November 6, 2019 Tony Morgan

Christmas Is the New Easter (Replay) – Episode 118 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Recognizing the Shift and Making the Most of It


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Christmas time has the potential for your church to really have an impact, particularly on people outside the church and outside the faith. It’s a time churches should set aside preferences and really embrace traditions to connect with people who may not visit your church at other times of the year. Easter has always been a significant holiday but recently we’ve seen Christmas take the place as the preeminent holiday because culture still embraces Christmas.

On this week’s episode, Tony and Amy talk about how to best leverage this unique opportunity to connect with brand new guests and offer practical ideas to get them to come back after the holidays. Specifically, this episode will provide you with:

  • Practical next steps that will generate momentum before the Christmas season
  • Strategies for significantly increasing attendance during the Christmas season and beyond
  • How to define the wins for your Christmas services
  • Tips on how to maximize a holiday that our culture still celebrates
  • Practical ways to connect with people outside your church
Christmas is unique because it's a holiday that we celebrate as Christians, but our culture still celebrates the holiday too. Take advantage of this opportunity. #unstuckchurch [episode 118]Click to Tweet Churches need to be very intentional about getting the new people who attend Christmas services to come back in January. #unstuckchurch [episode 118]Click To Tweet

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Transcript 

Tony: 00:00 Christmas time has the potential for us to really have an impact, particularly on people outside the church and outside the faith. Even though I’m the non traditional guy, this is that season where I need to set aside my preferences and really embrace traditions because it’s that opportunity for us to connect with people outside of the faith.

Sean: 00:24 Welcome to the Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Christmas and Easter both are significant times for the church. In one sense, they are times where we remember Christ, and His mark on humanity. In another sense, there are huge opportunities for us to connect with people who may not visit our churches at other times of the year. It used to be that Easter was a significant holiday in our culture, but recently we’ve seen Christmas take the place as the preeminent holiday. So what are the implications for churches and how can we best leverage the opportunity to connect with those new guests? This week on the podcast, Amy and I explore how churches can better leverage the opportunities that the Christmas season brings. Make sure before you listen, subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox. Every single week you’re going to get one email with a leader conversation guide, all the resources we mentioned and bonus resources that support the content. You also get access to the archive of all of our podcast resources from past episodes. You can sign up by going to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for a conversation on how your church can seize the opportunities of the Christmas season.

Amy: 01:34 Today we’re talking about actually optimizing Christmas plans. So Tony, where do you want to jump in today?

Tony: 01:42 Bah humbug, Amy. That’s what I have to say. It’s funny. My family loves Christmas. Everybody around me loves Christmas. Christmas has never been one of my favorite holidays. I guess it’s the challenge of being a non traditional guy around a holiday that really embraces traditions, but for whatever reason, Christmas rolls around and I’m ready for the new year, but we should take advantage of this opportunity. So I’m looking forward to today’s conversation.

Amy: 02:15 Well this podcast we are approaching Christmas. I know where I live at already feels that way. But as churches get ready for their Christmas services, Tony, I’ve heard you say that Christmas is kind of the new Easter. What do you mean?

Tony: 02:28 Yeah. And so this is a good example because Christmas time has the potential for us to really have an impact, particularly on people outside the church and outside the faith. Even though I’m the non traditional guy, this is the season where I need to set aside my preferences and really embrace traditions because it’s that opportunity for us to connect with people outside the faith. And what we’re seeing, of course, and this is probably not for most people, is our culture still embraces Christmas. They embrace it for different reasons than Christ followers do but they still embrace the Christmas holiday. That’s not the case for Easter. Easter, in the past is kind of the Superbowl Sunday for Christians because it’s the day we celebrate Jesus overcoming death and the opportunity we have to experience eternity in heaven as well. Christians celebrate that, but our culture doesn’t.

Tony: 03:33 And what makes Christmas unique is that it’s a holiday that we celebrate as Christians, but our culture does too. And because of that, there are opportunities to invite friends, neighbors, coworkers who may not be Christ followers, who may not be a part of a church, to connect with the church. This is a season where they’re going to be more receptive to that invite. And because of that, I think churches need to be more intentional about the opportunities we have and encourage folks in our church to make that invite. So how do we generate momentum, Tony? Well, a few things come to mind and some of this goes back to my days back when I was in full time ministry. Some are just some things that we learned along the way. You don’t actually have to wait until Christmas week to start generating momentum, really as soon as the Thanksgiving holiday is behind us, there’s an opportunity to start building more momentum toward the Christmas services and then beyond.

