- Congregations celebrated one of the High Holy Days of Associate/Guest Pastors. (Translation: lots of people were on vacation including the regular preaching pastor and subsequently “the numbers were low.”)
- The sanctuary was packed full of people so moved by Lessons & Carols that they couldn’t possibly stay away yesterday. (Translation: a miracle happened.)
Although some church regulars resent Christmas Eve Christians, maybe we should thank them, love them, and learn from them. I especially wish we could interview them.
My first question: “What would make you want to be a part of this church thing?“
My unscientific research from talking with assorted family, friends, and strangers tells me that we sometimes forget that guests (i.e. people with no church experience, no family in town, no connections of any kind to a particular congregation) are among us even/especially on Christmas Eve. Their suggestions:
- Please don’t sing every verse of every song. There might be six verses of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” but singing every one of them makes our eyes glaze over.
- Basing the Christmas message on scholarly ideas that nobody cares about but the preacher = a missed opportunity. (Most people didn’t come to hear a research report about the fact that Jesus was probably born in the springtime or that Mary could have been as young as 13 years old, or that the shepherds could have been watching other animals along with the sheep in those fields.)
- While lots of people go for the music, the message and prayers are also crucial for offering hope, comfort, and peace. Christmas Eve is a great time to offer a taste of The Good News of Jesus.
- We’d like to know what else happens around here, but not in a way that sounds like a commercial (i.e. give us $.)
And speaking of “what else happens around here” this is one of the features of community that make people want to belong to that community.
People want to be moved and what seems to move us include these things:
- The community serves people in need who may or may not be a part of that church. I know a congregation filled with families – most of them straight – but they want to be a part of a church that reaches out to homeless LBGTQ kids. They want their children to grow up in a community that cares about these kids.
- Relationships are real. It’s clear that people care about each other. When somebody asks “How are you?” they expect to hear more than “Fine.” It’s safe to share tough things (I lost my job. My daughter’s in rehab. The cancer’s back. I’m really lonely.) People look you in the eye. (Note: this is not the same as being pounced on as a potential member.)
- Messages preached in worship, discussed in classes, prayed about in gatherings, and lived out in practice are heartfelt, applicable to daily life, and deep.
We hear a lot about “the new atheists” and others who have no interest in being part of a spiritual community. But there are thousands of people who are indeed looking for a spiritual connection. This is a good week to ponder how we will do Christmas Eve 2016. Imagine welcoming people who have never crossed the threshold before.