(And all sing) “On the 4th day of great tips for churches Christmas Eve…” (You can go back the past three days for the first three verses.)

Tip #4: Making a Great First Impression

Just like the parking lot tips, this is where a little church member/regulars education has to happen. Everyone wants families, right? They’re not flocking through our doors like the “good ol’ days,” right? So some savvy sacrifice has to happen to make Christmas Eve guests’ arrival experience memorably positive.

Ideas:

1) Remind church members that they talk to each other every week so challenge them to go out of their way to welcome
EVERYONE and have conversation with people they don’t know so well. This has to be more than the “turn and greet one another handshake” (which I’m not a fan of, by the way). Intentional well-wishes and welcome, especially to the stranger. Give better than Jesus got His first Christmas Eve.

2) Clean up the church entrance ways. Get rid of junk; put away “business” stuff (offering envelopes, calendars, devotional books, flyers, etc.) for one night. Make sure that surfaces are neat, clean and orderly.

3) Do an “ambiance check” in the entrances: soft table lamp lighting and a poinsettia or nativity set here and there creates a lovely effect. Candle arrangements in the entrances or windows say, “warmth and welcome.” Of course, a Christmas tree with candy canes for the kids is a welcome delight, signaling that kids have been considered.

4) Make sure extra hangers for coat racks are available. In fact, why not put a few people near the racks to take people’s coats for them?

5) Front door greeters: They’re only as helpful as much as they greet. I went to a friend’s church once where the greeter didn’t say a word, just handed me a bulletin (which is not the place to hand out the bulletin. Spend time before the service with the greeters making sure they know what to tell guests about a family’s needs (bathrooms, nursery, changing table, coat racks, etc.

Feels like I’m forgetting something. Chip in here; what have I missed?

S

 

OK, friends – you’re rounding the corner. There’s 3 days to make this Christmas Eve THE most impactful ever and capture those illusive once a year attenders. You CAN do this!! (If you’re just catching this series, part 1 & 2 were the past two days. Go enjoy and then, come back and join us.)

Tip #3 – Parking Lot Impressions

Here’s where you may start stepping on members’ toes. This is the point where they have to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. “We need more families! We need more children and youth!” Well, small church – the time is now and it means you arrive earlier and park further away. Make your guests’ visit with your church the easiest as it can be. Remember that many families have gone through great sacrifice (crying kids, lost Santa gifts, etc) to get there close to on time. Don’t make their arrival experience one more reason they wished they’d stayed home.

Ideas:

1) Spread the word to church members to park farther away. It might mean helping a few of the older members to the front with a golf cart or valet service, but its worth it.

2) Have friendly members in the parking light with flashlights and a happy greeting to help point families to where they need to go.

3) Ask a few students to lend a hand if families need help getting all their stuff inside (stroller, car seat, diaper bag, a present for Grandma, etc.)

4) Make sure a few people can help older guests walk, navigate the stairs, etc.

5) Talk to people! Say “Merry Christmas. We’re glad you’re here!” Believe me, it makes a difference. I recently visited Epworth UMC in Franklin, TN and 6 people said “hello” to me before I ever reached the sidewalk. I was impressed.

Tomorrow’s tips: Creating a winsome first impression once they’re at the door.

S



Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.06.32 AMIn my previous post, we talked about potential areas of awkwardness for students when they come home for the holidays. I gave you one idea to bless them. Here I want to give you five thoughts to keep in mind as you have conversations with these students. 

