(Photo: Sean Lyon)
The Advent season is about preparing for the birth of Christ. But for many churches, it’s also about drawing newcomers.
Churches often see attendance increase at worship services for the four weeks of Advent and Christmas, but new attendees don’t always stick around. This year, like always, churches are using new initiatives to court the "Chreasters" – people who only show up at church on Christmas and Easter.
Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., is preparing for a four-day worship blow-out to attract newcomers this year. They are hosting worship sites at 30 different locations around Charlotte starting on Dec. 21, and going through Christmas Eve.
Outreach and Communication Director for Elevation Tonia Bendickson told The Christian Post that their “Code Orange Christmas” is about creating a sense of urgency, of putting people on high alert that knowing Jesus is important.
Elevation is expecting thousands of people to attend the different services over the four-day period, and on Christmas Eve alone there will be 14 worship services.
“People who don’t get an opportunity to go to church will make an effort at Christmas and Easter,” Bendickson told CP. So Elevation is preparing a worship service with high-energy creative elements. “During the Christmas season people are looking to connect in a deeper way.”
According to data from LifeWay Research, a research entity of The Southern Baptist Convention, the Christmas season is when Americans are most open to matters of faith.
A 2008 survey revealed that 47 percent of those polled said they've been more open to faith during the holidays. That's more than after a national crisis such as 9/11 (38 percent), after a natural disaster (34 percent) or the birth of a child (28 percent). The study also showed that they were somewhat or very willing to hear more about a church from a family member (63 percent) or a friend or neighbor (56 percent)
Elevation Church expects such a large crowd that they are giving out tickets in advance to make sure members have a spot, and can invite people to come with them to the services.
Lead Pastor Steven Furtick encouraged his congregation to bring people to the upcoming service: “Not only should we invite people who are far from God to come to church – we should bring them with us. We should do whatever we can to compel them.”
One of Elevation’s core tenets on their website states, “We Need Your Seat – We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.”
Bendickson said that for those who come to their Christmas services for the first time, church members are intentional about connecting with them. If someone was a first-time guest last year, Elevation sends them invitations to their services the following year.
Like Elevation, other church bodies are pushing for higher attendance as the Christmas season approaches.
This year, the Catholics Come Home project is running a $3.5 million TV campaign nationwide.
In an online Advent greeting from the Episcopal Church, a young adult woman talks about spending past Christmas holidays at church and invites everyone to services.
While some churches are making an effort to introduce more people to Christ this season, not all are focusing on outreach, which LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer laments. He told Religion News Service, “When we get caught up in all the celebration and don't take time to think about communication, we miss a big point of the Christmas season. I would grade churches a C or a D on this. A lot of churches just go through the motions and assume people will come."