By Jennifer Johnson
Our building is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is three blocks from the state capitol building. Several other beautiful places of worship are also nearby. Each year the media advertises that from 3-6 p.m. on December 26 these places will be open for tours. We offer live music during that time as well as cookies, hot chocolate, apple cider, and coffee.
Our guides give visitors information about the church and a tour of the building that explains what worship, fellowship, and Christian education functions dictated the form of the building. From 400 to 600 visitors pass through, and some return for worship in the new year.
—Gary D. Anderson, pastor, Capitol City Christian Church, Boise, Idaho
The best thing we did for Christmas was switch from a Christmas Eve worship service to a “Christmas Eve eve” (December 23) worship service. We made this switch more than 10 years ago and the results have been amazing. The first year or two some people complained they missed being in church on Christmas Eve, but now everybody loves it. Worshipping on December 23 gives people the chance to be with family on Christmas Eve and allows people from other churches to be involved in our Christmas celebration.
In 2014 we had three identical worship services (at 5, 7, and 9 p.m.) on Christmas Eve eve, with a total attendance of 2,898. In 2014 our average worship attendance was 1,886. We’re planning three services for December 23, 2015.
—Jamie S. Allen, senior pastor, Central Christian Church, Mount Vernon, Illinois
One of our Christmas blessings is what we call “The GIFT.” We partner with five to seven elementary schools in our area to gather names of families we can invite to a dinner where our people are table hosts. After dinner, one table host takes the parents and guardians “shopping” in another room for donated coats, uniforms, and toys for their children while the second table host takes the children to a variety of stations with activities, crafts, singing, and stories. We do this the first Saturday in December. This has deepened relationships with our schools and blessed the families who have attended. We gather donations from our people throughout the year.
—Dennis McConnaughhay, senior minister, Post Road Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana
For the last four years, Connection Pointe has shared God’s love with at-risk children and families through our community partners. We meet with local and city public school administrators, two homeless shelters, the Salvation Army drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and our own pastoral care team to identify the 150 most needy families.
On a Saturday morning in December all the families are invited to a Christmas breakfast. After breakfast, the children go to a separate area for crafts and games while the parents have the opportunity to select gifts for them. In addition to what the parents choose, each child also receives two complete outfits, a pair of pajamas, shoes, underwear, and a coat. After parents pick out the clothes and toys, the gifts are wrapped for them and they take the packages to their cars before the kids can see anything.
Individuals in our church provide the gifts. Beginning in October we invite our members to adopt a child and provide all of that child’s clothing. They simply select a child and purchase the items on that child’s tag. There are also tags to purchase toys.
This has been a great outreach opportunity to share God’s love with families that might otherwise never attend church. We also follow up with the families throughout the year, getting them connected to our ministries and services.
—Steve Reeves, lead pastor, Connection Pointe Christian Church, Brownsburg, Indiana
One weekend in December we handed a dollar to everyone who came in to a worship service. This was met with looks of confusion and shock. During the message we explained the concept of “giving jars,” setting aside a little money on a regular basis and using it to help someone in need or brighten someone’s day. We encouraged people to use their dollar to start this idea for Christmas.
One family actually saved all year and bought a bunch of backpacks and filled them with essentials, kept them in their car, and handed them out to homeless people. We ended up filming their story and sharing it with our members nearly a year later.
—Emily Forman, director of marketing and communications, Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, Arizona
For three years in a row, we encouraged our members to spend time and money on those in need instead of themselves. We created a “Family to Family” program and asked members to bring in specific food items in boxes. Each box would feed a family of four for a week. We delivered these boxes to the local schools, where family intervention specialists distributed two of them to each family whose children received free and reduced-cost meals so they would have food during the two-week winter break. This took enormous coordination with local schools and our members and was immensely successful. Our kids’ classes even colored pages to place in the boxes, and our small groups (Neighborhood Groups) took the food to the schools.
For years Countryside Christian Church presented a Christmas musical, but that had run its course. As we considered something new and fresh, we realized our property was the perfect setting for a drive-through Christmas.
When we shared the vision, there was immediate interest and excitement. Teams built sets, sewed costumes, found camels and stable animals, prepared meals, recruited the cast, prepared a script and music, publicized the event, designed Christmas Eve invitations, designed Christmas lighting for the front lawn, and raised money. More than 450 people participated in the event over six months. It was a major multigenerational effort! And when it was all said and done, more than 4,000 people from the community experienced the biblical presentation of Christmas. For many it was a first touch and an introduction to Countryside. We added an additional Christmas Eve service to accommodate new people and immediately saw new families attending worship on Sunday.
It was worth all the investment of time, finances, and labor. In 2015 we’ve scheduled two weekends for the drive-through Christmas!
