As I engage in conversations with pastors and church leaders around the approaching (Whoops! – already upon us!) Christmas season, invariably the question is asked – “How can we most effectively engage this Christmas season to achieve the greatest outreach impact?”
I have two responses that immediately come out. The first one is directly applicable to how we handle this opportunity to reach “ChrEasters” (those attending church only on Christmas and/or Easter). I encourage pastors to consider that for this specific audience, we need to focus more on what happens in the four to six weeks following Christmas (and Easter) than we do on the actual experience of those services alone. Let’s face it – these folks are already coming on these two seasonal occasions. But, they don’t come back…until the next major holiday. They have heard the Christmas and Easter stories enough that they could probably lead the services themselves! We need to be intentionally leaning into what happens on the following Sundays. What sermon topic or series of topics have we lined up to give them a reason to come back? What are we doing to peak their interest in something beyond the traditional formalities of the Christmas and Easter services? How are we connecting with them beyond this one message?
I am by no means suggesting we discard the traditional message, but that we enhance the seasonal message with a teaser of what’s to come – which won’t be very meaningful if we haven’t intentionally and prayerfully considered what would be of the greatest impact to their lives. Use the message of Christmas and Easter to open the door to a series of messages that will resonate and speak directly into the lives of those who, like Mick Jagger “Can’t get no … Satisfaction.” Give them a glimpse into the possibility of a life that brings fulfillment in a way nothing on this earth can do. Make it playful and attractional – dare I say “sexy?” Engage them where they are!
This whole idea leads to my second response. Perhaps we should stop encouraging people to just invite friends and neighbors to church. When delivered without intentionality, these generic invitations become just as flat and shallow as the following exchange with the checker at the grocery store:
“How are you and how was your weekend?”
“I’m fine and it was great. How was yours?”
“Mine was great as well. Thanks.”
How many times have you had exactly this exchange or something similar to it? This is the epitome of platitude – words with no substance. Generic invitations to church can end up being just as emptily received and responded to. Imagine instead, that you were tuned in to the upcoming sermon topics. And, similarly, you were tuned into the relationships you have with the non-Christians in your life. Tuned in to the extent that you could actually recognize specific sermon topics that would resonate with specific people. Now, instead of offering a generic invitation for someone to attend your church, you could say “Hey Gloria, I know how much you have been struggling with/challenged by/encouraged by/thinking about _________________. I wanted to let you know that in three weeks there will be a message at our church specifically on the topic of _____________. I know that you usually don’t go to church, but I would love to have you join me that week if you are available.”
In going from the typical generic invitation to this approach you accomplish two absolutely profound things. First, you demonstrate to them that you truly are paying attention to what is happening in their lives and that you care about them. Second, you affirm that you care enough about them to look for opportunities to support and encourage them. On your part, this is no longer a standard “just get them to come to church” plan – it is an all-out intentional strategy to show them how much you love them and – subsequently – how much Jesus loves them.
Both of these approaches, first to the follow-up post-Christmas intentionality and second to intentionality in inviting friends and neighbors to join us at church, embody the heart and soul of Organic Outreach – relentless intentionality.
Walt Bennett is the Executive Pastor for Organic Outreach International.