Are you planning a carol service this year? We are. It is one of those extra-church things that we do, that we don’t particularly have to do, in the hope it may lead some to bring their friends, family and neighbours. If we get even a few visitors, we will be happy enough.
As I have mentioned before, Christmas is not the slam-dunk evangelistic opportunity for us that it is for many other communities. Most Muslims are not looking for a local carol service to attend. Very few will come into our building because we are singing some carols. We might, possibly, get an occasional interested party who wants to see what goes on. But generally speaking, we do not have many people gearing up for a Christmas fix because most people in our immediate community do not celebrate Christmas and those that do are not likely to be drawn in to the unchristmassy vibes of our 1970s utilitarian-looking building.
Nevertheless, we will do something. We will do something because we might get one or two who wouldn’t ordinarily come to church coming in. We will do something because those who do come to church regularly like singing carols together and there is no particular reason not to indulge them. We will do something because – even though we don’t have to celebrate Christmas and there is nothing particularly Christian about it as a festival – our local Muslim community think there is and find it odd that Christians wouldn’t make a big deal out of Jesus’ birthday. Even though they probably won’t come in, what we communicate by being open and being seen to do something matters for our local witness. We will do something because it does provide another opportunity for our members to invite friends and family and some of them might well come.
Given we will do something, it bears asking what will we do? We could sing a bunch of theologically rich songs and communicate something of the gospel through each one. We could sing a bunch of obscure, but by some people’s reckoning, beautiful songs to do our very best to ape Carols from Kings. But we probably won’t do any of that. What we will do is sing really really well known carols, like the ones everybody will have heard, even if they’re perhaps not the best ones.
The reason for that is simple. Our carol service is not our regular church meeting. It is our conviction that what goes on in church on a Sunday is for the purposes of building up and equipping the saints. That is to say, what goes on in church is mainly for believers. We might have a nod to the unbelievers there, we might well want to help them feel as welcome as we can, but there will inevitably be bits of our normal meeting that makes them uncomfortable. There will be bits they can’t easily join in with. There will be things we do that are alien to them, but because God asks us to do them and they serve the membership, we do them anyway.
But our carol service is not a church meeting really. It is an evangelistic opportunity. It is a culturally appointed time when unbelievers might come into church and will willing sit down, let you read lots of scripture at them, sing some songs about Jesus, and let you talk about him afterwards without batting an eyelid. It is what Christmas is for them. So, what goes on in our carol service is not about building up and equipping the saints. It is about doing whatr we can to welcome unbelievers and try to show them Jesus and his glorious gospel as clearly as we can.
So, we will sing all the songs that they know. Not because they’re the best, but because they know them and can join in with them. We will read passages of scripture that effectively tell the story of the nativity. Not because we think they are the clearest bits of scripture for people, or because they are most likely to hear the gospel in them being read, but because that is what they know they are coming to hear. We will have an evangelistic talk that clearly presents the gospel, but we will keep it short because people have already sat through 9 reading and songs. We will dole out some mince pies and hot chocolate and whatnot afterwards because it makes people feel welcomed and christmassy. We will chat with them afterwards too, hopefully about what we have all just sat through and heard.
We are doing all that because the carol service is pointed towards unbelievers. There is nothing in the Bible about having one. There is nothing about singing carols at Christmas. There is no particularly compulsion to do anything in particular at Christmas. But if any unbelievers might come into it and join in because they’re into that sort of thing as part of their Christmas tradition, then we will gladly take the opportunity to welcome them and tell them about Jesus. So, everything we do at our carol service will be aimed to make people feel welcome as far as possible, to help them feel Christmassy as far as possible, so that we might take the opportunity to tell them clearly about Jesus as far as possible.