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Photo illustration by Cindy Caldwell, United Methodist Communications

How to incorporate holidays in church communication

 

By Dan Wunderlich

In most years, the relationship between secular holidays and the church calendar is familiar. In other years, Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day, and Easter falls on April Fool’s Day — as in 2018.

Whether it is a typical year or not, holidays offer us the opportunity to make connections, but there is also the potential for mistakes. Here are some tips that will help navigate the collision between holidays and holy days.

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1. Acknowledge significant holidays

Holidays are part of the rhythm of life for our congregations and communities. We are constantly reminded of holidays by everything from work and school schedules to the marketing of Coca-Cola and the local car dealership.

By incorporating holidays into our church communication, it shows that we are aware of and connected to days, events, and seasons that are important to our community. Many of these will be nationally recognized holidays, but unique local holidays or events offer an even better chance to show your church cares.

Holidays also provide the opportunity to change up our regular messaging, and this can help it to stand out. Social media is a great outlet for holiday-related content, as sharing graphics, filming videos, or asking fun holiday-themed questions can help boost engagement beyond your typical week-to-week posts.

2. Find ways to celebrate holidays outside of worship

Just because it happens to be a holiday weekend doesn’t mean your worship service has to be holiday-centric. Worship has a specific purpose, and some themes or gimmicks can detract from that purpose.

Even for religious holidays where our ultimate goal may be getting people to church, relationship building must often begin outside of the worship service. Holiday-based events that aren’t on a Sunday morning or even on church property at all may be more accessible and comfortable for visitors and non-members.

And just as acknowledging a holiday shows that you’re connected to what’s going on outside your walls, actually getting involved in community events shows you’re putting that connection into action. Have a table at the festival, enter a float in the parade, be one of the sponsors of the 5K, and get your members to show up wearing your church’s t-shirt.

For holiday-specific ideas, be sure to search MyCom’s archive. Here are a few links to get you started:

3. Make intentional connections with your community

Depending on the culture of your community, walking into a local business and pitching a partnership with your church might be a tough sell. But if it is connected to a holiday, you may find hearts and minds a bit more open — especially if there is a community service aspect involved.

If you’re having an event where food will be served, line up free or reduced-cost catering and make the restaurant a presenting sponsor. If you’ve got a big event for families with kids, invite a local radio or TV station to broadcast from the event. Connect with a locally-owned toy store or book store and see if they will let volunteers from your church offer free gift-wrapping on a couple nights leading up to Christmas, Easter, or high school graduation.

Obviously, these kinds of partnerships can be implemented any time of the year, but local businesses, like our churches, are always looking for special events and ways to connect to holidays. Be sure to tag partnering organizations in your social media posts about these events, as it will make it easy for them to share your posts with their audience.

4. Look for ways to have fun

Many holidays offer the chance for your church to show off its culture and personality. There is a reason that humor and surprise are common elements in viral videos — people love fun!

Humor is an incredible tool for church communicators and preachers to utilize, but it can also get us into trouble. Run ideas, jokes, or slogans past an extra set of eyes to check for unintended meanings or to confirm that it will actually elicit a laugh and not a groan. While humor is subjective, some jokes — like “Jesus is risen! No fooling!” for the Easter/April Fool’s Day alignment in 2018 — may be too “on the nose,” and could turn people off.

When you’re planning your calendar, be sure to note the major holidays, but don’t forget to browse the National Day Calendar to see the hundreds of smaller holidays that are happening all throughout the year. If the full list is overwhelming, Sprout Social has created a “hashtag holiday calendar” featuring a curated list of the most popular holidays. Some of the days are are not only fun, but they are easy to plan for, and they can create the space for ministry to happen.

For example, National Ice Cream Day always falls on a Sunday in July. If you give away free ice cream after church on that day, you’ll not only generate smiles all around, but you’ll create a reason for church members (and visitors) to stick around and build community.

5. Be sensitive

On the flip side, some holidays are more somber and serious. Particularly on days like All Saints Day and Memorial Day, it is easier to remember that it is a tough day for parts of your congregation. But there are also holidays that are a time of joy for some and simultaneously a time of pain for others.

Find ways to honor moms on Mother’s Day without hurting others. Remember that there are single people among the families in your church when you plan a Valentine’s Day event or marriage sermon series. Consider offering a Blue Christmas service in addition to all of the joyful events in December.

Being sensitive doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate, but we should be pastoral and Christ-like in all that we do. A great start would be to intentionally listen to your congregation and community in order to hear people’s stories and discover where the joy or hidden pain may be.

6. Be intentional and thoughtful about patriotic holidays

Context is key in celebrating every holiday, but it is especially important when approaching patriotic holidays. Again, we want to demonstrate that we recognize and honor what is important to our communities, but we also want to be clear that we worship Jesus and serve the Kingdom of God.

Patriotism in the church can be a fine line to walk, and it is always possible to face criticism no matter what you choose to do or not do. But being intentional and thoughtful will help you have conversations with those who might be concerned by your decisions. And, according to an excellent article from Discipleship Ministries on the display of the US flag in worship spaces, the inclusion or exclusion of patriotic elements by the church can be supported by both strong and weak arguments.

Another point to remember is that attitudes about patriotism and the place of politics in the church can differ generationally. For example, millennials are much more politically independent and less patriotic than previous generations. If your church desires to make connections with emerging generations, it may require a shift in some traditions.

7. Never forget your focus and mission

The church exists to glorify God and to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When the recognition and celebration of a holiday helps us do that, we should be open to it. When holidays detract from our focus or might cause confusion about our mission, we should put our focus and mission first.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23–33, Paul offers the guidance that, as we navigate the worlds of religion and culture, we should make our decisions based on what will communicate the way of Jesus to the world and ultimately what will bring glory to God.

We shouldn’t over-spiritualize holidays, but we also shouldn’t ignore what makes us unique. Finding ways to connect themes that people understand and value to the themes of the Gospel is the kind of effective communication that Jesus and the Biblical writers practiced all the time.

Dan Wunderlich

Rev. Dan Wunderlich is an extension minister focused on worship, communication, and creativity with the goal of helping ministries and their leaders better connect with their communities. Find out more about his work and his podcast "Art of the Sermon" at DefiningGrace.com.