10 Mistakes Churches Make at Christmastime

November 29, 2017
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By Jonathan Howe

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. Some would even say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. While it still has its wonderment, Christmastime has a tendency to be stressful as well—especially in the church. Unfortunately stress can lead churches to plan poorly and make unnecessary mistakes. Here are ten such mistakes to avoid in your church this Christmas:

  1. Missing the focus. This may seem basic, but please keep the birth of Christ as the focus in your church this year. Everywhere people turn at Christmas, they see Santa, presents, and all the other material trappings of the holiday. The church should be one place where people can be reminded of the true reason to celebrate—the coming of the Christ.
  2. Decorations outpace invitations. We talk a lot about outward focus vs. inward focus on the blog and podcast. This is the Christmas version of that tension. While nothing is inherently wrong with decorations, when members are more focused on what the church looks like than whom they’re bringing with them, there’s a problem. Remind your people that it’s more important to focus on who’s in the pews than what’s on the walls.
  3. Scrooge serves on the greeter team. Jim Collins’ popular “seat on the bus” paradigm fits well with volunteer teams. Make sure you not only have enough people volunteering for Christmas services (because you’ll likely have larger crowds), but also make sure you have the right people in the right places. No one wants to meet Scrooge as they walk into your church building.
  4. Scheduling too many events. December is a whirlwind of a month. School and work Christmas parties, church parties, church events, local Christmas parades, travel, and much more make for a jam packed month. With everything your members have going on, it might be better to simplify the church’s Christmas schedule and host a few special events than to have several events for different age groups that stretch families and resources thin.
  5. Not appreciating volunteers. I have been in several churches that hosted Christmas parties to show appreciation to volunteers. The easiest way to keep volunteers is to let them know they are appreciated, and Christmas makes that easy. A small token of appreciation goes a long way with those who keep your ministry going week to week.
  6. Not equipping families. I appreciate churches that make available advent devotionals for families. This is a great way for families in your church to start (or continue) family devotional times. There are several free online resources available as well as books like The Expected One that offer parents a simple way to point kids to the coming Christ.
  7. Ignoring community needs. Want to make an impact on your community? Meet the needs of those in the community at Christmas. There are countless ways this can be done. It simply takes asking different groups in the community what is needed.
  8. Showcasing the church instead of Christ. Christmas productions can easily become more about the church hosting them than the Christ they should be displaying in them. We know several pastors who have scaled back on Christmas events and productions because the productions became the ends instead of the means. You need to know when enough is enough—and that’s not an easy call to make, but it’s a necessary one.
  9. Failing to follow up. You’ll have guests at Christmas. If you don’t, well that’s another problem. What’s important is how you follow up with those new to your church. If you fail to follow up with guests, you’ll probably not see them next year—or ever again. Don’t miss out on prime opportunities to share the gospel with new attendees by failing to follow up with guests.
  10. Using bad theology. Sentimentality often breeds bad theology. We see it at funerals all the time, and Christmas is no different. Christmas is the most sentimental of holidays and often leads to inadvertent theological aberrations. Be vigilant to guard your theology from the pop culture sentimentality often associated with Christmas.

Has your church made one of these mistakes? Have you corrected some of them that you’ve made in the past? What would you add?

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources as well as the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at ThomRainer.com on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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31 Comments

  • Exactly about volunteers.

    I quit volunteering for The Salvation Army for this exact reason. I spent almost a decade putting well over 100 hours on their “red kettles” every Christmas season. I didn’t expect awards, recognition…..nor trinkets……I just expected a “hand shake” and a “thank you”

    At the end of the 2016 kettle season…………I got a ‘tude of “we’er the Salvation Army, you should be grateful ringing for us”

    No thank yous. No hand shakes.

    Me, “no volunteer” this year. Gave time this year to the local soup kitchen (rescue mission)

  • This article is perfect! It’s easy to get caught up in just following tradition and going through the motions. This year our Primary and Junior Sunday School classes are kicking off, Operation Santa’s Socks. We are collecting socks to distribute to the residents in our local nursing home when the kids and adults go there to carol. We want our young kids to learn to serve as well as being served.

