Holiday Church Growth

Dave Rhodes

Why December attenders become January regulars

The fall season is flying by, and the blitz from Thanksgiving to Christmas is approaching.  So, before diving into a dilemma that is all too common for church leaders, we want to first invite you to a free webinar this Thursday, November 14. Dave Rhodes will talk about how to mobilize 60% of your church in six months or less.

Now, as every church leader knows, the coming weeks present a sharp dilemma.  

On the one hand, we expect that more people—including those who don’t follow Jesus—will come through the church’s doors than almost any other time of year. It’s every leader’s desire to see these people touched by God in a way that shifts the trajectory of their lives toward him. This is a huge opportunity.

On the other hand, thoughtful experience and the Bible itself teaches us that disciples aren’t made, much less fully instructed, in a single event. You might get someone to make a “decision” or “commitment,” but only time will tell whether that commitment is sincere and lasting. In addition, truly walking with God always involves walking in community with the body of Christ, and this also doesn’t happen in a single event, especially in a big crowd where it is easy to remain anonymous and hard to make new acquaintances.

So where does this leave Christmas Eve? As far as disciplemaking goes, it’s a paradox of expansive contact but limited impact—big risk for small reward.

But Christmas Eve can be more than a big opportunity with little payoff. Disciplemaking potential becomes actual when the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ by the gospel. The role of the body of Christ—the church—is to carry the good news to people but also to escort them into a new life. So the holiday attendance surge is a chance to take the hand of the person the Lord is drawing and begin to walk with him or her down a new road.

The season’s value doesn’t lie in an inclination a person feels or a decision they make when the candles are lit. It lies in the weeks, months, and years after Christmas if they begin a regular association with Christ in his church by coming back for more.

Invitations that work

This leads to a familiar question for church leaders: how do we get the people who come in December to come back in January?

At your big services, you are likely to invite people to come back to your regular ones after the season ends, but there is more than one way to give an invitation. Much of the way we invite arises from our expectations. Some leaders greet the attendance gap pattern—up to four times as many people on Christmas Eve as on the first Sunday after New Year’s—with astonishment and others with annoyance. It’s tempting to invite Christmas guests to return with a wry remark: “You know, we’re open other days of the year too.”

But our invitations to return often get poor results for three reasons:

1.  It’s an invitation to the unspecific. It’s one thing to say to your spouse, “Let’s go on a date somewhere, sometime.” It’s another thing to say, “Let’s go on a date to this restaurant at that time.” An invitation to come to church sometime results in a guest not returning to church anytime.

2.  It’s an invitation to the ordinary. Of course at some point a disciple of Jesus goes to church whether it is a special Sunday or not. But people who have only come to church because of a special event at Christmas are unlikely to come back to something that isn’t a little bit special as well.

3.  It’s an invitation to obligation. People who attend church routinely at ordinary times do so in large part because they believe they should, and rightly so. But people who haven’t yet reached that degree of commitment aren’t motivated by obligation or attracted by duty.

By contrast, invitations have a higher chance of working well when they are specific invitations to something special and desirable. We know you’re planning special stuff for Christmas. Our question is: what’s the special event you’ve planned for after Christmas?

Here’s a big-budget example that also applies to small-budget settings. One year Peachtree Church in Atlanta gave every Christmas Eve attender a book by Bob Goff. Then they invited everyone to return on Sundays in January for a new sermon series on calling with the first sermon delivered by Bob Goff himself as the guest preacher! To review, the church (1) gave attenders a gift that (2) led them to another special event that (3) kicked off an every-Sunday experience that (4) acclimated them to the routine of weekly worship.

The scale of Peachtree’s strategy may be beyond your church, but the principle works everywhere. You could promote a series on mindfulness where you teach Christian spiritual practices and their roots in the gospel. You could pick a common New Year’s resolution and build teaching and activities and give away a resource around that. It’s about thoughtfully designing next steps that smooth the path from attending at Christmas out of tradition to attending in February out of appreciation. It far surpasses hoping attenders will make the leap on their own.

A new tool for 2020

We know you and your team will come up with great ideas for how to apply this strategy in your context, but at Younique we want to provide you with some help. It’s a new tool for churches called the 20/20 Vision for Life Campaign.

This six-week campaign is designed to help each member of your church get clear on “why they are here,” their unique, divine design—something everyone attending at Christmas wants to learn more about.

The campaign kit includes:

  • a sermon outline for each week
  • small-group discussion questions for each sermon
  • a sample copy of the Younique 6-Week Primer, a study for classes and groups of all sizes that gives participants a rich taste of Younique’s gospel-centered life design process
  • a sample copy of Younique Students, an eight-week version of the Primer for teenagers
  • as a bonus, one copy of Younique: Designing the Life God Dreamed for You, Will Mancini’s new book that walks readers through an entire life design process

By planning the 20/20 Vision for Life Campaign for after the holidays, you create a specific, special, desirable event that your Christmas attenders want to be invited to. And if you want to give them a free gift to whet their appetite, contact Younique to bulk-order our book Clarity Spiral: The 4 Break-thru Practices to Find the One Thing You’re Called to Do

The 20/20 Vision for Life Campaign becomes available in December. In the meantime, we invite you to register for a free webinar on Thursday, November 14. Dave Rhodes will talk about how to mobilize 60% of your church in six months or less and will preview the 20/20 campaign.

Make this more than “just another Christmas.” Capture your guests with a new vision for life!

About The Author

Dave Rhodes
Dave Rhodes
Dave is the Pastor of Discipleship and Movement Initiatives at Grace Fellowship Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the co-founder of Younique and Wayfarer, and a collaborative partner for 100 Movements, 10,000 Fathers. Before coming to Grace Fellowship, Dave served as the U.S. Team Leader for 3DM and as Lead Strategist for Wayfarer. Dave has authored several books and resources including Redefining Normal: An Open Invitation for Ordinary People Wanting to Become Extraordinary Disciples. Dave graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University and went on to graduate from Beeson Divinity School with Master of Divinity. Dave is married to Kim and the father of 3 fabulous children—Emma, Izzie and Frankie.