Christmas Eve attendance matters because 25 percent of all your visitors for the entire year will come (or not come) on Christmas Eve.
My experience has been that only 1 out of 10 new visitors who attend a church will come back, come to Christ, and grow to full devotion. That means if you want to grow by 100 converts, 1,000 people will need to visit your services in 2016, and 250 of those will need to come on Christmas Eve.
With this in mind, here are three free (or nearly free) things you can do that will potentially double the attendance at your Christmas Eve gatherings this year.
1. Offer services at times people actually want to attend (in other words, earlier in the day)
The biggest battle I have with Senior Pastors that I coach is helping them to understand that your Christmas Eve attendance does not grow in proportion to your seating capacity, but according to the services available when people actually want to attend.
You don’t need more seats. You need more services at times people actually can or want to attend. You can have a 100,000-seat sanctuary, but it won’t make a dent in your Christmas Eve attendance if the people you’re trying to reach are going to grandma’s house during the only time you’re having a service.
Last year we had five services that brought 4,000 people to our Christmas Eve celebrations. Can you guess the most popular service time? 4 p.m.
The second most popular? 2:30 p.m.
Third most popular? 1 p.m.
ALL before 5 p.m.!
And what’s the typical time for Christmas Eve services at evangelical churches? 7 p.m.
Christians pick service times based on whether or not it is dark (to provide a great candlelight experience) and after dinner (so as to create a united family experience).
For non-Christians, a Christmas Eve service at a church is something they do in addition to what they already have planned. They decide if they can squeeze in a service between getting off work and going to their extended family.
If you’ve never considered offering Christmas Eve at a different time, here’s what I’d suggest:
- Go to SurveyMonkey.com and create a one-question survey for your people. Give them options on every hour from 12 p.m. through 7 p.m., and only allow them to pick the ONE service that is best for their family.
- Then do a second survey via social media asking people who don’t go to church what their preferred time would be IF they went to church on Christmas Eve. Give them the same survey. Email non-Christian friends of yours to take it.
- Compare responses.
- Then ask yourself a very simple question: “Do we exist for ourselves? Or for those not here yet?”
- Act accordingly.
Here’s a pic of our Christmas Eve service times survey for this year.
We just launched it last night and had more than 300 responses already. I would have waited to show the completed version but had to grab a screenshot for this article.
Notice the response to our service the day before Christmas Eve – expected to be the fourth highest-attended service out of seven! This is the first time we’ve ever done this.
Here’s the thing: It costs you nothing to pick service times people actually want to attend.
2. Offer AT LEAST one more service than you offered last year
My advice is always to find a way to offer one more service than you had last year.
The magic window for non-Christians on Christmas Eve is always 3 to 5 p.m., so work your times around that optimal two-hour window.
That means if last year you had one service, I encourage you to offer two identical services at 2:30 and 4 p.m. this year.
And please don’t do some cheesy, abbreviated, sing-along, short-sermon thing. Do your best service of the year on Christmas Eve. Best sermon. Best worship. Best visual and audio accompaniment. Go all out. In the words of Robert Schuller, make it your goal to “capture the imagination” of unchurched people in your community.
Will one service be smaller than the other(s)? Of course. But you will be inculcating a tradition of risk and excitement. Besides, I always tell the people at our smallest services that “I love the small Christmas Eve services. They’re so intimate. God always shows up and does something special in them.” He never fails to do so.
If you had two services last year, offer a third service either at 1 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. If you had three, pick that other time slot.
Will it be hard to recruit people to serve? Not if you share your heart and the reasoning behind why you want to make these additions.
Again, it costs nothing to offer ONE MORE service other than your skin in the game.
3. Get the word out through every free (or nearly free) resource available
Here are things I’ve done in the past that you can use to drive people to your Christmas Eve experiences this year:
SEND A PERSONAL EMAIL TO YOUR DATABASE
Send a brief, heartfelt email to your church the Tuesday before Christmas Eve and explain that the following day (Wednesday) you’re going to send them an email that you want them to forward to all of their friends. The next day send them a brief email that shares how attending a Christmas Eve service will bring their family closer together, be an encouragement, etc., and end with an invite. Speak TO the non-Christian. Share a story about how someone’s life was changed last year, and then ask them to attend.
POST A HEARTFELT VIDEO TO FACEBOOK, TWITTER, AND INSTAGRAM
Record a non-hyped heartfelt video on your iPhone of you speaking directly to non-Christians about why there’s hope and how they can find it this Christmas Eve at your church. Then upload it to social media and ask people to share it.
SHOW A VIDEO OF A DIFFERENT KID EACH WEEK TELLING ADULTS TO INVITE THEIR FRIENDS
Half of the battle in generating excitement for Christmas Eve is casting vision early to the people who already attend your church. Nothing casts vision like cute kids. So grab your iPhone and record some kids telling their parents to invite their neighbors and friends. Get 20 kids on video, and I promise you three will be hysterical. Show those on Sunday morning leading up to Christmas Eve.
PASS OUT BUNDLES OF 15-20 BUSINESS-SIZED INVITE CARDS
Here are front and back pics of our business size Invite cards this year. We designed them in-house and printed them at OvernightPrints.com for around $100 for close to 2,000 of them. Outreach.com also has a great selection to choose from. FYI, if you want to see how I cast vision about how people can make an impact through inviting friends and family with Invite Cards, watch my sermon from this past Sunday entitled Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate “Christmas” starting at 22:21. I would encourage you to do something similar in every sermon leading up to Christmas Eve.
INVITE 100 PEOPLE YOURSELF
At one point in CCV’s history, we had seven families from our street alone attending our church. I walked the talk. It was exhausting. Wow, it was exhausting, but I made a point to set an example when it came to evangelism.
I’m never the “walk up to someone and start talking about Jesus” kind of pastor. Ever.
Unless it is Christmas Eve or Easter.
For those days I turn into a street evangelist, just handing out Invite Cards like that final scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where George is going around kissing everyone. It’s totally out of character for me, but I make myself do it. Why? I’m cashing in my chips. I’ve invested all year in people, and it’s time to cash in my credibility chips with them.
Now, of course, I’m not saying anything weird. As I hand them a card I say something like, “Hey, if you’re not doing anything on Christmas Eve we’d love to have you join us. It is going to be meaningful and will be a great way to start your Christmas holiday!”
Personal invites work, and we must set the example, no matter how busy and introverted we might be.
A Few More Ideas If You Have the Funds
PETTING ZOO FOR CHILDREN
One of the biggest attractions we have for families with children is a petting zoo with cute live farm animals and a baby Jesus manger scene. Kids are given cups of food to feed the animals, etc. Families take pictures. People love it. Volunteers build the set each year and a local farmer brings the animals.
PLACE A 5X10 BANNER WITH SERVICE TIMES ON THE SIDE OF YOUR BUILDING
Hang up the largest banner you can on your building (without getting thrown in jail by the local zoning officer in your community).
PLACE STEPSTAKE SIGNS AT STRATEGIC INTERSECTIONS
We place 50 step stake signs (like the signs politicians use) at strategic intersections. If you do them, keep the text on the sign to three lines max, or people won’t be able to read it. Attached is a pic of our signs for this year.
Heaven and Hell Hang in the Balance
I hope these ideas help.
Remember, getting people to our Christmas Eve services doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take a senior pastor who is willing to pay the price.
We do this because people matter to God, and Heaven and Hell hang in the balance.
So stay on your knees in prayer.
Preach with love in your heart.
And watch what God does in response to you and your team’s efforts.