Four Essentials of a Great Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve is the most likely time an unchurched person will walk into your worship space. It’s a huge opportunity. My fear is some churches go through the motions since Christmas Eve is the peak of the busy season and volunteers are short in supply.

Your Christmas Eve service is worth the effort. Families are often together during this time. That uncle who refuses to go to church will often capitulate and go to a Christmas Eve service since the rest of the family is going together. Those who are detached from the church will often return for sentimental reasons. Additionally, the unchurched will recognize many Christmas songs, so they are more likely to participate. If the New Year is all about resolve, then Christmas is all about hope. Christmas is one of the few traditions in our culture that is universally accepted.

With these thoughts in mind, there are four essentials of a great Christmas Eve service.

Keep it simple; keep it classic. Sing songs everyone knows. It’s not the time to be avant-garde. Most people expect a traditional feel and tone to the service. Light candles. Sing Silent Night, or something similar.

Make the service guest-friendly. You will likely have more guests at this service than any other service in a given year. Let people know when the services start, make signage clear, and advertise in as many places as you can. The community is coming to you on this day. Greeters need to be extra sensitive in helping people get to the right place. Lastly, think carefully about doing things like the Lord’s Supper. Many people in the service will not be connected to the church. Ask the question, Is this the best time for things like the Lord’s Supper?

The service should be shorter, not longer. Since most churches have limited childcare, and families sit together, the service should last about 45 minutes. I typically teach for about 10 or 15 minutes, focusing on sharing the gospel through the story of Christ’s birth.

Be more positive and less prophetic. Pastors who neglect the prophetic voice—those who are not forth-telling—are not really preaching. There is a time to call out the woes of culture. There is a time to be pointed, even angry. Christmas Eve is not that time. Understand your culture and consider your context. The setting of Christmas Eve is ripe for encouragement. Reach people in the right way with the right methods and in the right tone.

If you do not have a Christmas Eve service, then your church is likely missing a big chance to interact with the unchurched and share the gospel. Incorporate these four essentials and capture the opportunity.

Posted on December 22, 2021

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Good stuff. I always keep my Christmas Eve services short and traditional. That means I not only use traditional Christmas songs, but I also use the King James Version of the Bible. I’m not a “King James only” man, but I love its poetic style, so I use it my Christmas Eve services. Granted, some verses in the KJV use rather obscure language that may be hard to understand. In those cases, I go with the New King James.

    I would add one more point: the service should culminate with a clear presentation of the Gospel. Christmas is about our Savior’s birth, but His birth is rather meaningless without His death and resurrection.

  • Thanks for this Sam. More encouragement, less prophecy. If we offer something meaningful… they might come back in January!

  • All good and valid points. An additional consideration: “family” services labeled as such signal parents that children are welcome and encouraged. However, there is a segment of congregations and communities that tend to be overlooked. For some persons, “family” services can result in holiday sadness rather than Christmas joy. For example, a widowed person who may spend Christmas alone, or a divorced person whose children are with their former spouse for the holiday, or simply an individual who is going through life solo for whatever reason. For these people, a “family” Christmas Eve service can be the loneliest hour of the holiday season whether church members and the unchurched. If a church is holding a “family” service, hopefully they are also offering a traditional service without the emphasis on families.

  • Excellent reminders. This is probably one of our best attended services for the very reasons you mention. People are nostalgic about the carols and the telling of the Christmas story. It is also a great service for your regular attendees to invite others, because many people want to have a traditional “Christmas Experience.”

  • Samuel Shaver says on

    Excellent points.

  • David Woolverton says on

    This is such a good reminder, Sam! Thanks! And Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  • Great advice, Sam. Lack of volunteers is certainly an issue, but if we keep it simple that helps. We do under an hour, use traditional carols, have a brief children’s story and I share the gospel for about 10 minutes. We always stress that it’s a family service, so children’s noise is not an intrusion.

    Several years ago we tried something that we are repeating this year because it was so well-received. We are having several people read verses of Luke 2 in other languages, and the theme of the service is “Christmas is for everyone.”