Ask many people what word they anticipate using to describe this Christmas and “Great” is likely not one of them. The emotions of many in the nation are on edge with dashed hopes for a “normal” holiday season.
We as church leaders, then, have a huge responsibility to help our parishioners celebrate the holidays with a sense of meaning and significance.
How can we do that? Here are a few suggestions for making and communicating your plans for church activities this season:
Set expectations. Thanks to the global pandemic, this will be a Christmas like no other. Many people are mourning the loss of normal holiday activities and family activities. The same may be true of church activities. Rather than raising anyone’s expectations that this year will be the same as all others at church, do your best to set church members’ expectations regarding Christmas programming. It’s likely there won’t be a Christmas pageant for children or a large choir concert. Instead of focusing attention on what’s NOT there, focus on what you ARE able to offer. Letting people know what IS possible will help them enjoy those events and attach special meaning to them this year. Offering virtual and online options will also help people who prefer to stay home participate as much as they are able. Help people manage their expectations early and often.
Be realistic. This year’s church activities will not be the same as in years past. So? Don’t try to make them the same! This will only lead to disappointment. Scale everything back, cut out programs that cannot be done in a socially distanced manner, and help people deal with the emotional impact of these significant changes. Try to create new, simple Christmas traditions that will be great for this year, but also for the years to come.
Focus on giving. Even though some people are struggling financially due to the pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, they can still make an intentional effort to give back to the community and to the less fortunate in meaningful ways. Encourage people to give financially as they are able, but also be involved in service projects, food drives, or clothing donation opportunities. Everyone can give something, financial or non-financial in nature, and Christmas is definitely the time to do it.
Involve the community. Christmas is a great time to involve the community in church activities. Whether it is service projects or special activities, people love to come to church at Christmas time. They love the decorations and the festivities and the programming for children. Even though this year might be different, the church can still reach out to families in need. Have events that are “seeker friendly” but also have a clear invitation to Christmas Eve services as well. As the Church, we can show the love and compassion of Jesus to the community especially at Christmas, but all year long as well.
Focus on what matters. Above all, as church leaders, it is our duty to remind our parishioners that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. This Christmas, it is more important than ever to remember that Jesus is indeed the reason for the season. Offer opportunities that take the focus away from the commercialized version of Christmas and draw the church’s attention back to the authentic meaning of the holiday.
This Christmas can be great, even though it will be different than any Christmas many of us have ever experienced. With a little intentional effort, it can be one we will remember forever, for all the best reasons.