Is it really time to be thinking about Christmas, it is only September? Before you panic, this post is about working on your environment now so that you are welcoming community by Christmas. We know that many people come back to church for Christmas so you need to start working on creating a welcoming environment so that you can keep them into the new year.
It is a well known that attendance numbers drop off during the winter months, especially at Sunday night services. People think it is too cold or too dark to got out, it might be raining or they want to somewhere warmer than a cold church building. So it is likely that your ministry has dropped a few people over the winter months but now is the time to start welcoming them back. Just as the trees and plants spring to new life around this time, perhaps the ground work you do during September and October will prepare you for a growth period over December, January and February.
Here are a few common sayings in ministry and how you might need to address these at the moment:
- People always come back to Church at Christmas: each parish has a group of Christmas and Easter Christians that you will see coming back to church this Christmas. Whilst you might not like it but if you don’t ask then they won’t come; if you are not welcoming then they won’t stay. Recently I heard that the biggest growth group in Australia is the unchurched who don’t love or hate the church; they just have never been asked. We often listen to the vocal minority who are vocal about their opposition to the Church but the majority of Australians don’t hate the church; some of them will return this Christmas.
- Vision leaks: has your ministry grown tired and lost the energy that it had in the beginning of the year? Whilst you might know where you are heading you need to tell the people in your ministry as the vision leaks. Some leaders say that when you get sick of reminding people of where you are heading then people are just starting to get it. For more on this topic check out the article, Where are you heading?
- Good habits drop easily but take months to re-establish: perhaps you were a welcoming church at the start of the year but with no new people coming over the winter your team lost the habits associated with a welcoming church. So in the coming months you need to re-establish these habits so that it comes naturally when the Christmas season rolls around. For more on this check out this article, Creating a Welcoming Church.
- Narrow the Focus: whilst you might want to stir up energy by adding new programs to excite people you probably need to narrow the focus rather than widen it. Sometimes people get confused with where they should put their focus, as the leader you need to target one or two things for people to focus on. Don’t bring in 50 strategies for creating a welcoming church, perhaps just work on a good greeting before the service/event and unexpected hospitality after the service or event.
- Good branding just makes bad products fail faster: if you spend a lot of time and effort on marketing your service and events without improving them then they will only fail faster. Some leaders wait until people turn up to start improving things, which only shows new people how bad things really are. Improve your Sunday services and midweek events first then invite people to experience the revamp.
- A good spring clean makes for a good summer: perhaps this is more a gardening image than a ministry one but I think it applies well here. Some teams plan to leave all their cleaning up for the “downtime” in January but that is when you need to be taking a break and a holiday. January is not just about your members taking a holiday, you need one as well. Perhaps a good spring clean in September and October will bring much needed focus and energy ready for the Christmas season when people feel like coming back to church.
So whilst you might think it is too early to think about Christmas, just remember that you need to give November over to thinking about the New Year, which I will post on shortly. If you need to start your planning for next year in October and November then it is better to start preparations for Christmas now. Remember we are not just talking about the Christmas Service but the welcoming atmosphere that you hope comes naturally around that time. A little bit of extra work now will reap better results for your ministry come Christmas.
Please leave a comment about how you are getting ready for the Christmas rush.