7 Ways to Rethink Your Christmas Services to Engage Unchurched People

Another great article from Carey Nieuwhof. You can follow him at

If you’re like many church leaders, you’re probably looking for every opportunity to connect with people who don’t normally go to church and who aren’t yet in a relationship with Christ.

People who never go to church will go to church at Christmas.

Connect well with them, and you will see some back in January. Offer up a predictable or uninspiring service, and they will all be gone again until next year (or never come back), unchanged, uninspired and still, unreached.

So here area few things we’ve done to try to connect with unchurched people that have helped.

Of course, there are many other ways to connect with unchurched people by serving in your community, serving the poor, getting out into the neighbourhood and more. But for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on what happens when they come to your church.

7 Ways to Rethink Your Christmas Services

Here are 7 ways we have rethought our services at Connexus to better connect with unchurched people.

1. Use What’s Familiar in a Fresh Way

Christmas is the only season where the shopping malls and radio stations play church music, period. We’ve made the mistake of being too unfamiliar at Christmas in the past – where in the name of being innovative, we ditched most of the traditional Christmas music. It didn’t work. People expect the familiar at Christmas. So our December worship set is almost all classic Christmas Carols, and Christmas Eve is almost 100% classic Christmas carols.

What our music team has mastered in the last few years, though, is presenting those carols in a fresh way. They’ve figured out how to do them in a fresh, almost rock show style that sounds familiar but amazing at the same time. Artists like Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, the North Point worship team and so many others have done Christmas songs in a fresh way that make old classics sound completely familiar and completely fresh. Insiders and outsiders at our church love it.

If you’ve got enough familiar in the service, you can also make space for one or two songs that might not be as familiar but make the point you’re trying to make.

2. Have Fun!

People love being surprised. A few years ago, our band and guest services team combined for a totally fun rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas. The band rewrote the lyrics, and as they sang each stanza, the guest services team ran down the aisle giving away whatever the band was singing about – from mock gifts to a few legit free gift cards. It was fun and engaging.

A few years ago the band opened with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”, pretending to have forgotten it was Christmas. The host interrupted them, told them to get their act together, at which point they played the rest of the song but switched to “made up” Christmas lyrics to finish it. I couldn’t believe the smiles across every demographic in the room.

Fun engages people. And when you’ve got them engaged, they’re listening.

3. Make the message pointed (and creative)

In the message, start with common ground. My friends at Preaching Rocket have done an unbelievable job of helping communicators understand how critical this principle is in beginning a message. But it’s never more critical than when the room is packed with outsiders.

I usually speak about 40 minutes on a Sunday. On Christmas, I cut it to 15 minutes.

We pre-shoot the message on video. This year, the message was about time.

I told a story about missing a connecting flight and not being able to see my family when I was hoping to. I then talked about how we all watch time pass us by, and used enough examples to connect everyone in the room with a moment in their life where they ran out of time.

To add intrigue, we shot the message in a 100 year old clock tower, and we themed the entire service around time—that the God who created space and time stepped into time at Christmas for us. I talked about how sometimes we think it’s too late for us to get things right with God, or that at other times we think we have all the time in the world, when we don’t. The bottom line was simple: Time waits for no one, except, at Christmas, time waited for you. I then invited people who wanted to make a decision to follow Jesus to do so.

It was short. It was creative. And I pray it connected.

Even if you can’t or don’t shoot the message via video, just focus on connecting with the people who are in the room. You don’t need cameras to be engaging. You just need to be engaging.

4. Engage people emotionally

People might not remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel.

We always try to find an opener that either uses some kind of emotion to engage people. Since this year’s theme was time, we created a countdown reel consisting of footage from the 100 year old clock tower.

The countdown ended with a bell ringing (loudly), and our band took over from there. The clang of the bell was followed by a xylophone sounding a few notes, then a snare that slowly built into a version of Little Drummer Boy. The entire stage was set with Edison bulbs and percussion instruments, and by the end of Little Drummer Boy, 8 musicians were drumming everything from tympani to snare to bass drum.

When it was over, people cheered wildly (at least they did at our opening service December 23rd…we have four more running today…Christmas Eve!).

The point…every single person was paying attention, including the guys in the room who didn’t want to be there.

5. Take care of their family

When parents are worried about their kids, they won’t pay attention. So we offer child care for the youngest.

For all the older kids in the service (ages 4-10), we offer an activity pack – crayons, games, and even sometimes some food.

When people know you care about their family, they know you care about them.

6. Tee Up the New Year

Every year, without hopefully sounding like a commercial, we invite people back for January.

They get a card explaining the new series and dates, times and locations. We don’t usually have services the Sunday after Christmas, so we let them know that too. But we tell everyone they’re invited for the first Sunday in January.

7. Pray

Really pray for people coming at Christmas (and all year long).

God loves them more deeply than any of us ever will. Pray that they would move into a growing relationship with Jesus.

And pray that we would meet them in a way that honours and brings glory to God.

So those are seven things we’ve done to connect with outsiders. What have you done?