If you haven't already done so, gather a group of church staff and lay leaders and plan your Thanksgiving and Christmas season schedule. It's important to agree among all your key leaders when making changes to your schedule. Here are five practical suggestions for planning your holiday church schedule.
1. Set the dates, times, and themes for your services.
As you plan the Christmas schedule, avoid planning around your convenience or that of your leaders. Plan your schedule for the greatest possible kingdom impact. Unbelievers are more likely to accept an invitation to a Christmas service than any other type of worship service. And, according to Thom Rainer, "if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas Eve."
We struggled with this one year when Christmas day fell on a Sunday, and felt the pressure to cancel for the sake of our staff and leaders' families. We chose, however, to have a Sunday-morning Christmas Day worship service with the theme, "Birthday Party for Jesus." We invited children to come in their pajamas and asked them to bring wrapped gifts of items for our Food Pantry. We included a special time in the worship service for children to bring their gifts to Jesus at the altar. It was well attended and God-honoring.
2. Decide when you will not have Wednesday night or other week-day activities.
I know we have anxiety about canceling church activities, but give your folks a break during these important family gathering times. It's unlikely that you will gather a crowd or have significant ministry on these normal weekday activities during the holidays. We cancel our Wednesday night activities the day before Thanksgiving and the two Wednesdays before and after Christmas Day.
This is a great time to give your staff a break and create memories with their families. Be sure to change the greeting on your church office phone line to include notice of holiday office hours and a reference to your website. Make sure your website information is up to date and clearly identifies your holiday service schedules.
4. Notify your church about the holiday schedule.
Notify them early and often. Publish your schedule frequently in your bulletin, email newsletter, church website, and blog, as well as your church and personal Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
5. "Lean-into" interruptions to your holidays.
We have been called to equip others to serve and model selfless service to others. Be prepared for interruptions and opportunities to minister to hurting people during the holidays. When these come up, share the crisis with your family and allow them to participate in the joy of showing Christ's love.
If you are interrupted by an emergency phone call, ask the caller if you can share some of the information with your immediate family. If possible and appropriate, take your family with you on a crisis visit and allow them to participate in the ministry. You may create some great holiday memories for your family.