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How to engage the local community in your church Christmas service

In the first of three articles looking at your church and Christmas, ANDY BODKIN explains how a joint carol event helped churches engage with people in their town in Sussex ...

Christmas is an opportunity like no other for introducing new faces to the local church. People are often more willing to come for a visit and hear the greatest story of all.

A few years ago I was asked to help put together my home church’s Christmas service, I wondered what would happen if all the local churches worked together to engage our communities, instead of working separately.

Hailsham is a medium-sized town in Sussex and at the time of the first Community Carols by Candlelight it had approximately 15,000 inhabitants and seven churches. It was typical of towns across the country where each individual church held its own Christmas Carol Service. Most of the local churches were members of the local Churches Together group so I approached them and asked if they would like to arrange a more community-wide celebration.  

I think the idea that someone would be willing to put on a Christmas Service for them persuaded them this could be a good idea!

Working as a group we decided to host the event in a “neutral” location, the town sports hall. We deliberately included local community groups and figures for different parts of the service, for example, the local schools did the Nativity and the bible readings were done by the police chief, head teacher and a councillor.

The local choral society and silver band help support the music, while the local uniformed organisations such as cubs, scouts, and St John’s Ambulance did a flag parade and placed their flags either side of the stage. We also invited local businesses to help with logistics, using an external sound company to provide the lighting and sound system. We made it a charitable event, with a collection bucket on leaving, which helped raise money for the local youth club.

The event was ticketed, but we only charged a very low fee – £1 for adults and 50p for children – and sold the tickets through local shops. This not only gave value to the event but also helped us gauge numbers. You tend to find if people have parted with cash, no matter how small, they will make more of an effort to attend than if the event is free.

We had approximately 800 people attend the first event and had to turn about 100 away! I’m convinced this outstripped the numbers attending the separate services. I believe it also made a statement to the town on Christian unity and that we wanted to be in the community. Through the generosity of those attending we raised around £1,000 for our local Youth Club

It was hard work coordinating such a large event, but we had a core team of six who carried the major part of the load. It was great to see so many people, who may not often be all in the same room, come together to spend time together as a community and hear the good news of Christmas.

  • NEXT WEEK: Why are nativities still so important?

FREE CHRISTMAS MUSIC!

For some community-friendly Christmas songs check out Same Boat Music’s new all-age Christmas album. There are seven original songs written by Mark & Helen Johnson, newly recorded with adult and children singing together. Download them for FREE for a limited time only at Sameboatmusic.com.

Andy Bodkin

Andy Bodkin is CEO at Same Boat Music and Out of the Ark Music, having worked previously as a global executive for Christian Copyright Licencing for 18 years. He plays guitar and leads worship in his local church in Sussex.

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