help. Now it is time to think about how we can make guests feel welcome and a genuine part of the worship experience.
The one word I want to share is this: intentionality.
On Christmas Eve, we need to be intentional about welcoming guests. If we think about the Christmas Story, it kind of makes sense, right? If we think about our mission to make disciples, it really makes sense.
Let’s be intentional about greeting, welcoming, making our guests comfortable, and offering them something that will cause them to want to come back for more.
Here are some practical tips for intentional welcoming.
Cut the Insider Language.
We just can’t help ourselves, but we need to try. Is the word narthex really necessary? It really looks like a lobby to me. Some of our insider language isn’t really even “church” language. Rather, it is an unsuccessful attempt at branding. “Don’t forget, ‘The Edge’ group will be meeting Tuesday in the Nest,” might not even mean anything to your members let alone guests.
In smaller churches, insider language often comes in the form of assuming everyone knows everyone. “Just see Jim after worship,” or “We are still praying for Miss Betty.”
Insider language isn’t just confusing to our guests, it makes them feel that they are merely observers, not really a part of the worshipping community.
In Print and the Spoken Word
Read over your bulletin and other printed material and think through what the pastor and other leaders will say during the service. In my many years leading Christmas Eve worship, I almost always wrote out and rehearsed things like announcements and invitations. It usually took me three drafts before I felt I was honestly speaking to everyone in the room.
If you want to know more, read: 3 KINDS OF INSIDER LANGUAGE THAT KEEP PEOPLE AWAY FROM YOUR CHURCH from Church Tech Today.
Give Clear Instructions.
I think this is important every time we worship because we should always plan for guests, but let’s really get this right on Christmas Eve. Just pretend no one in the room has ever done this before.
If we are about to sing from the hymnals, tell everyone where the hymnals are. (No, not everyone knows they are in the back of the pew in front of them.) And tell them what page the song is on. (I don’t care if it is printed in the bulletin.)
If we are going to recite a responsive prayer, tell everyone how that works. If their part is in bold, tell them that. That might seem obvious to you, but there are not a whole lot of other settings where people are expected to be silent during the regular text and then read along with the bold.
If you are serving communion, tell people how. After 12 years of serving communion on a regular basis, I honestly got tired of explaining to people that I would place a piece of bread in their hands and that they should dip that bread into the cup of juice and then eat the bread. But I still did it. Every time. Because there might have been one person there that didn’t know and honestly, it isn’t all that intuitive.
Don’t Ask Visitors to Identify Themselves.
I still get pushback on this one because there is always someone who wants everyone to know that they are visiting. It is often because they are from another church and visiting yours because they are in from out of town. That’s great. But I want to show hospitality to that person who isn’t ready to have the world know they aren’t part of the club.
Just think about how this could feel to a guest. “Now we would like to point out all of the heathens who don’t normally go to church but thought it might be nice to show up this once.” Nice.
But Do Address those Guests Directly.
This is another thing I wrote out, revised, and rehearsed. It usually went something like this:
“If you are our guest tonight, we are grateful that you chose to spend Christmas Eve with us. Whether you came at the invitation of a friend, saw one of our promotions, came back after a long time away, or just wandered in, we are thankful for you. We are glad that you are here and we hope that you feel our welcome in everything we do. We also want you to know that you are always welcome back here to worship with us.”
I would likely add any instructions afterward that might make things easier for them.
If you want to know more, Discipleship Ministries offers a great piece called Christmas Eve Hospitality: Twelve Ways to Welcome.
Check back for my next post where I will share some ways we can make sure they know that they are welcome to come back and worship with us again.