Summer is all but gone. And that means that as the leaves turn brown, the days get colder and the nights draw in, the church world turns its gaze to Christmas.
However, this year everything has changed. COVID-19 is still rumbling on and new measures have been put in place by the Government to stop a second spike. Whilst that means no direct changes for churches, there is still change compared to last year. And we must all not try to get misty-eyed about “the good old days” of 2019.
That means that as we stand, services will probably be still limited based upon 2 metre (or 1 metre plus) social distancing rules, mask wearing, and no singing. Which for a live service where carols are traditionally sung is rather, well, un-Christmassy. There is still much you can achieve, though. The building can provide spaces for the Christmas story to be told in other ways, not just through the traditional rows of pews and singing. Worship is much more than song, after all.
Another option is drive-in church. But as I explained to Premier Christianity, this doesn’t solve the problem. For an outward-facing, disciple-making institution, the drive-in option presents many issues with it outworking it’s mission, besides getting everyone together for a bit of music, which comes at an incredible cost given the fact of needing to hire equipment (and possibly parking space) to run the service. However, this option is great for denominations where Communion must be administered by a priest or vicar.
The third option is to livestream the service. Livestreaming is here to stay, whether you like it or not, and is an excellent way for churches to reach new people. What is lost is the sense of community, especially with the Rule of 6, which all but eliminates churches from encouraging Watch Parties for church.
These kinds of questions may be stopping you from planning, after all, how are you meant to plan a Christmas event if you don’t know where you’re going to do it? However, there is still plenty of preparation you can do to make Christmas special this year. Thankfully for you, I’ve managed to get them to begin with the letter P.
The first port of call is to work out who you exist to serve. In the business world its called a Target Market, and it’s all about understanding the attitudes, interests and opinions of the people your church exist to serve. And don’t forget, the church is a missional organisation, that means it exists to serve the people who aren’t yet part of the church. What is your community’s views on COVID-19? Listen to your target market and build the programme for them.
The second step is to determine why you are doing the event. Is it evangelistic? Is it serving the community? Work out your purpose and it will steer everything else.
What problems are your target market facing? What needs do they have? You need to be empathetic to the needs of the people you are serving. Everyone is looking for solutions to their problems, that’s why we have goods and services. What is the problem that your church can help to solve in people?
Essentially, this is strengths, but that doesn’t begin with P. What are you good at as a church? If you’re good a music, lean into that. If you’re good at community work, lean into that. Every church is good at something, so find your strength and look to start there.
Positioning is all about finding what makes your event unique. If you are just doing what everyone else is doing, you’re not helping, you’re just doubling up. You need to find your unique lane.
The product is the core benefit that you’re offering. What, at its most basic, are you offering to people? If you’re running a Christmas soup kitchen, you’re not offering soup, you’re offering friendship, compassion and care. If you’re running a carol concert, it not music, it’s an experience with something transcendent.
Provision is all about money. How much money have you got budgeted to run the event? That number will affect what is possible to achieve.
Once you’ve worked these you have the basics for making your decision on which route to go down in terms of your Christmas programme. It may not be what you’ve always done. But in many senses, that’s a very healthy thing. Something as large as COVID forces us to think differently, to adapt. In whichever way Christmas looks in 2020, it can still be a wonderful time. After all, there’s still the story to tell of God becoming human and making His dwelling amongst us – heaven coming to earth in the body of a baby boy. Whichever way you tell it, whether in word or deed, in-person or online, that story alone makes every Christmas wonderful.