  1. Be aware of their potential discomfort. Any time you have been away from something for a few months, it is going to be a little bit odd to reengage with it. This could be anything from a job to relationship with a neighbor, parents, friends…or you. You may be excited to see each other, but it doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a bit awkward at this point. There is a lot that happened in your lives apart from each other that, well, is simply impossible to share over one cup of coffee. For students to try to articulate everything they went through emotionally, physically and psychologically is daunting, to say the least. That to say, I would recommend intentionally keeping this in mind and embrace the reality that you are going to leave this meeting not knowing everything…but that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful.
  2. Ask direct/specific questions. Asking an open ended question like, “So, how was your semester?” can be overwhelming and lead to them feeling like they can’t connect with you. To think through and articulate everything in that short of time is too much, and your students can leave feeling like their life is too separated from you. I’ve found it’s much better to ask specifically about their roommate, favorite class, closest friend at school, involvement on campus ministry (or lack of), favorite or most frustrating class, or even if it’s a bit awkward for them to come back home…things like that. These types of direct and specific questions allows you to really connect, on at least some levels.
  3. Share about your personal life. You pursuing your students for a time of coffee or lunch will likely be great, but it can come across as formal – or maybe even an “accountability time” from their perspective. This can be okay, but I’ve found it’s MUCH better if you take the “pastor” hat off and share about yourself. Now is the time to intentionally begin to treat them like a friend, especially if they were in your high school ministry. This can really bridge any separation and kill any awkwardness they may be feeling about their “home church.” Sharing about your own struggles, doubts, family life, etcetera can be a great next step for your relationship – as long as you don’t dominate the conversation!
  4. Ask for prayer request. At the end of your conversation specifically ask them for ONE thing you can pray for them about. This let’s them know they don’t leave your mind as soon as they leave, and let’s them know your relationship means more to you than just being a part of your job! Periodically over the next few months make sure you send them a text message or six letting them know you’re still praying.
  5. Ask them if they’re being encouraged. You could get a whole spectrum of answers on this one, but it’s a great question to ask. Some might break into tears, while others will simply be encouraged you asked. Either way, I’ve found it to be a great question to ask. It can also give you insight into areas where you can personally encourage them. Some will be more open about this than others, but you may want to ask them specifically how their relationship is with their parents, an ex, their best friend they had in high school, etc.

- Chuck / @chuckbomar

So go back and read my post from yesterday to catch up, but the main gist is this. Christmas Eve is a big deal for small churches: guests come that don’t come at any other time and they just might give your church a chance. Or not. You’ve got four days left to make this happen so get going!

Tip #2: PROVIDE A NURSERY!

Whatever it cost to get 2+ people to staff the nursery – pay it (with background checked people, of course). $75-$100 each for two nursery workers is worth it! Better money spent than any other advertising you spend all year. Have a back up plan for a 3rd person if the numbers go over 10-12 kids.

1) Staff it properly with kind, good first impression-type people. These people will be letting parents know that this is a love-one-another type place. Make sure its not staffed solely with youth (I’m sorry, students; I love ya, but there has to be an adult there, too.)

2) Review safety procedures with the nursery workers so that when reluctant parents think they might leave their child in your church’s care, you look like you know what you’re doing.

3) Have a sign in and out procedure because believe me – parents notice. Provide a name tag for each child where any special little reminder can also go.

4) Determine how you’ll find the parents in case of an emergency – which there won’t be. Maybe its sitting in a special spot, texting them (on silent), taking their picture so the usher can find them, a small scroll on the screen, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be a small church and still have those fancy light up things the big church has. Whatever works.

5) Don’t waste the opportunity! What I mean is this: its the birth of a baby and many of these kids will understand the concept. Tell the story in the nursery. Have a Nativity set (or more than one) for toddlers to play with. Crafts that reinforce the lesson wouldn’t hurt either. Spread the good news!

All for now. You can do this! This is not a chore; this is an opportunity to serve a family that needs Jesus…and a moment’s peace and quiet. Check back in tomorrow for the third tip: The Parking Lot Experience.

 

S

 



Small church friends, if you know me at all, if you’ve been one of the churches I’ve coached in the past, you know what I’m about to say: Christmas Eve is your time to shine…so don’t blow it! You’ve got 5 days till the big night so stay tuned daily to make sure all your bases are covered.

Why, you ask? Because Christmas Eve is the best shot you’ve got for a whole year to get 1) New families with kids through the door 2) Inactive members to give you a second chance and 3) Former youth, now all grown up, to remember that maybe they did like church after all.

