Imagine planning a nationwide evangelistic campaign that invites millions to an outreach event—millions who would not ordinarily attend. Imagine the logistics. Imagine organizing tens of thousands of churches in a joint effort. Imagine the publicity, the expense, the potential for infighting, the potential for outfighting!
Now imagine the campaign actually worked. Except, instead of delivering a few thousand guests to fill a stadium, the campaign actually drew people to a worship service in your church.
Well, imagine no longer: this is the evangelistic opportunity gift-wrapped for us each Christmas.
At least where I live (in the UK), attendance at Christmas services has been increasing. Each year, this “evangelistic campaign” rolls around with recognized “branding” that would be the envy of any PR company. Each year, well-loved “campaign theme songs” are piped into shopping centers and broadcast across the airwaves. “Come, Let Us Adore Him,” the song says—and millions respond by showing up to a worshiping community, hearing the Word of God, and singing his praises.
Christmas is a phenomenal opportunity for the gospel. Here are two ways your church can embrace it.
1. Embrace the Popularity
Christmas is undeniably popular. Of course, the Christmas messages broadcast in the wider culture can fall far short of the gospel mark. The holiday is often tangled up with rampant consumerism, cozy sentimentality, and drunken holiday parties. But there are incredible opportunities, too.
I’m genuinely excited that department-store shoppers have “Glory to the newborn King” sung to them on a loop. I’m heartened to know millions are drawn into worship services to hear that the hope of the world is found in Immanuel. Even if most sing the songs without owning the truth, I don’t think this is a failure or an exercise in mass hypocrisy.
Treat Christmas like the evangelistic opportunity that it is.
It’s the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–23) in action. At Christmas, the Word is broadcast far and wide. Much “falls along the path” and appears to have no effect (v. 19); some is received with seasonal joy, but fades under the troubles of the new year (vv. 20–21); and only a fraction grows into mature, enduring fruitfulness (v. 23). We shouldn’t be surprised when a variety of people show up in our churches and express a variety of responses to the Word. Like the sower, we cast the seed widely and trust God to give a harvest (1 Cor. 3:7).
Embracing the season’s popularity means treating Christmas like the evangelistic opportunity that it is. Hold special services. Focus the Scripture reading and preaching on gospel basics.
Invest in some publicity, too. Get your keen social-media users to keep your pages and channels filled with good Christmas content. Post flyers around town. Knock on doors to personally invite your neighbors.
As you invite friends and family, make sure to do two key things: put yourself into the invitation and bring your friend into the event. Putting yourself into the invitation means avoiding a take-it-or-leave-it approach. Don’t be vague or indifferent. Tell them, “This stuff is important to me, and it would mean the world if you came.” That’s what it means to put yourself into it.
But also bring your friend into the event. Invite them first for dinner or afterward for lunch. Pick them up. Make it into a bigger invitation, which both welcomes them into your life and also limits their opportunities to bail!
And when guests show up, have something to give them. Hand out copies of the Gospels or short Christmas books like The Gift. Plan an event to invite folks to in the new year. Make your church as welcoming as you can.
Expend yourself like it’s the biggest evangelistic campaign in living memory. It is.
2. Embrace the Particularity
It’s not enough to focus on the season’s popularity, of course. In fact, it’s dangerous. If we simply want to increase attendance, we risk sidelining the message and glitzing up the wrapping. We may bring a real donkey to the nativity but no gospel; we may spice up the mulled wine but water down the preaching. (In Britain I’ve seen much of both!) This is a mistake.
The particularity of Christmas—the unique story of God enfleshed—is not something to be moved past. This is a challenge to progressives and conservatives alike. Some may view Christmas as a generic, soft-focus, family-friendly holiday. But the Christmas decorations we all love—family, food, festivities—are peripheral to the center. The center is Christ.
So we must be particular. The incarnation means that we can no longer deal in generalities when dealing with God, religion, or spirituality. The particularity of Christmas means God has shown up in the flesh and he has a name. The true “spirit of Christmas” is the Spirit of Christ. We must be unapologetically fixed on him.
The true ‘spirit of Christmas’ is the Spirit of Christ. We must be unapologetically fixed on him.
But there’s another attempt to avoid the particularity of Christmas—this is the temptation for conservatives. In our hurry to “get to the cross,” we bypass the crib. Preachers in the UK—fearful of domesticating Christ—will sometimes dissuade listeners from contemplating the baby Jesus. “Don’t dwell on the manger,” they say. “The baby grew up, don’t you know!” Actually, in the deepest sense, he didn’t “grow up.” The path from crib to cross was, in Philippians 2 terms, a continuation of the descent. He didn’t “grow up” so much as “stoop farther.”
It is the most wonderful gospel truth that, whether it’s the crib or the cross, to see Christ enthroned upon wood and struggling for breath is to see our Savior’s flesh-and-blood pledge to be ours. Of course the crib involves the cross and vice versa, but we need not hurry past the incarnation.
Preaching that wonders at Christ’s glorious condescension will grip believers and unbelievers alike. It will also avoid the danger of “bait and switch,” in which we invite our guests for Christmas but quickly shift gears to speak of something else.
Embrace the particularity! Preach the “little LORD Jesus,” the Savior in the town of David, Immanuel, the Son who has been given “to us” (Isa. 9:6). This is purest gospel. Linger long over the incarnation. Revel in Christmas itself—the real thing. It’s an absolute gift, in every sense. And then invite your friends and neighbors to delight in the gift, too.
The biggest evangelistic event of the year is about to begin. Are you ready?