Church Army - Inspire November 09 -

MIKE ELMS from introduces a campaign to return Jesus and the Gospel message to the heart of the Christmas season

November is here. The nights are drawing in, leaves are departing from trees, there’s an occasional nip in the air and Santa Claus has arrived in our shopping centres.

Tree decorations and stocking-fillers are on sale, strains of Frosty the Snowman follow us around the store, and The Grinch and Miracle on 34th Street DVDs are making their seasonal appearances.

As Christians we love the fun and festivity as much as anyone; it is a special time of year, a time of family, of receiving and of giving. But we also bemoan the ever-increasing marginalisation of Christ in a festival that is, after all, the commemoration of his birth.

As we survey the serried racks of greetings cards proclaiming ‘Season’s Greetings’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ (or even the hideous ‘Wonderful Winterval’) we ask ourselves: are we alone in feeling that Christmas without Christ is essentially meaningless?

A Hamlet without the Prince? Batman without Bruce Wayne? Does anyone else even care, we wonder.

The answer, most emphatically, is that they do. Research undertaken this year by Theos, the Christian think-tank, revealed that 85% of people agree with the statement that ‘Christmas should be called Christmas because we are still a Christian country’.

So, for once, the Church has public opinion on its side. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Research also shows that only 12% of adults know the facts of the Christmas story in any detail – the figure dropping to just 7% amongst 18 to 24-year-olds.

So, if we Christians really want to keep Christmas focused on Christ, we need to be retelling the story of his birth in ways which engage positively with the public’s interest and stimulate their imagination.

Which is why, all over the country and across all denominations, churches are being urged to participate in a new advertising campaign.

Designed to run for at least five years it features the line: ‘Christmas starts with Christ’ and sets out to retell the nativity story in a modern, secular context.

Bus shelter posters will display a painting by the renowned artist, Andrew Gadd, in which he depicts the traditional nativity scene in what he believes is the modern day equivalent of a stable – a bus shelter.

Radio commercials light-heartedly set the nativity in the context of a soccer match, a horse race, a police car chase and even the Christmas pop chart countdown.

The ads have been created by an ecumenical charity,, comprising senior communications officers from the Anglican, Methodist and Baptist churches, from Church Army, Salvation Army and the Evangelical Alliance, together with Christians working in secular media, communications and advertising organisations.

Church leaders across the denominations have welcomed the campaign and are urging churches to get involved.

Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon and author of the recently published book Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? says: “This year’s atheist bus adverts backfired (for the atheists) by putting God on the public agenda and provoking people to ask if he is there. Well, Christians now have a chance to say a firm and confident ‘yes – and he looks like Jesus!’ Christmas is his festival.”

But, the campaign will only work if churches get involved. And it’s easy to do so. Just visit the website From there churches can buy a poster site on a bus shelter nearby or, in the case of rural churches, in their local town for just £100.

Churches Together organisations might like to buy several sites. Radio campaigns can be bought in a similar way.

There are also numerous materials to download, all free of charge – including the poster artwork and radio commercials. You may like to play the commercials at one of your worship services and adapt the poster artwork into invitations to those services.

CPO is offering a range of materials based on the theme of ‘Christmas starts with Christ’. In a parallel initiative, the Baptist Union is encouraging all churches to help people ‘Get in the picture’ by staging interactive nativities in shopping centres. Visit for more details.

In a pilot exercise last year, 500 poster sites were bought and 1,200 airplays of the radio commercials were funded by local churches and Churches Together groups. The aim this year is to run the poster on at least 2,000 bus shelters over the last two weeks of December and to double the number of radio airplays.

This would mean that the campaign would be seen or heard by around 60% of the UK population. Imagine the impact that will be created! What a powerful message. What a wonderful Gospel proclamation.

And, what an opportunity to go one step further. On Tuesday 22 December, churches across the country will be encouraged to stage the country’s largest ever outdoor Carol Concert, simply by each church gathering together at the appointed time at ‘their’ bus shelter. Effective outreach for individual churches, and also a tremendous display of Christian unity and commonality of purpose.

But, as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it. Christmas starts with Christ, but the campaign starts with each of us.

To help get the ball rolling, the first 100 churches to buy a poster site will, providing there is availability, receive an additional site free of charge.

So, don’t delay: visit today, and get Christmas started!

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