This Christmas Eve many people will attend church, not to return again until Easter, (if they’re in town) and then again the following Christmas Eve (if the service met their expectations). Nothing feels as good to a congregation as seeing all those full pews on Christmas Eve. Yet most churches are unprepared to go the distance of what it takes to capture the attention of some Christmas & Easter (C&Es) attendees. If you have that same feeling in the pit of your stomach, with only nine days left, what can you still do?
1. Plan at least one great event for the first Sunday in January to draw them back. It could be a sermon series on a topic of keen interest to your target group, or a dynamite speaker on a timely topic, or even a special event for children, but tie it somehow to the morning service. You want them to return to worship if possible. Print some sort of flyer to hand out during your Christmas eve service highlighting whatever it is you have chosen as a draw.(Do not put it in the bulletin - this has to be a good PR piece!)
2. Recruit the happiest, friendliest people you can for ushers. Spend at least one hour with them to talk about how important it is to greet people positively and convey their own passion about your service and your church. Include giving directions to nursery, rest rooms, candlelight instructions, etc. Help your visitors feel like welcome guests. If your plant is large, try to have greeters in parking lot(s) as well. Use whole families as ushers so they can be together on Christmas Eve.
3. Be sure and collect as much information as you can about your visitors. Name, address, email, and phone are ideal. New people don’t want to give out this information, so your people who gather the information have to be persistent (but not obnoxious). Registration pads are the first obvious choice, but just the registration pad isn’t enough. Take up the registration pads before the ends of the service (this helps people to fill it out). Mention signing in during your greeting to the congregation. You can be funny with it (we promise not to sell your data!); or share that your church is trying to find out what neighborhoods are represented here tonight. Also have a book at the door and make sure the ushers and pastor(s) encourage people to sign in upon entering or leaving. Ask all your leaders to meet at least 2 new people at Christmas Eve services, and report back the names and circumstances of those they meet. (this helps change the vibe of the service, too)
4. Send some sort of follow up during the week after your services. It is just a doorstep visit. You could include a small gift (cookies, coffee mug, a plant, loaf of bread, whatever you can afford). In addition to the visit, send a letter telling more about your church. Try not to use ‘churchy’ language. Ask a non church person if you don’t know what that is.
5. Organize delivery of baskets on Christmas Eve to places where persons are working on Christmas Eve: police stations, fire stations, hospital ERs, nursing homes, etc. Simple items like breads, jams, cookies, cocoa, whatever your members will bring. Make sure it contains a card saying "Thank You for “ whatever it is they do for the community by working on this holiday. Invite them to join you whenever they can for worship. Include name, address, phone. You can include the pastor’s name on the card, but make sure they know that this is the church’s gift - not the pastor’s gift. People expect pastors to do things like this. They don’t expect church members to demonstrate such thoughtfulness. Do it ever year, Christmas and Easter, and you will generate much positive community buzz.
And Easter is just around the corner. This time don't wait to the last minute. Start now. What can you do at Easter to motivate some of those new people to return? Have a photographer on hand to take group pictures before or after services. Make a plan for pairing up those who come alone with others of similar backgrounds, professions, interest, etc. Then collect their information and mail the picture to them the week after. (You have to have a good photographer for this one. Don't use just anyone who will volunteer.) Plan a special series for children's Sunday School to begin the week after Easter. Make sure it's something the kids will want to come to. You get the idea. Prioritize reaching people who come to you. The effort is much better spent on those who have at least shown an interest!