Preparing Your Church for Special Holiday Services
Christmas, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, New Years—each year the church faces the task of figuring out how to make the most of these holiday weekends. Some pastors look at holidays as a nuisance—people out traveling leads to lower attendance, often making for a mad scramble to fill volunteer slots. And of course pastors are preparing messages and working through the holiday instead of going off to grandma’s house like everyone else.
Holidays, though, do represent specific and meaningful opportunities for ministry. Handled and planned properly, they can be turned from anchors weighing you down to assets that move the church forward. A few ideas related to holiday weekends:
There are no throwaways. Realize above all that there are no lesser Sundays in your ministry year. Church leaders often think of holidays like New Years or Memorial Day as “off Sundays”, with lower crowds as families travel. The temptation is to put in less effort on these weekends in terms of planning, preparation and sermon content. Instead, take the stance that each and every Sunday is worth 100% effort. A holiday weekend may result in a lesser crowd, but never forget that God works through His church each and every time she gathers. Every Sunday, regardless of crowd, is a fresh opportunity to preach the Gospel, minister to people and move the church forward.
Work within the flow. Be sensitive to what day a holiday falls on. Easter often intersects with Spring Break. Christmas and New Year fall on different days each year. Look at these dates at least a year out and begin to determine the best course of action for ministry programming based on when they fall. In 2011 for instance, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Because my church has a significant Christmas Eve outreach each year, we determined to make that our “weekend service” and cancelled services entirely on Sunday morning, Christmas Day. In 2012, Christmas falls on a Tuesday, so we are making our Sunday morning services on December 23 and our Christmas Eve services on December 24 identical, since it is unlikely most families will come to both.
Do something dangerous. Don’t be afraid to try something different on a holiday weekend. Even something a little dangerous. On Thanksgiving weekend, we have typically held a special service of prayer each year, which is a unique draw on a holiday weekend. We ask people to come forward with their prayer needs. Using the biblical example, we anoint them with oil and pray for them. It is a special time of worship. On the Christmas Day Sunday in 2011 when we did not meet, we pre-taped and provided a DVD devotional from our pastor for each family to use in their homes on Christmas morning. We encouraged families to stay home, open gifts, and then worship together in their living rooms. Look at holiday weekends as an opportunity to try something different.
Value volunteers. Holiday weekends are a tough Sunday for volunteers. Sometimes folks need to travel to see family or for vacation. It’s a foregone conclusion you’ll be down a few helpers on Memorial Day weekend, for instance. For this reason, communicate holiday plans far in advance, and plan for your needs on these days ahead of time. It’s always easier for someone to plan to be present on a specific day than to hit them up at the last minute because you didn’t think ahead. Volunteers will very much appreciate knowing your church’s holiday plans in advance. It’s a good idea to maintain a record of your holiday attendance to establish a pattern of behavior on each holiday weekend. As you look back each year and compare the holiday weekend to the Sundays before and after, you’ll hopefully begin to see a pattern that allows you to more easily predict your precise volunteer needs.
Separate spiritual from secular. Finally, be careful to separate spiritual holidays from secular ones. The temptation is to mention every holiday from the pulpit or make some spiritual emphasis from it. Some holidays lend themselves to this readily—Thanksgiving and a spiritual emphasis on gratitude and thankfulness, for instance. Others you may want to be more careful with. Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day—these holidays can have spiritual elements, but are not necessarily known as spiritually-celebrated days. Ask as you plan these weekends, “How does Scripture move us to treat this day with respect to our church and ministries?”
At one church where I served we had a tradition of a Sunday afternoon picnic on the Saturday of fourth of July weekend. This made the traditional American holiday into a time of fellowship for the body. On Memorial Day and Independence Day, we also typically have some recognition of those who have served in the military. However, we will often stop short of doing an all-out “God and country”-type program. Your church will draw these lines at differing points depending on the holiday and what God is calling your congregation to accomplish in ministry on a given weekend.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.