Tony: 04:37 And so one of the simple things that we did, for example, while I was on the team at Granger Community Church, every year, and this would usually hit the Sunday, the weekend after Thanksgiving or whatever that first weekend is in December…This sounds crazy, but every child between the ages of kindergarten and fifth grade would end up on the platform for those services singing Christmas songs. Now, the win wasn’t great Christmas music. In fact, the worship teams probably disliked this weekend more than any other weekend of the year. Because the win wasn’t seeing kids that were gifted vocalist. And actually, just to be honest, the leaders and children’s ministry probably hated this weekend more than any other weekend, as well because they had to spend some time in the weeks leading up to it, getting the kids ready to be on the platform and not being able to engage some of the teaching they would’ve liked to have done in their kids’ ministry environments.

Tony: 05:49 But the win was if we knew we could get every child between the ages of kindergarten and fifth grade on the platform, not only would they show up, but all of their parents and grandparents would show up as well. And it was a Kodak moment. I’m not sure. I guess that would be an iPhone moment now in today’s culture. But we knew that it was going to be a big crowd and help us start to build momentum through the Christmas season. In fact, those weekends at Granger used to be some of the largest attendance weekends of the whole year. And it was just because we were intentional about making sure the kids were going to be a part of that service and inviting their family to be a part of it. And on that same weekend, then we would open up tickets, free tickets for people to attend the Christmas Eve services and always planned services on Christmas Eve.

Tony: 06:54 But it was always fascinating to me to see how just offering tickets made it easier for people to invite friends and family. And if you think about it, it kind of makes sense because it just makes it easier to make an invite because people have something in their hand that they can offer to somebody else. A ticket that includes a time that this special service is going to take place. And what the ticket did is number one, it just made it easier to make the invitation. But secondly, it communicated something big is gojng to happen because the rest of culture has tickets for games. It’s for concerts, it’s for a special event. And I think that also made the invitation easier because when someone was inviting their friend, they were inviting them to something significant, a special event. The other thing the ticketing process did though Amy is it helped us move our regular attenders from what we knew were going to be the prime times on Christmas Eve to some of the non-optimal times. And it helped us spread out the crowd. And I’ve heard you talk about your team during Christmas, often that was for getting people to go to that Christmas Eve Eve service. Do you want to share a little bit about your experience with that?

Amy: 08:31 Yeah. You know, you’re absolutely right. We knew that people were going to come to church on Christmas and because they aren’t attenders of our church, they were going to come at the optimal time, which I think on Christmas Eve, you know, in our communities is around three or four o’clock. So we actually told our regulars do not come to this service and listed out more times and we tried a lot of different options on Christmas Eve. Eventually we added more services because we were out of space and we just kinda took Christmas Eve Eve and what we found was that by doing two services people could serve at one and go to one. They ended up becoming the most popular services for many of our families. And they of course would still bring their friends and family to that service. But we found that they liked it cause then Christmas Eve was clear for them. And also for those families that were going out of town for Christmas, it gave them the opportunity to still experience Christmas at their church. So it was crazy successful for us as a strategy.

Tony: 09:31 So, I know many churches kind of might have an aversion to tickets for worship services. But for us, it really worked out to do two things. Number one, it helped to spread out the crowds so that there were plenty of seats available for people who we wanted to invite to actually engage and kind of check out the church and experience a service. But the second thing it did is it created a sense of urgency that people needed to get tickets for the times that they wanted to attend. And what would happen as certain services would fill up because we would have distributed all the tickets for specific times, we would have to open new services to plan for more people. And that in and of itself too would also communicate more urgency and momentum. So we found this to work at Granger.

Tony: 10:27 I actually was part of implementing the strategy when I was at NewSpring and then for a season, I was on part -time staff at Westridge Church here in Atlanta, and we implemented that strategy as well. And with all three churches, we saw a great momentum around Christmas. It sounds a little bit counterintuitive, but you’ll just have to trust me. It actually works. And then the other thing related to momentum and the Christmas Eve services or Christmas services is you want to take this opportunity to tease what’s gonna happen after the Christmas holiday. You know, we’ll talk a little bit more about that in a bit. But Amy, you were directly involved and helping, to develop a Christmas Eve service that would be both worshipful and celebratory around the birth of Jesus, but also impactful for those people that might be checking out the service for the very first time. So can you share a little bit about your strategy or philosophy for planning a Christmas service?