  • Jana Stone Cole says on

    We have 2 women’s groups at church, the older ladies who meet during the day gave to a local shelter rather than exchanging gifts, and the “working” women’s group adopted a family in Puerto Rico who are struggling following the recent storms as well as sponsoring an orphanage in Mexico. Our youth are caroling a nursing home,. We also as a church donating slice and bake cookies to our food bank to give out to families

  • You can sing Silent Night and talk all you want about Emanuel, Prince of Peace, etc. Until people are first encouraged to make peace with the people sitting on the pew with them (who might not think exactly like they do) then within churches, denominations and other Christian groups, there won’t be any peace.

    • I sense a specific issue here. I think it would be safe to say it doesn’t matter what the song/hymn is that is being song, restoration of relationships is needed here. Personally I’m blessed with having been active in 5 different denominations. I never agreed doctrinally with any of them completely, but it didn’t stop us from worshipping together, being at peace with one another.

  • robert h wright jr says on

    At this time of the year, there is a :hungry flock” out there who is eager to hear the good news about Jesus. We need to tell then the story. We need to be warm and caring. Does our “flock” have a church home? Could our church become their new church home?

  • When you mention invitations, are mailers worth doing these days?

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      No. No. No.

      Use Facebook ads and personal invites.

      • Travis Johnson says on

        Jonathan,

        What is your opinion on newspaper ads? My father-in-law recently retired from serving as pastor for 31 years at the same church, and he gripes that the new pastor doesn’t use the newspaper to announce special services (but he does utilize social media). Has that gone out with the dodo bird as well, in your opinion?

      • Jonathan Howe says on

        You’ll get 10x the response from FB and Google ads than you will from Newspaper because you can target people much more easily. Way more effective.

  • Michael Bartlett says on

    This year I’ve challenged our people to PRAYER, CARE AND SHARE with a neighbor or needy family or… Show them you care about them (mow the yard, give them a turkey, or bake them some goodies etc), pray for them and then share Jesus with him. Instead of looking towards the church to programISE the benevolence I challenged each one to do it on their own. I will lead by example and I really hope my neighbor bakes me some chocolate chip cookies. 🙂

  • Bah! Humbug!

    (Sorry about that. I just couldn’t resist! 🙂 )

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    “Sentimentality often breeds bad theology.” Wow! is that ever true at Christmas and other holidays. Christ came, He died, He rose again…that’s one cohesive message.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Kathryn Dudley says on

    Great reminders! I especially appreciate the ones about focusing on Christ. My best Christmases with family were celebrated overseas where the culture did not fill in with Santa, snow, and sentimentality. We had Jesus and gave gifts. Our preschool children never thought of Santa as anything but a fun story – they knew that Jesus was the real deal.

  • It seems in churches that have a band for the worship team and there may be others, caroling has become a lost art. I’d like you ‘all to consider inviting friends and/or small groups to go caroling close to Christmas. Even if you walk the halls of nursing homes or sing at your city missions. Sing about Jesus as though this season was foremost about him. An fyi, when we sing at the nursing homes, we take plates of cookies for the staff; the care givers need a little love too. 🙂

    • Jonathan Howe says on

      Love that idea. We have done that in the past with our kids and they loved it.

    • Thank you for remembering our care givers at this time of year. I am involved in hospital chaplaincy work. Hospital and nursing home staff, as well as our first responders, face very stressful situations between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holidays can be a very difficult time for many people who are lonely, depressed, facing their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one during the year. Please remember those who care for others during these tough times. They often feel underappreciated as they leave their families to work on Christmas Day and other major holidays. God bless everyone reading these posts. Thank you, Dr. Rainer, for your work helping others in ministry. Merry Christmas to all !

  • Loved these.

    I know Dr. Rainer is as serious as a hoverboard, but I think I heard not only wisdom but also humor…

    Scrooge serves as greeter !!! The entire ensemble is now dancing in my head.

    Thank You.

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