As Christmas 2020 approaches, many churches are facing the unusual challenge of planning their holiday celebrations without a clear picture of how COVID-19 will affect their ability to gather in-person. From state to state and church to church, restrictions, guidelines and a resurgence in COVID cases have many church leaders scratching their heads about how to plan for Christmas, holding onto old familiar traditions and also embracing the reality that it just won’t be the same this year.
Regardless of what your church chooses to do for your in-person gatherings, it is vitally important that you remember that your online audience will be substantial and, in some cases, may be your only audience. Creating a unique and impactful online experience for your church family is important. And, in following the formula outlined in this post, really shouldn’t be that complicated.
Reflecting on my decades of experience as a worship pastor, creative arts director and senior pastor, I have put together a list of five components that I believe will make for an engaging experience for families as they huddle up in front of the television or computer screen on Christmas Eve.
The best way to grab the attention of your online audience is to launch your service with something fun. Most likely, it will be something musical, but it doesn’t have to be. Your opening element should create a level of excitement and anticipation. If you had a view into the homes of those who attend your church (and the unchurched neighbors in your community who you are trying to reach) you would see homes that are already filled with excitement and anticipation. Do something to build on that. A fun element at the start of your program will create momentum and set the tone for the entire event.
People love to laugh. And it’s good medicine! Science has shown that laughter increases endorphins and relieves stress. While most of the houses tuning in to your event are full of excitement and anticipation, there’s no doubt that Christmas can create a lot of stress as well. 2020 has been a year highlighted by elevated levels of stress and anxiety. For many, this Christmas season may add to that stress. Considering illnesses, unemployment, travel restrictions and a battery of other issues, do your best to bring some levity to the event and give people permission to exhale. Laugh a little. It’s good for everyone.
One of the most important elements of any Christmas celebration is the inclusion of familiar songs, stories and sayings that enable the audience to participate. Sing some carols. And don’t go too crazy with the arrangements. Give your audience the opportunity to sing along and soak in some moments of nostalgia.
Ultimately, our online experience should guide our audience into a reflective acknowledgment of the importance of Jesus Christ’s birth. Reading scripture, the Christmas story, and highlighting the profound nature of why this event is critical to our eternal hope and salvation should be the central element of your Christmas online experience.
Finally, your online experience should have a clear call to action that will propel each individual forward in their pursuit of Jesus. Be considerate of where people are on their journey. Some in your audience will have been following Jesus for many years. What’s their next step? For those who are new to church and who have not yet been fully challenged to consider the Gospel of Jesus, how do you lead them to their next step? Make it clear. Make it easy. Make it intentional.
If you really want to make your Christmas Eve experience enjoyable and accessible, be sensitive to the length of the program. Your audience will thank you. If there’s one thing that has been consistently noted during the hard-shift to church online during COVID-19, it is that engagement levels for online worship are stronger when the service itself is shorter. It’s not that the message is any less important and that it doesn’t warrant the time. It’s just a matter of attention spans, distractions and the lack of personalization with an online service that makes it more difficult to sustain viewing of a longer service.
Plan your service in a way that allows transitions to be clean and tight. Be efficient in your delivery and make every minute of that forty minutes (or less) meaningful.
Apply these 5 (plus 1) components to your Christmas Eve Online Experience and create a memorable and meaningful experience for your church family and those in your community you are hoping to reach for Jesus.
Schedule a free 30-minute call to find out how you can promote your Christmas events and activities online with interruptive ad campaigns.
Bart Blair is the founder of Make More Discisples. He has more than 20 years in corporate, church and non-profit leadership experience. Bart lives in Frisco, Texas with his family where he serves as a Church Growth Consultant and Strategist.
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