The 5 Tips for sharpening things up? : 1) “Never Assume Anything” Publicity 2) The Nursery 3) The Parking Lot Experience 4) Through the Front Door Impressions 5) The First and Last 5 Minutes of the Service

TODAY’S TIP: PROVIDE “NEVER ASSUME” PUBLICITY

I get it: people are busy at the holidays. Items on our to-do lists begin to slide off, shortcuts start looking really good. Fight through it, friends! Force yourselves to look through the lens of having company over…because you are!

Here’s a list of of quick tips to make what’s happening have even more impact:

1) Put Christmas Eve service times outside. Mention having candle lighting and a nursery provided. (More on that tomorrow!)

2) Make sure someone is answering the church phone all day Christmas Eve because people will be calling asking about time, candles and nursery.

3) Up-date the church website NOW with the above info and for goodness sake, put a few pictures from last year’s service on the front page to give them a taste of the beauty they can expect.

4) Update old info on the website about your children’s and youth ministries. While they’re looking for service times, they just might click over there as well. you don’t it to look like there’s nothing going on…unless there’s nothing going on (and then you need to call me for some coaching).

5) Splurge for the fancy bulletin covers and make sure its a pretty one. Don’t overcrowd the bulletin with extra fluff and stuff. At the same time, give guests everything they need to fit in with the crowd. Put nursery info in a prominent place. If you advertise anything about the church, promote the next CM/YM events. Guests see that as a sign of life in your church.

6) Have children’s bulletins ready and not the leftovers from some other thing. Make these fresh ones with picture to color while at the same time paralleling what’s happening. Come on; you can do this! Also a candy cane doesn’t hurt and battery operated tea lights for the candle light time for the wee ones keeps someone;s bulletin from catching on fire.

OK, this is enough for now. Don’t do it all yourself; divide this up into tasks and make a few quick phone calls. Check back tomorrow.

Stephanie

slumpJust got an email from a youth worker asking for some guidance. He’s feeling the holiday pinch concerning the engagement and attendance of his students. So I sent him my response and thought I’d share it with all of you since we are all in the same boat one way or another this time of the year.

You need to know that the holiday pinch is normal and felt by every ministry. The holiday season is a time for the family, so families are going to do a lot of family orientated things. Students are also taking finals before break so they are studying like crazy. Then there’s winter break so families are vacationing.

There are two things you can do during this time of ministry. One of those things is to do nothing, and just let things be the way they are. The other thing would be to take advantage of this slower time of ministry. So here are seven ways you can take advantage of this slower time of the year:

  1. Use this time to spend more time with your family. Use this time to get back some of the time you spent staying late, staying overnight, going in early and/or coming home late.
  2. Use this time to invest and hangout with the faithful few who show up to youth group. You could use this time to strengthen and build up your core students.
  3. Use this time to strategize the new year. You can launch a new name for your youth group, new ministry opportunities, you can create new activities that students can bring their friends to. You can use this time to look to the future.
  4. You can take advantage of the fact that families want to do things together. Create something for the family. Last year we started doing a Christmas play, and it’s one of our largest attended things we do. Our audience is filled with parents, family friends, and new students. It’s easy to invite someone to a Christmas play, and it keeps the momentum going.
  5. You can use this time to do some much needed training with your staff and volunteers.
  6. You can also use this time to celebrate your staff and volunteers.
  7. You can strategically use this slow season as a time to engage the families that are coming out to church for the holiday season only. Maybe beef up your presence at big church. Let those families know that you exist and the things you offer.

Hope it helps,

AC



ending2014

We are about one week out until Christmas. This means of course that we are only two weeks away from the end of 2014. Some of us had an amazing year, others (like me) will raise a glass on midnight December 31 with a scream, “GOOD RIDDANCE!” Yet, now is also when we start seeing all of the posts and podcasts about goal setting. They tell us goals are vital to accomplishing anything in the coming year, and science supports this fact.

