Serve the Community and Grow Your Church | By Karl Vaters

One of the best ways to minister to people during the holidays is through simple and effective community outreach.

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but Christmas is also the busiest.

A few years ago, our church staff decided we weren’t going to compete with all the shopping, school plays, office parties and visits to Santa that were filling people’s calendars. We weren’t able to keep up, so we stopped trying.

Instead, we asked ourselves “what can we do that no one else is doing?” Specifically, instead of adding events to the calendar, how can our church help people simplify the Christmas season?

We experimented with several events. Over the years, we’ve landed on a few that work for us.

1. Parents’ Night Off

It’s just what it sounds like.

Drop your kids off at the church in their pajamas from 6:00 pm to 10:00 on Saturday night. We’ll feed them, play games, teach Bible stories, and watch a Christmas movie together. The kids have fun, and the parents get a night to shop, decorate the house, go to their office party, or take a nap — whatever they want.

This is such a helpful, non-threatening event that many unchurched people drop their kids off, too. When they pick them up, we give them a flyer about Christmas Eve, and a lot of them come back for it.

Parents get a night off, kids have fun, and the church gets to do real ministry. Everyone wins.

If you’re wondering where we get the workers to do this, it’s easier than it seems. We charge $10 to $12 per kid (a great deal for 4 hours of babysitting), and every church member who helps out gets a share. The money is held in the church accounts until it’s needed to help them pay for a church retreat, camp, youth convention, mission trip, etc.

2. Teach the Kids to Give

People complain that this generation is selfish, and they don’t know how to give.

Christmas is often the worst example of that. So, we decided to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

For the first few weeks of December, adults donate small items to the church that a child might like to give to a parent, sibling or other relative. Some are new, some are made, some are re-gifted. But they have to be in like-new condition.

The kids are invited to come to the church with a list of people to buy for, clutching a few dollars that they earned doing household chores. While the parents wait in the hallway, our adult volunteers help the children buy, then wrap gifts in the little store we’ve set up with the donated items.

The gifts are priced from 50 cents to $3, so for less than the cost of dinner, children can buy gifts for the whole family.

Then, on Christmas morning, children don’t just receive. They experience the joy of giving gifts, bought with money they earned. And the gifts are an actual surprise to their parents and other family members.

How do we get the workers for this? See the last paragraph (above) under Parents’ Night Off.

3. Pass It On

There’s no better way to show people the spirit of giving than to ask them to give in a way that doesn’t benefit your church at all. Pass it on. Here’s how we do it.

Our church is in Southern California, so we’ve unofficially adopted a Small Church in a tiny, off-the-map town in Mexico.

Every year, we buy plastic Christmas bags for our church members to take home and fill up with helpful, inexpensive gifts from a list we provide. These are very mundane items to us (pencils, socks, and so on), but children in Mexico cling to them like buried treasure.

In the middle of December, we invite people to head over the border with us to give these bags to hundreds of delighted, grateful children. For many of them it’s the only Christmas gift they get that year.

You may not be near Mexico, but there are needs near you that have nothing to do with your church. Find them and pass on a blessing.

4. Christmas Eve — Short & Sweet

People want to go to church on Christmas Eve, so we give families something everyone can enjoy.

We hold candlelight services at 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm, each one preceded by what we call Family Fun Time at 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. Families are encouraged to come early, gather outside in the cool Southern California air, where we have hot drinks, snacks, cookie decorating, and a photo booth for families to enjoy together. If you live in Nebraska, I suggest holding this indoors.

Then we make two promises about our Candlelight Services.

⦁ It Will Be Simple — We sing Christmas carols, read the Christmas story, and light candles while we all sing Silent Night. Even in a church like ours, that constantly changes things up, what people crave on Christmas Eve is something simple, familiar, and comforting.

We’ll Keep It Short — We start exactly on time, and we promise the family can be in the car, heading off to grandma’s house within an hour. No exceptions.

If you like any of these ideas, I suggest starting small.

Pick one. The easiest one. Then adjust it for your situation. That’s how we did it — one at a time.

We tweak ours every year, but the principle remains the same. We don’t want to be responsible for jamming more events into people’s holiday schedule. If we want people to slow down, simplify, and learn the joy of giving, we’ll be the place they can do that.

Simplicity. It’s a gift any church, of any size, can give.

Learn more about Karl Vaters’ books and his work with small churches. This article originally appeared here.


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