According to some research undertaken by the Campaign for Real Christmas almost ten years, many church members shy away from inviting friends to attend a carol service for fear of losing their friends.
And yet, there is no easier service to which we could invite our friends. According to David Clark, the former Director of the Campaign for Real Christmas:
There is a comfort zone about a carol service that is unique. They are a natural way in for people who wouldn’t normally see themselves as churchgoers. Attending carol services is not perceived as a committedly religious act, merely part of what makes Christmas, Christmas.
And yet many people will not venture to church on their own – they will only come if they are given a personal invitation and then brought along by a friend. But if non-churchgoers are invited to attend a carol service, the same research has shown that the majority would be tempted to attend! So let’s be more adventurous in inviting friends to our special Christmas services.
Let’s be more adventurous in inviting people to our carol service for young families. According to some research undertaken by the Mothers Union three years ago, eight out of ten parents with young families want their children to believe in the nativity story. If that is true, then surely they will be more than willing to come to a carol service designed with the needs of young children in mind. But they will only come if they are invited.
Christmas Day apart, our best attended carol service is on ‘Carols by Candlelight’ on the Sunday evening before Christmas. It is always an extraordinarily attractive service – people really enjoy singing traditional carols and listening to the familiar readings. People love too the mulled wine and the mince pies served at the end. It’s a great service to invite people too – and many people do respond to the invitations given. And yet the reality is that the majority of people present are regular church goers.
The service which is most attractive to non-churchgoers is Christmas Eve. This is certainly true in many Anglican churches, where attendance at Christmas Eve services has increased by 25% in the last ten years. Interestingly, it is also true in our church too. The candle-lit ‘Midnight’ service on Christmas Eve always attracts the highest proportion of non-churchgoers. I believe that we need to take this phenomenon more seriously. Instead of being slumped by the television on Christmas Eve, I wonder whether some of us need to be more proactive in inviting our non-Christian friends to that service in particular.
And then, of course, there is the Christmas Day service itself – always a pack-out, and always great fun. For the most part people come together, rather than on their own. This is the service to which children in their 20s and 30s who have long given up on church will come together with the family. It is in fact a great Gospel occasion.
At this very moment I am busy preparing for the Christmas services. Would that every member of my church were also busy preparing in their thinking and their praying as to who they might bring to those services. Note, incidentally, the word ‘bring’. It is not just about thrusting a Christmas invitation into somebody’s hands – it is about suggesting that we call on somebody and bring them to church. With a little faith and with a little effort, we could double attendance at every Christmas service: with a little more faith and with just a little more effort, we could even treble attendance. But will we?