The other day I had a discussion with my husband about some discontent I have had as of late. I realized all the leadership talk about focus had me riled up. “I don’t know if I truly have any goals.” I told him. “I mean I have lots of great things I am doing for Jesus, in ministry and life, yet I am not sure if I have an end game.”

I got to thinking about goals and how I wanted to set them for 2015. Yet, if I am honest I have tried so many “methods” as suggested from everyone from the known leadership universe from Jon Acuff to John Maxwell to Michael Hyatt in this idea. I have started small, planned out, organized and used all sorts of “mechanisms.” There has been Evernote on my phone, Corkulus on my computer and even old fashioned sticky notes in my plan of attack. I keep my list for a short while and then Patrick Lencioni would accuse me of being the “fire fighter” in his book, The Advantage. I lose sight of the the vision, because I am so focused on dealing with the issues of the day.

Then in the last few days I have realized some real things that have hindered reaching anything:

I Forget to End the Year.

What I mean by this is that it is so easy to focus on what is ahead we don’t wrap up what just ended. Our goals for the new year really become a hold over of what was unaccomplished in the previous year. We feel guilty if we don’t really want a particular goal anymore and now we don’t know what to do. End the year. Take an honest assessment of what was and wasn’t accomplished and why.

I Need to Grieve the “Undone.”

This might sound silly, but I heard it in an interview with Michael Hyatt the other day and it really struck me. It’s important for a moment to allow yourself to grieve a little in what you wanted to do, and didn’t. What did we “hope” we would do and we never go around to is. As the overdone song says we tend to think we just need to “let it go.”  Yet, the true this that there are times when we can’t. When I don’t do this I can tend to have an extra set of “hold over goals” from past years. They sit there as a reminder of what I never get to. Stop the “someday I will be…” because it’s ambiguous and will never happen.

I Have to Acknowledge Discouragement:

I have embraced the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) with the best of them.  I have eaten the frog first. (Gotten through the toughest and grossest portion of the goal.)  Then it still seems like my dreams are somewhere  out there. Another year goes by and I still am not closer (or so it seems) to what I truly desire so my shoulders slump and I stop believing.  It’s not like I literally wave a white flag and give up.  Instead I would say it creeps in slowly until my attitude becomes one of, “why bother with this anymore.”  This is the true reason why I have stopped plodding out goals.  I am really hurt by the ones who have been stolen, buried and tainted.

To fully look to 2015 the reality is I can’t just limp through the end of 2014.

Let’s take the time to end well and then look to 2015.

What didn’t happen and we grieve it?

What was a nice idea but doesn’t need to come over to 2015?

What keeps making the list from 3 or 5 or 10 years ago that if we are honest need to go away?

Before I can even begin to craft a list for 2015, there needs to be some honesty about 2014. Are there unanswered dreams that need renewed focus?

To launch well, we need to end well. Don’t forget to take the time to actually get over this year. Everyone says 2015 is a blank slate. However, it’s not if 2014 has already crept over.

What about you? How do you end well?

Saturday Night Live doesn’t always nail it.

This time I think they did.

Check out this promotional video for an annual Christmas church service:

snlSo… can we laugh at ourselves?

In my opinion, the humor isn’t found in just one side of this. I saw comments on Twitter when it aired like “…and that’s why I won’t go to church. Such hypocrites there!”

Meanwhile, the video itself begins, “It’s Christmas, and you know what that means: It’s time for your annual trip to church with your parents!”

That in itself has it’s own sense of satirical confrontation to the nominal faith of many people who profess God to be “God” and yet put him at a very non-God place on their priority list.

I did that for many years growing up. I was the angry, apathetic non-believing teen.

Now on the other end as a pastor, I’d like to think I can still own whatever gaps I have going on these days in my life.

It’s Christmas. Don’t just give God your best this time of year. Use it as an on-ramp to something genuine all year.

Yes, every Church on this side of heaven is imperfect. Still, Jesus has faith in us. How about we put a little faith in each other and this ragamuffin, Christ-centered community He’s created for us to grow in?