The two ripest times of the year for engaging and inviting your community to your church are Christmas Eve and Easter. Too often pastors are more efficient than effective in making the best evangelistic use of this time.
We are efficient in making sure we have a Christmas sermon ready to preach, the building is decorated appropriately, Christmas carols are sung, and the obligatory Christmas Eve service is provided. We are efficient in making sure we have an Easter message ready, we have enough services/space allocated to accommodate the crowds, Easter egg hunts are scheduled for children, etc. etc. etc.
The question is: How effective are we in leveraging this time of the year in terms of our evangelistic outreach? I would submit that, on average, we are not very effective.
Allow me to make some suggestions as to how to make both times — but particularly Easter, since it is less than three months away — effective and most beneficial in making a difference in the lives of others.
Think of three phases.
Preparation. Even as I type this, our staff will meet for almost half a day this week, just to plan the basics of both the coming Easter services and the Christmas season. Indeed, we started preliminary talks before Thanksgiving, and some things are already set.
First, think of what messages or series you want to do leading up to the Easter weekend. This is key. We will be doing a series on evangelism, rolling out our new evangelistic approach and training. In conjunction with that, we will be asking our people to identify one unchurched person, couple, or family they will pray for and invite to our Easter services. We will emphasize this for an entire month leading up to Easter.
Second, we will talk through every part of the service, including times, the music, and the invitation. The invitation is key. Believing God for a harvest, we think through how we are going to do this, from making sure we have an efficient way of registering decisions, to making sure we have information for follow-up on people who do make decisions. For example, we give out free Bibles to those who come to faith in Christ and register their decision with us.
Additionally, I personally baptize on Christmas Eve and Easter. We will take all the professions of faith made in the past six months and contact them to schedule a baptism during one of our Easter services. We also prepare for those who may want to be baptized that day.
We also nail down all publicity and promotion we want to do for Easter weekend. Mail-outs? Invite cards? Street banners? Excess guest parking? All this and more will be vetted and settled at least two months out.
Implementation. We usually do a Saturday night service for (a) a run through, (b) a post-service evaluation as we gear up for Easter Sunday, and (c) to ask our regular attenders to come on Saturday to make room for Sunday visitors and also allow them to serve during one of the services the next day. We make sure all stations and departments are fully staffed and that any special programming is ready and coordinated. Finally we promote a new series that will be of interest to the community (perhaps on the family, marriage, or issues of interest) and invite people back the next Sunday. Easter is not a landing place but a launching pad to take you into the summer!
Cultivation. This is when all hands are on deck for follow-up. How is follow-up to be done for first time guests? For all spiritual decisions? For those requiring more information? Will it be by email? Handwritten notes? Phone calls? Some of the above? All of the above? I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. There has been too much sowing done to not do everything we can for the greatest harvest possible. The old adage, “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,” is never more true than these two crucial times of the year.
I would encourage you now to not hesitate, procrastinate, or equivocate in getting started on planning and praying for both these key seasons in your church. Everything really does rise and fall on leadership! The Lord — who left heaven and came to earth at the first Christmas to die for us and then came back from the dead on that first Easter to live in us — deserves nothing less than our very best before, during, and after these two great seasons.
Let me get an early start and say, “Happy Easter!” and ”Merry Christmas!”