What is the true meaning of Christmas? Is it about getting the present you’ve desired — the latest gadget or fashion or automobile that the advertisements tell us will finally make us feel successful or fulfilled or loved?
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For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas centers on the birth of Jesus Christ and God’s love for all. This message, albeit a simple one, frequently gets lost amid the commercialism and busyness of the season.
The United Methodist Church has taken that question — and its answer — on the road this holiday season in a festively-decorated truck. The truck will be traveling across 16 states for a 21-city tour to hand out more than 16,000 free cups of cocoa and engage in service projects in those cities. The tour’s single purpose: to help people unwrap the true meaning of Christmas.
The True Meaning of Christmas Tour offers people a chance to come out and reflect on those parts of the holiday that mean the most to them, while also providing an opportunity to give back to the community through the service projects.
What is it?
The tour will communicate the true gift of Christmas to the community by:
- Offering free hot cocoa and invitation cards for a local United Methodist Church, given by friendly volunteers from local United Methodist churches.
- Encouraging generosity and support for people in need by collecting items such as hats and scarves, school supplies or canned foods — items that correlate with a local church’s mission focus.
- Creating a video of people answering the question, “In your opinion, what is the true meaning of Christmas?”
- Gathering prayer requests from anyone who stops by so that a local faith community can support them.
- Creating awareness of the denomination and the ministries of local churches.
The tour is an extension of the denomination’s national advertising campaign, which specifically reaches out to Seekers, defined as those who are:
- 25-49 years old, especially families
- Not affiliated with The United Methodist Church and not active church attendees
- Searching for meaning and purpose in their lives
- On a quest for spiritual truth or identify as spiritual
- Passionate about social justice
- Contributing to the common good of their communities
How can local churches participate?
Especially during the holidays, people long for connection and community. Despite all the ways technology and social media enable us to stay in constant touch with one another, people feel more lonely and isolated than ever.
Offer community and connection by planning and hosting your own hot cocoa — or hot cider or coffee or a cold drink — fellowship event in your town to extend the same warm invitations that the denomination will be extending on the tour.
Through such simple acts of hospitality, kindness and service, your congregation will demonstrate the love of a God comes near to us, invites us into relationship, and encourages us to do the same.
Where should you host your event?
Think of places in your community where people gather in a festive holiday spirit during the Christmas season, such as a:
- Christmas market, shopping event or craft fair
- Holiday parade route, perhaps in front of your church or a local business
- Outdoor ice skating rink
- City park with a holiday light display or food trucks
- Shopping mall, preferably one where people will be outdoors between stores
- Transportation hub, such as a train station or busy bus stop
Please note: You may need a permit or permission to be at specific locations, so inquire in advance.
What do you need?
You can tailor this event to fit your church’s resources and personality. You only need a few basic supplies:
- A table and perhaps a few chairs so that volunteers can take breaks.
- Hot cocoa and a dispenser that will keep it warm throughout your event — something like a 5-gallon insulated beverage dispenser.
- Cups and warming sleeves available for purchase at a local restaurant supply store (or use disposable cups from your church’s pantry). Add tour-branded stickers to your cups before you distribute them. These are available as part of the denomination’s Advent outreach resources.
- Invitation cards featuring information about your church’s holiday events and worship services — you can order branded, customized cards on our website.
- A team of cheerful, outgoing volunteers wearing shirts, scarves or buttons featuring your church’s name.
- Optional: Cards to collect prayer requests and contact information so that you can follow up with people later. You could also offer a way to sign up for your church’s e-newsletter, to “like” your Facebook page, or to sign up for Compass, a Seeker-specific e-newsletter sent by The United Methodist Church. These can also serve as a low-pressure way to measure your event’s success.
What do you do?
Plan to stay for at least a few hours so that you can interact with as many people as possible during your event. Once your cocoa supplies are ready to go, your role is to simply offer free hot cocoa to passersby and give them an invitation card. This is also a chance to briefly tell your church’s story. Consider developing a 2-3 sentence “elevator speech” to guide volunteers who need some help figuring out what to say.
Volunteers can break the ice by saying something like, “Hi! I’m [name] from [church name]. Would you like some free hot cocoa? We are here to offer a warm invitation to all of the Christmas activities and worship services we have this year; I hope you can join us!” If the conversation continues, you can also include your church’s mission or vision statements, a brief summary of who you are as a congregation, a quick overview of the holiday activities you have this year, mission efforts, and highlights of ministries your church offers, such as children’s or music ministries.
- Get the word out! Whether you buy Facebook ads, spread the word on your church and church members’ social media accounts organically, or hang fliers around town, let people know the details about your hot cocoa fellowship event at least a week in advance. This will not only boost awareness of your church’s creative outreach efforts, it also will increase foot traffic during your event, helping pull in more people who are curious about what is going on.
- Write a press release and email it to local media outlets (newspapers, radio and television stations) to tell them about your hot cocoa fellowship and other activities and worship services throughout Advent.
- Consider using Facebook Live during your event to broadcast your outreach efforts to a wider audience. If you do this near the beginning of the event, people might still have plenty of time to attend.
- Use the denomination’s official tour hashtag when posting all photos and videos: #UnwrapChristmas. Your content will mix in with other images from hot cocoa fellowship events happening across the country.
Open your doors — and hearts — this Christmas to share God’s message of love, hope and joy with your community; and to invite people to a place where they can find belonging and deeper meaning in their lives.