Following the recent government announcements on COVID-19, the hospitality industry are reporting bookings down by 40% at this busy time of year. Many are saying it is as good as lock down for them. As we enter the busy Christmas period for the church, many of us may find the likelihood of people actually coming to any of our events might be similarly hit hard.
For many, this will be considered a nightmare. Christmas is the best time of year for their evangelistic outreach. For them, people are just waiting to get their fix of Christmas tradition. They are looking for carol concerts and Christmas Day services. For it to be hit by the government’s caution – and the even stronger comments from the Chief Medical Officer – this yearly open door will be a big blow to many.
We, like many others, have a few events lined up this year. We are planning an event at a local cafe – one of the prime places being hit by the announcements – as well as a traditional carol service the following day. We hope many will still come regardless. But if not, for us, it isn’t a total disaster. Obviously we would rather people came and we want to take the opportunity, but we don’t load Christmas with quite such significance because it isn’t the easy open door for us that it is for many others (something I have spoken about at more length elsewhere).
I understand the worry about events being closed down. It is obviously not something to be pleased about. But if your evangelistic endeavours are made or broken by a significantly reduced Christmas programme, or a lot less people coming into those events, then can I gently suggest you might be placing too much store by your Christmas programme.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have one. Nor is it to say that it isn’t a shame that fewer people will come in. But a one-hit bit of Christmas evangelism that isn’t coupled to year-long evangelism and discipleship entirely apart from Christmas will not be all that effective. And if you are doing year-round evangelism and discipleship, the opportunities being diminished at Christmas is that much less important because you’ll still be reaching out on Boxing Day, and after New Year, and in the middle of May, June and July too.
I wonder if our major concern on these things sometimes points to the reality that we aren’t that evangelistically driven the rest of the year. Maybe Christmas isn’t your thing, but summer camps or missions. If the opportunity went, would you be beside yourself? Would you wonder what on earth you are going to do now? I’m not saying – were that to happen – we should necessarily be pleased at the loss of those things, but does their loss spelling disaster in our minds belie the fact that we don’t have that much of an evangelistic drive most of the time?
It strikes me that the moral of the (potential) loss of Christmas opportunities is that we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the cultural, event-driven basket. Rather, we should gear our churches up not to the big, one-hit wonder events primarily, but let those things (such as you feel there is a good opportunity to be had by them) serve your existing, long-term, year round evangelism and discipleship.
A focus on the regular and routine mean the loss of any given single event is considerably less disastrous. Focusing on the regular and routine is more likely to have gospel impact as you see people, not just once, but regularly. And as you regularly engage with them, you will be able to build on things you have said to them before. Rather than only being able to share the essential gospel message with them once (and I’m not suggesting that has no value), you will be able to share that with them and continue to apply the gospel to their life and speak into the real concerns they have over the long term.
Events and one-off opportunities are fine. I’m not knocking them. But rather than gearing everything around them, I think we are better served letting those things – if we’re going to do them – serve our more regular, ongoing work. And if we do that, the loss of potential people coming in at Christmas will not seem such a big deal after all.