For non-Christians, an invitation to church can be uncomfortable, intimidating, or downright scary. They don’t know what to expect, so they’re reluctant to accept. But Christmastime changes all that. It’s actually the perfect time to invite people to church.
That’s because most Americans already celebrate Christmas, even if they leave baby Jesus out of it. They probably have some basic understanding of the traditional Christmas story, so a visit to church for a Christmas concert or Christmas Eve service feels less weird. Even if they don’t know the whole story of Jesus’ birth, they can at least hum along to familiar carols and enjoy the pretty glow of candlelight. But here’s the thing: Even though most Americans celebrate some version of Christmas, most aren’t planning to attend a church service. They need to be invited.
Church attendance at Christmastime used to be as much a part of the holiday as carols and tinsel-covered trees, but religious aspects around the holiday and a cultural expectation of a religious Christmas have been declining in public life for many years, and that includes church attendance. Spending time with friends and family on Christmas has replaced church attendance in importance for most Americans. But it’s possible to do both.
If a family is already getting together for a gift exchange or Christmas Eve dinner, it’s easy to meet up an hour earlier for a church service. Or if a friend or neighbor has no plans or no family in town on Christmas Eve, they might be open to joining their Christian friend for an evening of carols at the church around the corner. It can’t hurt to ask, and statistics might even be on your side that they’ll say yes. That’s because among non-Christians who do visit a church at some point during any given year, a Christmas Eve worship service is the most likely time for them to attend.
“For the past five years, we’ve averaged a 70 percent increase in Christmas weekend attendance compared to our average weekly attendance the rest of the year.” -Bobby Gruenewals, Life.Church
And there’s another reason unbelievers might be more receptive to attending a Christmas church service: the growing movement to get back to basics. Americans, and especially millennials (the same ones who are leaving churches in high numbers), are widely embracing a lifestyle of minimalism while shirking the consumerism that defined their parents’ boomer generation. They’re less interested in accumulating stuff and more focused on life experiences. That attitude follows them into a Christmas season that starts with Black Friday and ends in January with sky-high credit card statements.
According to a 2013 Pew study, most Americans’ least favorite aspect of Christmas has to do with shopping and consumerism. This just might be the shared belief that brings Christians and non-Christians to the same Christmas table — or church sanctuary. There’s a growing desire among both groups to reject a commercial Christmas and revive more meaningful aspects of the season. A Christmas music concert or a candlelight service that ends with “Silent Night” might be just the peace a non-Christian is seeking during a frenzied shopping season.
In a 2018 article for the Christian Post, Life.Church Pastor and Innovation Leader Bobby Gruenewald affirmed the importance of these services. The Post quoted him as saying, “We often say that people are more likely to accept an invitation to church during the Christmas season, more than any other time throughout the year. And our data reflects that. For the past five years, we’ve averaged a 70 percent increase in Christmas weekend attendance compared to our average weekly attendance the rest of the year.”
So, what are the best ways to extend that important invitation? Here are four we think work best.
Without a doubt, a personal invitation to church from a friend or loved one is the most effective way to actually get a new face through the church doors. In fact, more than half of unchurched Americans say a personal invitation to church from a friend of family member would be enough to get them there.
Verbal invitations are great, but it can be easy to forget the details when they’re mentioned in passing during a conversation. It helps to have the important stuff already written down: time, date, place, church website and phone number, event details. But a written personal invitation can also convey other details that are important to first-time visitors: what to expect, the style of the church, where to park, and other things that would ease people’s anxieties about attending. Outreach offers a variety of customizable invitation card styles in several shapes and sizes, so your church can choose the one that best represents its culture and atmosphere. Just distribute the cards to your members and ask them to use the cards when inviting friends or family to Christmas services.
Door hangers are an inexpensive way to reach a larger population than is possible through personal invitation. Plus, you can target entire neighborhoods surrounding your church and reach those people looking for an easily accessible service close to home or if they decide to go at the last minute.
People are busy, and your members probably don’t have time to chat with every single one of their neighbors. But it probably is possible for them to spend 30 minutes placing door hangers at the houses on their block or street. And door hangers are still personal, because someone from the church actually places them. Outreach offers a large collection of customizable door hangers with compelling graphics on the front and a door knob hole for easy hanging. You can order and customize online, then distribute to your members so they can make sure everyone in their neighborhoods knows what’s happening at your church this Christmas.
Postcards sent to families in your community via direct mail are a tried and true way to reach a large population. In an age when more people are turning to digital marketing, a well-designed, attractive, colorful postcard is more likely to grab a recipient’s attention when they open their mailbox. Outreach’s postcard and direct mail products allow you to have as much or as little involvement in the production and distribution of your postcards as you like. Outreach offers a variety of designs that can be customized to fit your church – add your own photo, logo and service information using an easy online editor and then Outreach can mail them to the neighborhoods you choose.
If you have a professional designer at your disposal, Outreach can also just help you with the printing and mailing. A variety of options for your Direct Mail ensures you stick to your budget while still reaching your target population.
While some people may prefer printed communication to digital – either because they are older or distrustful of technology, most Americans are active on at least one social media platform and are likely to see targeted digital ads as they’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. In fact, the majority of social media users have clicked on an ad, and about half have bought something after doing so.
Facebook Ads are an easy way to get your church events out in front of your community. But designing and posting these ads can be time consuming and complicated. That is where Outreach Facebook Ads can help. This service helps churches design effective, targeted social media ad campaigns; all a church needs is a Facebook account (an Instagram account isn’t necessary), and the social media experts at Outreach can build and run the ad, select the target audience, monitor the campaign for performance, make adjustments to improve results as needed, and send a report that details the ad’s reach and effectiveness. These campaigns last 10-15 days leading up to your church’s event, so now’s a great time to begin thinking about starting yours.
Outreach Everywhere is another service that offers a package that allows churches to combine the reach of social media ads with the proven effectiveness of direct mail postcards to reach more people than ever — those who prefer the personalized communication of a paper postcard with those who’d rather check Facebook than their mailbox. Keep in mind that many designs and styles are available, making it easy to create a cohesive look, tone and feel for your church’s Christmas season.
Ready to start inviting your community to Christmas at your church? Start off with encouraging your members to extend a personal invitation verbally and then expand to other forms of invitations. No matter which methods you choose, in today’s culture, multiple invitations are critical to ensuring unchurched people feel welcome at your church.