FIRST-PERSON: Christmas Eve & your church
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- A Christmas Eve service can be one of your church's most meaningful moments -- and one of its largest outreach events of the year. For a meaningful community-wide event, begin planning early. Here are some suggestions:
-- Carefully plan a top-quality program of worship. Forty-five minutes or an hour is ideal. Establish a minute-by-minute timetable for program participants so every second counts. Make it relaxed, yet power-packed.
-- Prepare fabulous music, and include some traditional carols. The pastor's sermon is strategic but may be different than usual. And pass-it-on candle lighting never goes out of style.
-- As early as possible, ask for a commitment from your choice vocal and instrumental musicians, your media team and reliable leaders for greeters and fellowship reception.
-- Preplan unique exterior lighting to attract guests that night -- a high, giant star, searchlight or laser lights.
-- Purchase needed supplies early, such as individual candles and paper guards, or jingle bells for kids.
-- Offer at least two service times to enable more families to make it a tradition.
-- Prepare guest cards and handouts ahead. A "Celebrate Jesus All Year" handout can invite guests to return, listing worship times, small groups, website, upcoming sermon series and events.
-- Your publicity team strategizes to invite the entire town, using e-invitations, newspaper, Facebook event, outside banner invitation, and printed invitations. Members intentionally invite friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.
-- Deliver ribboned invitations to each home and business near the church building.
-- Involve many volunteers -- early greeters for every single door and parking lot, minglers to visit with guests, candle lighters, a single adults team to prepare a hot cocoa reception with a spectacular array of toppings and birthday cake for Jesus.
-- Assign a follow-up team to email each guest by Saturday, the 28th, to invite them to Sunday worship.
Make it extraordinary
Try one of these unique touches:
-- A side-stage live nativity provides a striking visual during the sermon or music. Variation: Use living statues, with characters' clothing and exposed skin painted to resemble stone. (Google "living statue" for techniques.) As the Christmas story is told, each one dramatically changes positions.
-- An acoustical guitarist worshipfully plays carols by candlelight in the entry foyer.
-- A unique setting could be used, such as a service on the church lawn, surrounding a live nativity scene, or a multi-stop drive-through or walk-through Christmas Eve service across the church parking lot.
-- Creative lighting provides ambiance, such as dim lights, candles and up-lights on a cross and a manger.
-- Add an unusual instrumentalist, such as a harpist, cellist or whistler.
-- As children enter, give each a shepherd costume (simple fabric with holes and sash) to wear. During one song, invite kids to the front to kneel reverently by a manger.
Yes, a Christmas Eve service is a big commitment for ministry staff and lay church leaders, but it's an opportunity that can't be replicated any other day of the year. Begin a new tradition this year. To Eve or not to Eve? There is no question.
Diana Davis is author of "Fresh Ideas" and "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing) and wife of North American Mission Board vice president for the South Region, Steve Davis.