And every year we’ve encouraged our people to invite their friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who aren’t Christians. We gave them invite cards and yard signs to help in their efforts. And every year people invited the non-Christians they knew.
But every year I got the same sad report back, “I invited my co-worker, but he and his family are going to grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.” Or “I invited my neighbors, but they can’t come because they always do a big Christmas dinner and open gifts with the in-laws on Christmas Eve.” Sure, plenty of people have been coming to our Christmas Eve services all these years, but by in large it’s just been Christians.
It turns out that non-Christians are really busy on Christmas Eve and are unwilling to change their plans, even when someone invites them to a Christmas Eve service on December 24th. So this year we cancelled the Christmas Eve services and did a “Christmas Celebration” on December 23rd.
When we first started talking with the congregation about this idea, some were very disappointed (that’s a nice way of saying mad and upset). So we talked with the congregation about how this was an opportunity for us to meet the needs of the community. We talked about how we needed to put our preferences aside in order to introduce people to Jesus. We talked about how we needed to follow Jesus’ example when he said, “I have not come to be served, but to serve, and to lay down my life as a ransom for many.”
The mumbling died down pretty quickly. People picked up small stacks of invite cards and took home a yard sign that said, “Christmas Celebration on December 23rd.” And I began to wonder if this was just another one of my stupid ideas (and I’ve had plenty) or if it really was inspired by God.
The first story I got back was from a woman who has probably never actively told anyone about God, but she was willing to put a yard sign in front of her house. She said that she had multiple conversations with neighbors who all told her that her Christmas Eve sign had the wrong date on it… It should say December 24th. This became her opportunity to invite each of them to the Christmas Celebration on the 23rd.
I shared her story with the congregation and told them all “thank you for being willing to try this big experiment for your neighbors and for everyone you’re going to invite.” The excitement grew… the stories kept rolling in… we ran out of invitation cards.
Finally the 23rd came and we did all the same stuff you do at a Christmas Eve service: sing Christmas Carols, tell the Christmas story, share the gospel, light candles, and all that good stuff. It was a beautiful service.
The Commerce City campus had 149 people… we ran out of chairs (that’s 50% larger than a normal Sunday and it was the largest service that campus has ever had)! The Broomfield campus had 235 people… again we ran out of chairs, plus ran out of parking spots (again, that’s almost 50% larger than a normal Sunday and people had to stand out in the lobby)!
And the best part was that we identified over 50 first-time guests who were not just visitors from out of town, but actually folks from our community who don’t yet know Jesus. We’re now in the process of following up with each of them, building relationships, and encouraging them to take their next steps towards a relationship with God.
Bottom line, doing the Christmas Celebration service on the 23rd was a huge, huge success!
Matthew Fite is Lead Pastor at GoodNewsChurch.org