Christmas. I think we can all agree it’s a pretty big deal.
And in the Catholic community, it’s definitely one of the biggest deals of the year!
Besides the obvious reason (you know, the birth of the Savior who changed the game for our faith), Christmas is a big deal at church because it’s the one season where people tend to show up more regularly at your parish.
For some people, it’s simply a tradition. Maybe they’ve been coming with their family at Christmas for as long as they can remember so they show up again, each and every year to celebrate the season. For others, it’s an expectation. Maybe they have family who visits every year for the holiday, and they bring with them the expectation that they’ll attend church at least once while they’re here. Maybe people show up at Christmas because they have children involved in a Christmas program, and they’ve invited every last aunt, uncle, cousin, and neighbor they know to attend. Or maybe they come simply because they’re curious what all the Christmas fuss is actually all about.
Regardless of the reason why, the point is this: Christmas is a season that brings people to your parish. And that means it’s a great opportunity for you to not only engage your people who regularly attend but also to reach people in the community who may have never heard of your parish before now.
This season is a great time to host a series or event at your parish that is centered on Christmas and designed to impact and engage the people in your parish and community.
So, let’s talk about just five things you can do to make this Christmas season a time of engagement and outreach at your parish.
1. Brand your events around your community, not your parish.
This is the best time of year to reframe your thinking when it comes to marketing what’s happening at your parish. Instead of approaching it as parish event or series, approach it as a community event or series. This makes something, like participating in a Christmas pageant, showing up for a special Christmas service, coming to a Christmas concert, or taking part in a Christmas event at your parish, feel much less intimidating to an outsider. When it’s for the community, it feels more accessible.
So, for example, if you live in a town named Milton and plan to host a Christmas concert this season, title it something like The Milton Christmas Concert rather than The St. Patrick Parish of Milton Christmas Concert. Of course, you’ll be hosting it at your parish and so the location will be listed on all of your marketing materials (posters, mailers, social media, emails, etc.), but they’ll see it primarily as an event for the community as a whole rather than exclusively for the church.
There are so many other community events hosted at parishes—basketball leagues, weddings, graduations, school events, game nights. Why not make your Christmas event one for the community as well?
2. Experiment with multiple mass times.
Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, I think variety could be the key to spicing up the Christmas season for your parish and community as well. Now when I say that, I mean variety in one specific area: time. One of the best things you can do to make Christmas at your parish more accessible to people is to experiment with multiple service times around the holidays.
Maybe you’ve always had a sunrise Christmas morning service, or a late night Christmas Eve service, or just one service time every single Sunday leading up to the holiday. And that’s great! But what I’d like to suggest is that doing something as simple as rethinking some of your service times this holiday season will open up the potential for more people to actually get into your church.
Think about the trends in your community. Do you have a lot of young families who maybe need to get home early and get their kids to bed? Then consider moving your Christmas Eve service to an earlier time. Do you have a lot of young teenagers or college-aged students nearby? Maybe start offering a late night Christmas Eve service so they can ring in the start of Christmas together at your parish. Do you find your Sunday morning services more full than usual on the weeks leading up to the holiday? Then try opening up a second service time to accommodate more visitors.
Now listen, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If what you’re doing works really well, don’t flip the script entirely at Christmas. Keep going with your traditional plans for the holiday, but maybe commit to trying just one new service time this year to see how it goes. It may be a total flop, but it also may be the key to bringing new faces to your parish and changing lives going forward.
3. Try a new approach.
The story and tradition of Christmas are sacred to the Catholic Church. It’s the truth of how Christ came into the world to one day save the world. The long-promised Savior was finally here!
That’s a story we never want to change! But I would suggest that you consider trying a new approach to the way you present the Christmas story this year. Think beyond what’s typical for your parish. Stretch yourself. Get a little creative.
Now, of course, you’re never going to mess with the true authenticity of the heart and message of Christmas. That’s what the season is about so, of course, you’re going to talk about it! But maybe this year, you can talk about it in a new way.
Look for different ways to present that same story. If your priest or parish leader always reads the Christmas story, invite some of your staff to do it this year instead. If your parish’s choir uses the same set list every season, ask your musicians to think about some new songs to sing this year, too. Invite children from the parish to perform some of their Christmas programs during a Sunday morning service. Or have your youth take over the Advent readings or acknowledgments at your church. If you tend to preach the Christmas story through a lens of salvation, maybe try adding messages of forgiveness and family into your Christmas homily this year, too.
Think about what simple things you can introduce at your parish this season to present the truth of Christmas from a new approach.
4. Invite people back.
This last point is huge! Engaging people around Christmas doesn’t stop when the season is over. In fact, that’s only the beginning! When new people show up to a Christmas service or event at your parish, don’t forget to invite them back. Take that opportunity to not only let them know you’re glad they joined you for this holiday but that you have a lot going on in January and you’d love to see them then as well. Don’t miss the chance to engage and invite!
Whatever is taking place in the coming month at your parish, make a point to offer a compelling invitation to the people who join you at Christmas. Let them know they’ve been both seen and appreciated this season and that your parish always has a spot for them to come back and join in again. Don’t miss the chance to engage and invite!
You never know how this Christmas season at your parish might be the beginning of a new season of faith for the people who cross your threshold this holiday.