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Invite Christmas Eve guests to return

Christmas Eve draws unchurched guests; invite them to return

Christmas Eve is fast approaching — and with it, the best attended services of the year in many United Methodist churches. While there’s debate about whether services on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday draw the larger attendance, it is clear that Christmas Eve attracts more unchurched guests.

The reason, says the Rev. Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Connexus Church near Toronto, Canada, is simple. At Christmas, “The culture is paying attention.”

That’s also the reason why congregations that have worked hard to invite and welcome their Christmas Eve guests need to invite them to return. “I know inviting can sound basic, but you’re dealing with unchurched people,” writes Nieuwhof. “Think about it, you would never go to a party unless you knew you were invited. Unchurched people don’t know they are invited unless you invite them. So invite them.”

At Living Water United Methodist Church, a new church plant in Glenpool, Oklahoma, the intentional invitation to come back starts as Christmas Eve worship ends and a birthday party for Jesus begins.

“Because we do not leave the sanctuary and move to another space, we do not lose those who are visitors,” says the Rev. Heather Scherer, planting pastor for the congregation in a suburb of Tulsa. “We flow right into the birthday party as our benediction. We have chairs instead of pews, so we arrange the space with the cake on a table between the back row and the doors. They really can’t get past it without engaging!”

With about 75 people in worship at Living Water Christmas Eve, it is easier to identify new folks than it might be in larger congregations, Scherer acknowledges. As she does on Sunday mornings, Scherer invites guests to fill out a card with their contact information or a p­rayer request.­ The card also asks guests to indicate via a rating system if they were welcomed or felt the presence of God.

“Most people fill out the card to share their ‘customer comments’ and let us know how we did. If they provide contact information, then I text them within 24 hours and thank them for coming. If they visit again, my husband and I invite them to dine with us so they have safe space to ask questions about the church.”

Here are some tips for inviting Christmas Eve visitors to return the next Sunday or in January:

  • Use the worship bulletin, your screen — or both — to promote the sermon series and/or special ministries and programs that will begin in January. Include information about regular events, such as Sunday school classes or open small groups (for all ages), midweek gatherings and age-specific programming (youth, older adults, so forth). Include information as to how to contact the pastoral staff for particular needs.
  • If you have an information desk or welcome center, make certain it is staffed before and after  the service.
  • Consider giving guests a small gift that includes information inviting them back — something more permanent than the bulletin insert.
  • Follow the same process you use on Sunday mornings to identify guests, especially those from the community, and gather their contact information to follow-up or invite them back. Make providing their contact information easy.
  • Provide a tangible acknowledgment of your guest’s presence with you. Contact them via text, email, phone call, letter or other channel either in the days immediately after Christmas or during the first week in January.
  • Make follow-up visits to guests following the same process you do on weekends. (You may want to modify it slightly if a visit to their homes usually happens on Sunday afternoon.)

You worked hard to invite unchurched people to be your guests on Christmas Eve and to welcome those attending. Now give the same attention to inviting them to come back in the New Year.