I love Advent and Xmas Eve Services, and have planned them in several churches, as well as, attended them in quite a few more. Post-Xmas is one of the best times to plan for next year …while it’s still fresh in your brain. It’s also the best time to solicit HONEST FEEDBACK about how your Advent celebrations came off, and how you could do better next year.
Here’s my list of “Remember This For Next Year”:
1. Freshen up “Lessons and Carols” music. Some of it has grown stale. Especially to younger ears, the warbling choirs and brass aren’t appealing or nostalgic. At least mix it up a bit.
I know, I know… Lessons & Carols is often a bit of “the choir’s show”. But first, that’s wrong thinking, and second: for a church dependent on outreach and renewal, there’s no excuse not to make some ATTRACTIVE changes.
(Note to my church: the congregation loves to sing Christmas hymns, so don’t make us wait until 20 minutes into the service before we get to sing!)
2. Realize Who’s Coming. Given the high number of visitors and LAPSED MEN in attendance, the Christmas Eve service would be a great time for a 5 minute sermonette about “coming back” to Christ/church, etc. Xmas Eve brings a lot of older sons and husbands. “Man-it-up a bit”, please, starting with your language (see my LINK below to a website about making church more appealing to men).
I had a long conversation with one Xmas Eve visitor who said, “same old church service… same old hymns and same Bible verses“. All it did was reinforce his long-standing opinions about the church as being old-fashioned. Part of me laughed inside saying “of course its the same!” …but part of me also cried. It was a missed opportunity to speak to those who at least came back one more time to give it a try.
3. It’s not just about the visitors or occasional attenders. I need some freshness too. Surprise me.
4. Freshen the scripture readings. This goes for each Sunday in Advent and especially for Xmas Eve. Try reading from The Message, or take the verses and write them in a “first person” version. For example, read the story of the magi in first-person. I know there’s this thing called “Traditional Lessons and Carols” —like we’re all in a Currier and Ives painting or Dickens novel…. but it’s only “traditional” because we keep doing the same thing over and over again. Start some new traditions.
5. The Candles need some fresh thinking.
a. The Blowing Out of the Candle on Xmas Eve is sad. When I expressed this sentiment to a group of adults recently, almost everyone in the room agreed. It’s incongruous and a bit sad to extinguish the candle they give you to raise during Silent Night. “Carry the light of God” the pastor said, then phffft -out she goes! One of our ladies this past Xmas Eve, a Jamaican gal, held on to her candle and didn’t want to blow it out because it was so meaningful to her. Think of the mood, and try not to spoil it. In one church we used to attend they blinded everyone by flipping on all the lights the moment everyone extinguished their candles. What a bummer that was.
Would be it be so bad to walk out with your candle and extinguish it you leave the door, instead of everyone doing one “mass extinction”? Worried about open flames? Use those clear cups around the top of the candle. Come up with some fresh thinking and also figure out a wait not to SQUASH OUR CANDLE MOMENT or the meaning, or the mood.
b. The ol’ “Lighting of the Advent Candles” could use some freshness too, and better preparation. Next year we need to remember that we’ll have kids who can’t see over the table, or can’t reach up to light our candles. Families that can’t be heard are a frequent problem. And then there are those “Holy” words we put in their mouth that sound like they were written in the 1880’s.
6. Time off or Follow up? Many ministers take off part of the week after Christmas, —and yet all the evangelism and outreach stats and literature says the BEST TIME to contact visitors is within 48 hours of their visit to your church. Don’t let this fall through the cracks.
7. Enough of “the Exhausted Pastor” routine (often voiced by the pastor, or by well-meaning members seeking to brown-nose their way into good graces). Many of us have jobs and times of the year when WE TOO have to work overtime. By the time Xmas Eve services roll around, MANY of us are maxxing out too. Even that night we’ve been wrapping presents, preparing a Xmas Eve meal, and have a house full of family. My advice: Start preparing earlier. Involve more people in the planning. Get some extra sleep. And maybe simplify, –if you’re really that overwhelmed. And use your liturgy to acknowledge those who are maxxed out and tired. So was Mary.
8. Stop the “Waiting” mantra. Remind the pastors next year to say and do something else besides talking about “Advent is about waiting”, or “Advent is about preparation”. It is, but it’s more. Come up with some new material. Advent is a lot more than about waiting. What should we be DOING each Sunday of Advent to honor Jesus who is ALREADY in the world? For example: we light the candles of Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy, -so what could we do each week to enhance that aspect our spiritual practice? Or what gifts could we give THAT WEEK that would exemplify that aspect?
(Note: Xmas celebrates Christ’s birthday, and like us, he grew up. What would a 15 year old or 30 year old Jesus appreciate from us this year? I’m writing this to stimulate your own creative possibilities. And rather than emphasize the “still night” –which probably never was! …how about emphasizes something else from that story, such as the seekers who didn’t stand still, but kept looking. It’s a thought! )
9. Last but not least…. Give us a reason to LINGER AROUND AFTERWARDS. Some coffee and Xmas breads would be nice. It’s wonderful to meet the parents and children of our church friends. And it’s a great opportunity for visitors to receive a personal welcome. Not everyone is going home to a house full of people.
Hope my list gets YOUR list off to a good start!
<>< (Rev.) Neil
Here’s that link I mentioned above. It’s to a guy’s website who writes about how to make church more appealing to men. It deals in some stereotypes, but speaking as a “guy” I can tell you that much of what he says is absolutely TRUE: