We all know Christmas Eve and Easter morning are two of the highest-attended worship services in the US. This may be the only service a person or family attends for a year. The reasons for this once-annual attendance varies.  They may attend to appease Grandma.  Maybe they haven’t found the right church fit for them on-going, but want to attend a Christmas service somewhere. Or perhaps they would consider themselves spiritual but not religious but still have the desire to experience a gathered community for Christmas. Regardless of the reason, attendance for Christmas will likely double the normal Sunday average attendance nationally.  

Is your church prepared to receive guests for Christmas?  Are you waiting with anticipation?  Have you made special arrangements in preparation for these special guests?  Have you properly equipped your greeters and hospitality teams to receive these important guests? This may be your one and only opportunity to receive them (in your church or any church), so it is important to be ready.  While there are several factors to keep in mind, here are important yet simple ways to receive your Christmas guests that will increase the likelihood they will return to your (or another) faith community:

1. Keep It Real

Churches are sometimes tempted to try something cute and trendy on Christmas Eve.  Please refrain from doing so. Christmas is when people are looking for the story of the birth of Jesus, singing the traditional songs we all know (O Holy Night, Silent Night, Joy to the World, The First Noel, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing), and maybe even candle lighting.  Do the same thing you always do and do it with excellence, energy, and joy.

2. Sense of Community

In our world that is more technologically connected than ever, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis where more people are suffering from depression, anxiety, and increased feelings of sadness and hopelessness.  People (particularly younger generations) have a sincere desire for community (a place to belong, fit in without judgment, loved unconditionally), but often have a hard time finding it.  When guests walk in, they are consciously or subconsciously assessing if they see others like them and a sense if they could find community there. Make sure that your congregation understands this dynamic. If a congregant sees someone who matches their same demographic, ask them to reach out to the guest whether they are a part of the official hospitality team or not. 

3. Radical, Yet Authentic Hospitality  

A regional grocery store chain is running a commercial in my local market stating that people go where they are invited, but stay where they feel welcome.  As what I refer to in my line of work as being a professional first-time guest, I experience that most churches are friendly.  However, many churches do not offer radical hospitality.  That is, they don’t offer anything beyond the basics (greeting, bulletin, basic signage).  Radical hospitality is going above and beyond the basics or what is expected. It makes the experience memorable.  Radical hospitality is making the guest feel special, recognized, honored, and like you made special preparations for their anticipated arrival.  Yet, the experience is authentic and personal without going overboard. It isn’t an experience that would indicate that you haven’t seen a guest in months and you’re desperate to have new people stay!  It’s a delicate balance, but if the motivations are derived from the heart and not from the declining financial or attendance reports, you’ll likely find that perfect balance.

4. Invitation and Reason to Return

So much time, energy, planning, and preparation goes into Christmas. Afterward, there is often a big letdown, and we sometimes just coast into January with low energy and planning.  On the biggest attended services of the year, what do we say and offer that provides an invitation and compelling reason for our guests to return?  What will connect with guests?  What will meet a need or be meaningful for them?  Plan a January sermon series that bridges the gap for felt needs or maybe mends relationships.  Be intentional in sharing about the series.  Provide a brief overview of the series on printed invitations with times, titles for each week’s sermon, and online and small group options if they are available.

These four simple, yet powerful steps can greatly impact the way your church receives and interacts with guests. Likewise, these four simple steps can greatly impact the experience a guest has that one time they decide to walk into a church.  It may take some more time or energy to prepare, but if a guest has a better experience, feels more welcome, finds connection, takes their next steps in a relationship with Christ, or returns to a faith community in January it will be well worth it!