Engaging community at Advent and Christmas
Advent and Christmas can be a prime time for engaging with the local community. A tangible excitement grows and amidst the busyness of preparing and shopping there is often the gathering together of families and openness to engage in festive activities.
So what can you do?
Start with engagement. Utilise contacts you already have or start to forge new ones at the local school and clubs e.g. Brownies, and distribute invitations. Don’t forget to ask congregation members to personally invite people they know and meet. You could also have a presence at local events early in the season such as a Christmas craft fair. Book a table and offer a free ‘make and take’ activity and invite those you meet to other activities and services taking place at the church.
Offer something that would appeal. Many people don’t automatically ‘connect’ with church but if they come to a church activity they usually aren’t averse to hearing something Christian. Organise a session such as making a wreath, Christmas decoration or simple gift; offer refreshments and have a short five minutes slot for sharing the gospel relevantly. Let people know what else is happening at the church and have invitations ready to hand out.
Make all people of all ages welcome. New visitors might never have been to church before, let them know what is happening and why. Be visual, be relevant, be engaging. Encourage the congregation to offer a warm welcome with conversation, hospitality and acts of kindness.
Evelyn Speed, Lay Reader at St Nicholas Church Dereham explains the development of their Christingle service:
“At St. Nicholas Church, Dereham, we regularly take Collective Worship in each of the Dereham Primary schools, but although the children are enthusiastic and participate, they are often not able to share what they have heard with their parents.
To bridge this gap and allow children, their families and people of all ages to experience a new way of experiencing the love of our Lord we began a Messy Church and now have an average of 40 children attending with their families during half-term holidays.
At Christmas we invite families to a Christingle service on Christmas Eve. It used to be just one, but over the past few years, numbers have increased dramatically; 2016 saw an attendance of 984 across three services, with ages ranging from 0-93 years.
The service is usually accompanied by large glove puppets in the form of Simeon Sheep or Desmond Donkey borrowed from the Diocesan Resource Centre, to assist with the visual aids and the singing, and helping everyone to ‘hear the word’.
Last year, Desmond Donkey brought a very large Christmas card, which demonstrated ‘the heart of Christmas’. A large glittery heart on the front of the card was removed to show a silhouette picture of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. Inside was the story, as told by Desmond, of his experience of that first Christmas. Simple words but well received by all of the congregations.
At the end of each service, Simeon or Desmond take up position in the porch to wish everybody a Happy Christmas. It’s amazing how young and old shake a hoof as they leave and wish a Happy Christmas in return.
This may be just one event, but it is memorable and sets a precedence for people wanting to come again. We also extended invitations to Messy Church and continue to seek opportunities to invite and encourage families, ensuring that we sow the seeds of faith for their futures.”
If you are looking for bright ideas for engagement why not visit: www.dioceseofnorwich.org/churches/children/resource/connecting-with-community
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