The Christmas Eve service is a favorite time of worship and outreach for churches everywhere—urban and suburban, rural and online, multi-site and church plants. You don’t need the latest research to know that Christmastime will be among your most highly attended and anticipated services each year. Families and friends look forward to celebrating with their favorite traditions and perhaps a few new surprises. Guests and neighbors are likely to visit your church, maybe even for the first time, during holiday services and special events.
With all of the busyness and familiarity swirling around the Christmas Eve service, what can you do to maximize this opportunity with your church members and your community?
1. Who? Know your audience
Before you decide whether or not you will do a candlelight service, pump in artificial snow, encourage tacky sweaters, or use a live donkey, you need to consider who the service is for.
The first audience to consider is your own church. Notice that this step is not to identify what another church has done or to brainstorm what you want to do personally.
- What truth do members and regular attenders need to hear?
- What steps of faith do we need to take as a church?
- What style of worship is expected?
- Do any meaningful traditions exist?
- Will expectations and traditions draw attention to truth and encourage steps of faith?
- Could something new help draw attention to truth and encourage steps of faith?
- How will Christmas Eve serve our overall mission as a church (not just become a separate event)?
The Christmas Eve service is one of the greatest opportunities to engage with neighbors and guests.
Here are several Christmas outreach questions to ask:
- What is valued or needed in our community?
- What would be meaningful, and not feel like a marketing gimmick?
- How can we engage the community (in addition to member invites and marketing)?
- What would help people feel welcome and comfortable online and in person?
- What questions would someone have before attending and when arriving?
- How can we connect and follow up with guests beyond Christmas Eve?
Volunteers & Leaders
This is a time to get as many people involved as possible.
- How can we help create a welcoming and non-intimidating atmosphere?
- What would make the experience easy and enjoyable for guests?
- How will you recruit, organize, and communicate with volunteers?
- What will volunteers and leaders need (childcare, alternate times to participate in worship, food and drink, instructions and identifiers, etc.)?
- How will this opportunity serve your overall mission and philosophy as a church?
As cliché as it may be, don’t forget that your worship is for an audience of One. Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of planning and hosting a special event and miss the good news of “God With Us.”
- How can we honor Christ in our planning?
- How can we honor Christ in our worship?
- What will help people cut through distractions to focus on Christ?
2. What? Traditional and creative elements
The Christmas Eve service can get stuck in a rut, but it’s not the time to throw out all traditions.
Part of what people want (and sometimes need) is a sense of familiarity and belonging. A new spin on some things can bring fresh enthusiasm, but you do not have to reinvent the wheel every year (and probably shouldn’t). Here are a few essential categories to consider once you’ve identified who will be part of the experience.
Candlelight services, Christmas lights, and other creative illumination create a unique atmosphere. There is something about a group of people singing “Silent Night” in a Christmas Eve candlelight service that transcends generational and stylistic differences. But your church may be in need of something different this year.reative alternatives include glow sticks, flashlights, or even cell phones (remind everyone to silence their phones or even temporarily put in “airplane mode” to avoid distractions). Lighting is always important, but it’s especially symbolic during Christmas. Whether your people prefer smoke-and-lights or incense-and-candles, engage the senses and point people to the Light of the World.
Christmas carols and classic hymns may be the most distinctive element in service planning. If you are wanting to introduce new music you think will add to the experience, consider doing so with a special solo or choir performance. Otherwise, sing songs that people know and love. Even if doing updated arrangements of old favorites, keep most of the congregational singing to classic hymns, familiar carols, or popular praise songs. Keep in mind that carols and hymns are most likely to be familiar to your guests—especially those who do not regularly attend a church. Engaging people musically will help point them to Jesus.
What is your plan for children? Will you offer separate programming, encourage families to worship together, provide basic childcare, or some combination? Keep in mind that anything you offer will require volunteers. On the other hand, knowing that some families will be together should also influence what you plan for the worship service. Provide creative elements, sensory props, and keep each part of the service brief enough to endure young attention spans.
Last, but not least for consideration is the Christmas sermon, story, or announcements (whether from the platform, on a screen, or in print). Be sure that your language is clear, especially for visitors. Point explicitly to Jesus, next steps in relationship with Him, and next steps in relationship with the Church.
3. When? Timing Is Everything
Service times are among the most important practical decisions. Try to think broader than just what sounds good to you, although leadership is an important factor. You don’t want to burn out, burn anyone else out, or end up short-handed.
- What has historically worked, and not worked, for your church? Why?
- What times are most appealing to families?
- What times are most appealing for guests?
- What times are most taxing on volunteers and leaders?
- If having multiple services, how much time is needed between each to allow worshippers, volunteers, and leaders to transition?
In addition to when it starts, you need to consider the length of the service.
- What elements will be included?
- How much time will each element require?
- What is an ideal time?
- What is the attention span of families with small children and of visitors?
- If it comes down to a longer service or cutting an element, what is more important?
4. Where? Direct the Momentum
Do not skip this last part.
The final question is not a matter of where to host your Christmas Eve service—although that’s important, especially if you need to make any plans to accommodate crowds or unique elements like the fire and wax of candlelight services, tablespace for 1,000 cups of hot cocoa, or the unpredictability of a live animal near baby Jesus. Ideally your Christmas Eve service is not only a worshipful celebratory event, but a natural bump in spiritual momentum.
- Where are you leading people spiritually and organizationally?
- What questions will people naturally have?
- How can you help people get (more) involved with the life of your church?
- Is information available for year-end-giving?
- Are people excited to come back for the new year, or did you simply thank them for coming for Christmas Eve?
- Are people leaving empty-handed or have you given them something literally or figuratively to remind them of the experience with Christ and with your church
Over to you
Don't waste your Christmas Eve.
Leverage this time to build up your church and be a light in your community.