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Make spirits bright with a seeker-friendly outreach event this Christmas

 

By Elle Turner

What does it take to throw a good party? Good friends, tasty treats, great location, maybe even fun activities. Right?

You got it!

And that’s also how your church can host a successful Christmas event to attract visitors from your community — including people unaffiliated with a church. Christmas is a magnet, cozily attracting the lukewarms and even (sometimes) the stone‑colds!

OK, let’s back up a little. Yes, hosting an event that invites people from outside your congregation doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Your church, whether there are 20 or 20,000 of you, can host a simple, festive and successful seeker event.

Last year, United Methodist Communications partnered with local churches to host 21 events across the U.S. during Advent to invite visitors to their local UMCs. "The True Meaning of Christmas Tour" unwrapped the true meaning of Christmas through holiday cheer, free hot cocoa and support for local church mission and outreach initiatives. After its 2017 success, the tour will continue this Advent season.

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LET’S DO IT!

Your church can host a similar fellowship event in your town to extend the same warm invitations that the denomination will be extending on this year’s tour. Breaking this idea down will help your church plan and execute a successful event.

  • Where? Choose a very visible area for your event, such as a booth in a community holiday festival, Christmas market, outdoor ice skating rink or along a holiday parade route. (You may need a permit or permission to be at specific locations, so be sure to research this in advance.) Seek places that attract high foot traffic and passersby.

  • When? Nights and weekends are best (obviously) because that’s when most people are free from the obligations of work or school, which means they may be more willing to stop and chat. Plan for your volunteers to stay on-site for at least a few hours to visit with as many people as possible.

  • Who? Any of your church congregants can participate, regardless of age. A kind and welcoming attitude is all that’s needed to greet passersby (especially families). Your greeters can wear wear shirts or buttons featuring your church’s name, if you have them.

  • What? Extend an offer to those you greet, whether it's a free cup of hot cocoa, an invitation card to your Christmas services or Christmas stickers for kids. Extra tips: Make sure to have an insulated dispenser to keep cocoa hot! Set up a table and a few chairs, so visitors (and volunteers) can take a break. Don’t be offended if not everyone wants to chat. They aren't expecting to run into you, although you’re anticipating them. Relevant but neutral conversation ideas: What Christmas means to them or what Christmas plans they have.

  • Why? So people in your community will see the church as part of the community, not as a separate entity that ignores people outside its doors. If your faces and logo are seen outside your church property frequently, people are more likely to look you up online and consider getting to know you better.

  • How? As in…how can you call this event successful? It’s a great idea to count the number of invitations or cups of cocoa you’ve given out. That way you know how many people have received your marketing message. You could also provide prayer cards for passersby to complete, asking for their name, contact info (phone number or email) and how your church can pray for them. Two or three days after your event, contact these people to say something like, “Hey John, it was nice to meet you at the Holiday Market on Saturday. I’ve been praying for your big presentation at work. How did it go?” or “Hi Jane, thanks for chatting with me at the Christmas parade last week. My church is praying for your health to improve. How are you doing?”

Here are more great tips to make your event a success.

  • Get the word out! Whether you buy Facebook ads, spread the word through your church and church members’ social media accounts organically, or hang fliers around town, let people know the details about your event at least a week in advance. This will not only boost awareness of your church’s creative outreach efforts but also your foot traffic during your event.

  • Write a press release and email it to local media outlets (newspapers, radio and television stations) to tell them about your event and other activities and worship services throughout Advent.

  • Consider using Facebook Live during your event to broadcast your outreach to a wider audience. If you do this at the beginning of the event, people may still have plenty of time to attend.

  • Submit your event to community calendars to be a visible option for those looking for activities in the area.

No matter the type of event you host, your church will be in the community where your neighbors are — as Jesus was with his community, hanging out with all people. Make the most of your time, and after evaluating how your event went, consider hosting another using what you’ve learned from the first one.

Elle Turner

— Elle Turner was a print journalist who then got into social media marketing back when people thought it was ridiculous to have a career involving Facebook (2009 is not that long ago!). Until recently, she was a marketing manager at UMCOM but has returned to marketing local media at Nashville's WPLN. In addition to digital marketing, she enjoys experiential marketing and event planning. While Elle thinks digital is a fun world, nothing pleases her more than seeing the smiles on people's faces as a result of a memorable event she's planned.