Amy: 11:32 Oh, sure. And probably in no particular order, but just some things that stand out to me. You know, one of the things that I see churches do once in awhile is they put on something completely different for Christmas Eve. They do some sort of show or production. And boy, we really committed to our people and built trust with them that if you invite your friends and family, this is going to be like our regular services. Meaning we’re going to make sure it was something special and we’d provide a bump, a surprise. But we wanted people to experience our church so that if they loved it and came back, it would be like that again. And if they hated it, I guess they knew what they were getting, but we didn’t try a bait and switch. So really focusing on creating an excellent service that you normally do, but with a little bit of something extra.

Amy: 12:22 Another thing is just remembering that you’ve got new people there and that sounds really basic, but I don’t know, sometimes we forget those basic things. And so when you think about what you’re going to be singing, what you’re going to be announcing, what you’re going to be teaching, you’ve got to keep that thought towards that new person and really make sure you’re speaking their language. And for pastors, I often encourage them when they deliver their message to just start with a smile. Tell a great story. Communicate that you’re just a normal person, you know, living life just like everybody else. Just for the sense of building trust with all of those new people, they don’t know you. They need to get to know you. And if you’re going to be talking about something important, you know, like sharing the gospel, they’ve got to feel like you’re a regular person that they can trust.

Amy: 13:09 And we just always found that humor was a great way to begin the message at Christmas. Lastly, I’d just say use your best people for your first impressions, areas as people drive in as they come in. Again, you’ve got to make it easy for them. That’s the time to put your best people on, to greet them, make them feel at ease, help them find a seat. You have to remember how weird it is to walk into a church when you haven’t been in one ever or for many, many years. They come nervous. And so just remember to do those little things that help put people at ease. One year we didn’t remember how important nostalgia was to Christmas. There is this little X factor, maybe it’s the Christmas songs, the Christmas feel, the sights, the smells, those little touches also help put people at ease and make it feel like home.

Tony: 14:00 So you’re saying I need to actually embrace the traditions over the Christmas holidays, Amy?

Amy: 14:07 Yes. You do Tony Morgan. But I think one more thing we should talk about today is really what’s the win Tony for the Christmas service. You know, when you think about how we’re going to plan these and I know many churches plan them for months, a lot of energy, multiple services. What do you think? What are the one or two things that you go, boy, when you land the Christmas services and you did these things, what was the win?

Tony: 14:33 Well, two wins come to mind. First is this, as Christ followers, we ought to take this opportunity to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the new beginning we have and our relationship with Christ. But secondly, for churches, I think the second win is we need to be as an intentional as we can about getting as many new people back in January after the Christmas services. And so I would have an internal challenge that I would have for myself and I’d share with my team. But for any holiday service, Easter or Christmas, my personal goal was to double our attendance from whatever our normal attendance was to double that at Christmas and Easter. And then the goal for me was to try to get 75% of that Easter or Christmas attendance back after the holiday. And so I don’t know what your team’s goal should be, but I would encourage you to set a goal because when you have a goal like that in mind for how many people you want to come back after the holiday, it will help you to think more intentionally about what you need to be doing to encourage those folks to come back after Christmas.

Tony: 15:55 I would encourage you, number one, not to start anything big as far as a new series to get people to come back that Sunday after Christmas because typically that’s a low attendance Sunday with the new year and we’re still just coming out of the holiday season. So wait till that next Sunday in January to launch whatever that big new series is, but make it big and tease it during your Christmas services so people have a sense of what’s coming next and put something in their hands. So they have a reminder that in two weeks or less than two weeks, this new series is going to start. It’s going to have a similar vibe, a similar feel to what you’ve experienced here today. And we want you to come back with your family and be a part of this next season with our church, but be intentional about it, tease it during your Christmas services, and set a goal as a team to try to get as many people that come on Christmas back in January.

Sean: 17:02 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we’d love your help in spreading the content to others. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast at the unstuck group. We’re working every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that get them focused on vision, strategy, and action. If you’re thinking that’s a need in your church, we would love to talk. You can start a conversation with us by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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