It’s that time of year again when worship leaders and pastors try to fit in the traditional Christmas songs that they believe need to be sung for those visitors or twice-a-year members who stop by the church during the month of December. Unfortunately, most of us cave to the pressure, or to our own relief at not having to “wait upon the Lord” for a worship set, and we fill our December Sundays with everything from “Joy to the World,” to “Away in a Manger” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”
I’ve come to believe that in doing so, we miss out on one of the greatest opportunities to introduce visitors and seasonal members into the presence of God. Maybe this is why they only come once or twice a year. If we give them the cookie-cutter songs that they have on um-teen CDs at home, hear in the malls, and are rerun over and again on the radio, why would they think church was worth going to?
In most cases, our productions, cantatas, and concerts can’t compete with what the world offers for musical selection and quality. So we shouldn’t be surprised when our holiday services are filled with few visitors, and sometimes few regulars. It’s true that if visitors come to church they’ll hear the story of the birth of Jesus, but we often “dumb it down” so as not to offend those we hope might return after the holidays.
Instead we should a find a way to incorporate one or two of the traditional carols into our worship, and still find a way to worship. Only an encounter with the living God will inspire these seekers to stop and consider getting out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church.
It isn’t the Christmas decorations; they often come down before the typical New Year’s Eve Watchnight service. It isn’t our padded pews or the occasional crowd that arrives for the Christmas Eve program; both are more likely to convince visitors to stay home. Any program we deliver is easily outdone by the Box Office, so we can’t rely on that either.
I suggest, if you really want to make a lasting impression on your Christmas season visitors, stop trying to make an impression. Instead, just worship God. Preach the sermon without worrying who you might offend (after all, if we’re really preaching the Gospel it’s going to offend someone).
We should take the opportunity to our members and our visitors into the throne room of Heaven. That is when we can most likely expect the people to respond to the call of Immanuel.