—Clark Tanner, lead pastor, Countryside Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas
This past year we rented the largest arena in our region and held one massive communitywide Christmas Eve service. In past years we had up to 12 services over several days. But this time we gathered the entire Summit family, plus a whole bunch of folks from the community, for one celebration service. As a Christmas gift to the community, we gave away the entire freewill offering to three local organizations that serve the under-resourced in our area.
—Steve Bond, senior pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks, Nevada
Every year during the first week of December, hundreds of volunteers work together to host a Saturday morning Christmas giveaway to families at our benevolent agency (His Helping Hands). Last year we served more than 2,000 people from more than 450 families—giving out almost 15,000 toys! Each family also receives a Bible and a card explaining the true meaning of Christmas, and counselors, pastors, and other leaders are available to talk to each family about spiritual needs and to invite them to attend one of our Christmas Eve services. In 2014, 658 people accepted Christ through our HHH ministry, many during the month of December.
—David Welsh, senior pastor, Central Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas
Last year, with the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” playing in the background, we showed a series of clips from World War I through Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of the pictures and video clips showed soldiers celebrating Christmas overseas while on duty.
—Randy Childress, senior minister, Kempsville Christian Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia
This past Christmas season our programing team wanted to find a way to connect people throughout Discovery Church during the craziness of the holiday season. The team wanted to give people an opportunity to prepare for Christmas together by creating space in their lives to remember why we celebrate.
We created an Advent journal with one devotional each week, starting the week of Thanksgiving and going through the week after Christmas. Each entry during the six weeks had a Scripture, reflection idea, Christmas carol, prayer, action steps, and pages to journal thoughts and prayers.
The action steps connected people to what was happening at Discovery throughout the season and included a Christmas scavenger hunt, challenging people to invite friends and family to Christmas Eve services, and bringing toys for a toy drive, among others. A pocket in the back of each journal had tickets and postcards people could use for inviting others to various events.
The Advent journal was not only a great tool Discovery Church used to connect people to weekend sermons and the month’s activities, but also to remind us not to miss the reason we celebrate.
—Sarah Lynn Grubb, worship and programming director, Discovery Church, Simi Valley, California
About 10 years ago at Loveland (Ohio) Christian Church, we did a series called “Your Role in the Christmas Pageant.” Each week we presented a humorous skit about an adult cast in a particular role of the Christmas pageant, and the sermons helped the congregation identify with the story instead of just “the nativity legend.” The series included Mary and Joseph (we are ordinary people called to extraordinary work); the angels (we are messengers who use our lives to share the gospel); and Jesus (identifying with him so we can “be Christ” to our world).
—Jared Adamson, minister of worship and creative arts, Centerville (Indiana) Christian Church
Two years ago we distributed gift tags the same size as a gift card holder at all our guest services desks. Each tag promoted our “Christmas 3:16” message series and invited people to attend our “Come As You Are” series in January. We encouraged our people to buy inexpensive gift cards and give both the gift card and the tag to friends, coworkers, coaches, etc. and invite them to worship with us in January. For those who could not afford to buy gift cards but wanted to participate, the church purchased $5 gift cards to a local coffee shop. It was a “random act of kindness” mixed with an invitation to a worship service.
—Bob Schroeder, senior executive pastor, Hillside Christian Church, Amarillo, Texas
In the last few years we’ve started celebrating the four weeks of Advent according to a more traditional practice, using the Advent candles and wreath. Because we’re in rented facilities at both our sites, we don’t have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service at our church (unless those days happen to fall on a Sunday), so a few years ago we began handing out white candles representing the Christ candle on the Sunday before Christmas and encouraging our people to use that candle to celebrate Advent with their families.
—Mark Nelson, lead pastor, Crossings: A Faith Community, Knoxville, Tennessee
If you asked anyone in our church what we do at Christmas, the number one answer would probably be the song “A Baby Will Come.” It usually accompanies a teaching on Mary’s Magnificat. We’ve used it multiple ways, from having it sung just by the band, to using it in worship, to having our kids sing it on stage with the band. It was written by Bill Wolf, who was on staff with us when he wrote it for a teaching on Luke 1. Bill is now an instructor of spiritual formation and dean of the chapel at Johnson University.
My understanding is “A Baby Will Come” has become a fairly popular song in churches around the country. You can hear it at http://billwolfmusicababywillcome.blogspot.com/.
We reach out to three low-income neighborhoods, which we call our GO! Neighborhoods. During the Christmas season we do something in each neighborhood for three weeks in a row—work with the residents to decorate the neighborhoods one week, make crafts and have some entertainment the second week, and enjoy a big lunch event the third week.
—Jeff Swearingen, lead pastor, Crosspoint Christian Church, Cape Coral, Florida
Jennifer Johnson, one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, is a writer living in Levittown, Pennsylvania.