Originally published by Pastor Mentor

You can lead your church through the holidays this year in a way that brings connection and growth.

Are you wondering how your church should navigate the Christmas season during the pandemic? In a year where everything is different, how should we handle our church’s holiday events?

We love the traditions that come with Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s why we do them every year. They draw us closer to each other and fix our eyes on Jesus.

But this year we have to figure out how to do the holidays with coronavirus on the guest list.

It’s another opportunity for us to step up and lead well through the pandemic. You can shepherd your church through the holidays in this upside down year in a way that brings growth and connection.

What are the problems we face in planning church holiday events during COVID?

Let’s start by getting the holiday-during-a-pandemic-problems out on the table. Why is it difficult to plan church holiday events this year?

1.We’re tracking a moving target.

No one is sure what the next few months will bring. Will the virus spike or fade? Will people get sick or will they just get sick of COVID caution? Educated guesses abound, but no one knows for sure.

2.  Everyone has their own perspective and level of comfort with being out.

Some are more open; others are more protective. Most find it hard to understand the validity of others’ perspectives.

Many people have health concerns that make COVID more dangerous, and many are related to someone they want to protect. Some places, like my state, California, are more restricted and getting crazier. Other parts of the country, and the world, resemble normal.

Planning holiday church events when everyone is all over the place requires wisdom.

3. Many of our churches’ holiday traditions are too crowded to work this year.

Anytime you’ve traditionally squeezed people into a party or a worship service will have to be re-imagined this year.

Our children’s pastor serves the whole team a sit down dinner in her home. Our Christmas Eve services are overflow crowds.

We’re re-thinking and re-designing those events to provide space for social distancing.

4.  People will feel disappointed that the yearly tradition they enjoy is cancelled.

You may feel disappointed, too. There may be a lot of expectation-bound disappointment going around this year.

These verses in Romans 5 come to mind as we help people process the pain they feel.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…   ~ Romans 5:3-5

God will use even our holiday-event-related disappointment to build endurance, character and hope in us.

What are the two key priorities as we plan our holiday events?

Nail these two things and and any holiday event will be successful.

1. People need connection.

Celebrations, by nature, our “together” events. That’s why being “home for the holidays” is so meaningful. At special times, people want to be together with those they love – in small groups, like family units, and in large groups, like the church.

The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving with as many people as possible.

At Christmas, God called together a huge swath of people: shepherds, and those they told, magi, and those they attracted. Up in the sky was a myriad of angels.

Holidays are holy days. And holy days are for gathering together.

2. People need Jesus.

The believers need to worship and pray together. Seekers need to hear how they can begin a relationship with Jesus.

A nice event that doesn’t include experiencing Jesus will leave people feeling that something is missing. Send them out with hearts full of God and they will be fulfilled.

What principles will help us navigate the holidays this year?

See your church through a season that seems dangerous and emerge into January better for  it.

1. This is a time for you to lead.

Lead your church to be bold and faith-filled. Inspire them to see how God is working and to have faith that he will give you wisdom and see you through the holidays, and the pandemic.

Every church needs the Lead Pastor to be a visionary leader, the general who says, “Let’s fight this battle.” I’ve stretched some of my staff and church members as I lead us toward church on the backside of a pandemic.

We have to move forward for Christ now.

Circumstances are different this year, but people’s needs are the same: we need a Christmas that builds up the church. Your church needs to be led through a holiday season that makes them stronger in Christ.

How to Make this the Best Christmas Ever

2. Give your staff and leaders freedom to make decisions about how their department will celebrate the holidays.

In previous years, when the world was different, we might have been guilty of having too many parties for groups and ministry teams across my church. Maybe it got to be too busy, but I believe that you celebrate with your friends, and church parties deepen friendships.

Now all these ministries are grappling with what to do about their traditional party.

Ministries have different circumstances, and I trust the ministry leaders to make the right decisions for their team and constituents.

3. Adjust church-wide events to pandemic protocols.

Our Christmas Eve service will be a outdoor, walking experience with worship and sheep. It’s completely different than the usual pack ’em into the auditorium experience, but I’m confident it will be meaningful.

Our Halloween Fest has turned into a Drive Thru Trunk or Treat. Feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving has become buying a bag of groceries that will be delivered. The children’s ministry Christmas party gospel presentation has been moved outdoors and to Halloween—when we can trust the weather better.

The staff and leaders have gotten creative, assessed what is important, what people will feel comfortable doing, what is CDC approved, and have made plans that I think will be successful.

4. Concede that some events need to be cancelled.

Have you noticed that people have grown used to having less on their calendars? We’re all surprisingly okay with it.

Some events we just don’t need to do this year. We aren’t having our enormous Women’s Connection Christmas event. It’s a big deal usually with dozens of people involved in executing it and hundreds attending. This year, nada. The women will miss it, but everyone understands it’s not feasible in a pandemic.

The changes this year will give us freedom next year to reassess and reimagine our events. That’s an opportunity we plan to use.

5. Expect to attract and enfold holiday visitors.

Christmas is a season of attracting people to church and to Christ. The Christmas bump in attendance is an opportunity that I don’t want to waste… even in a pandemic.

This year, people need Jesus more than ever. They may come to our holiday events searching for Him.

Or the Christmas-Easter-Only folks may think they’re coming just for the semi-annual touch of God, but they may find their lives turning to Jesus in a different way this year.

Let’s do all we can to Turn Christmas Visitors into Regular Attenders.

6. Attract disconnected church members back.

What about those people you haven’t seen since the shut-down last March? They are out of the habit of going to church, and may feel too disconnected, cautious, or depressed to show up.

They need a reason to come to church as much as the newcomer. Holidays events can give them just the excuse or motivation they need.

That’s why we’re focusing  on:

  • events for the kids
  • service opportunities
  • holiday traditions

That favorite holiday event, even though it’s pandemic-style, may be just the thing to attract your disconnected church member back.  And for many, when they see people, they’re surprised how sweet it is to be in community, and they’ll find ways to stay connected.

7. Invite seekers into a relationship with Jesus every weekend.

It would be easy to huddle up and just try to shepherd your sheep through these coronavirus holidays.

But that would be a miss.

People know they need help right now and they may wander into church any weekend looking for Jesus. We want to be watching for them.

I’m giving an altar call at the end of every message because I don’t know who came ready to give their lives to Jesus. More than once in the last couple of months, a first-time visitor has come to Christ. Last weekend, three first-time visitors began a relationship with Jesus. What if I had skipped the Gospel that service and those people had left without finding Jesus?

Don’t belabor the Gospel presentation, but believe that God will bring people to your church who are looking for Him. Give them a time to turn their lives over to Him.

I participated in the Weekly Gospel Challenge a few years and never got out of the habit.  See what you think: Will More Invitations Result in More Salvations?

8. Recognize that you may be hurting.

You may have lost someone you love this year. You may have been sick.

Or ironically, the fatigue from schools, stores, and church at half-speed has worn you down. The thought of leading through the holidays with joy and excitement may feel exhausting.

Lori and I found ourselves grieving at Christmas a few years ago. Here is what we learned about how to lead when you’re hurting at Christmas:

How to Lead when you’re Hurting at  Christmas

What’s Next?

  1. What do you need to pray over?
  2. Who do you need to talk with about your church events this year?
  3. Who would be helped by reading this article? Pass it along to them.

[Undated, before Christmas 2020]