Christmas Eve Early
I work at a new church start that has the demographic focus of young adults (people 18-35). In our staff meeting a few months ago we discussed our Christmas Eve service and all the issues surrounding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years. For all churches, the fact that Christmas and New Years fell on Sunday was problematic. For our new church of mostly young people it was a life or death issue–how would our church weather the low attendance?? Most of our people were going out of town to see parents. We didn’t want guests to visit and see a small group that looked weak. And, we didn’t just want to NOT celebrate Christmas! So, we did something that, as a liturgical nerd, made me cringe. We celebrated Christmas early. A LOT EARLY! The day that school got out early–December 21st.
For weeks I worried about this. We spend so much time talking with our congregations about Advent and the importance of waiting. We work against the consumer culture that surrounds Christmas and decorate slowly, practicing what it means to wait and enjoy Christmas in smaller doses instead of one huge “I NEED EVERYTHING NOW” greed fest. How could we turn around and celebrate Christmas early??? It also just felt weird. All of my churchy friends were planning for their big Christmas Eve service and we were just “off”. Finally, I worried about attendance. Would we have a large group of people? Servant Church usually worships between 65 and 75 (though we grow pretty steadily each week) and many of these regulars were going out of town. How should we prepare?
I made a Facebook invite for our Christmas Eve Service to try and get an idea of numbers. We had 34 people respond by Monday, many of them couples and all of them regular attendees. That was about 60 already. On top of that, for the first time, almost everyone responding had invited LOTS of friends. And their friends were saying yes because they were still in town and it sounded like a good service. We bought more candles. Got more food. Scrounged around for more seating. When all was said and done, we had 92 people that night. Our biggest Sunday since we’ve existed (we are about a year old) was 93 for a baptism. We had 92 people on a Wednesday night at 7pm.
I’m not saying any of this to brag. Some of you are thinking 92 is small. I’m OK with that. I’m saying it because it taught this liturgical nerd a lesson. People want to celebrate Christmas. They often want to be invited. And for the folks going out of town, and early celebration might be their only time to celebrate Christmas at church. I am pretty sure that from now on, no matter where I’m pastoring, I will offer an early Christmas celebration. It’s a good way to meet new people and involve the people from your church who may not be their on “the actual Christmas Eve”. If you want to reach young people who will be gone at Christmas but are around the rest of the year, early Christmas is a way to offer Jesus in their cultural time and space.