In our culture, a new year still means a new opportunity for change, a new opportunity for new beginnings, new relationships, and a new search for a faith community. Unfortunately, most churches miss out on the first-of-the-year window because they are not prepared for the new people who will show up in the first few weeks of the year. Typically, churches put on their big Christmas musical by the second week in December and they shut down all but life support systems until after the holidays. So as new guests begin to arrive, they are met with less-than-well-put-together services, often scaled-down music programs and, most unfortunately, a three-week stewardship series.
Every church needs to teach stewardship, but we must be sensitive to the growth patterns in our culture. The first of the year is one of the top windows to reach to those outside the faith.
Let me challenge you to think of Christmas and the New Year as a bundle. Churches conducting special Christmas Eve services have seen how successful these services can be in attracting large crowds. These services, much like the Easter swell, do not often translate to sustainable growth. I always advise my clients to use the Christmas Eve services as a way to communicate their first-of-the year new series. As people come in during the holidays, they receive mini invites (business card-sized brochures of the new series) or a printed brochure featuring the new series for the New Year. More aggressive churches will have large outdoor banners and even a video promotion for the upcoming series, shown before or during the services. When done well, this effort creates expectation and anticipation and gives newcomers a reason to return to the church a few weeks later.
Think Like the Unchurched
Experience has taught me that a teaching series focusing on life issues works is a great way to start the new year. Take inventory of your community and the issues people are facing and address them in a positive way. Don’t make people “work” to see how your messages will help them. Instead of preaching on “The Fruit of the Spirit,” as I saw recently on a church’s sign, talk about “The Life You Were Meant to Live.” While these two different titles reflect the same passage of Scriptures, the second speaks directly to the benefit.
Don’t let your staff off the hook for the first full weekend of the year. Make sure you are planning in advance to have a great service and to cover all your bases. I’ve heard so many excuses for why things weren’t done well. “Everyone was on vacation,” “The music director just got back last night,” or “Everyone was burned out after the Christmas programs.” The bottom line is that the new people coming to your church do not care whose fault it is — all they know is their experience on that particular day was not a good one.
The reason you continue to visit a restaurant is because you expect every meal will be as good as what you remember. If your first experience is not a good one, you may think twice about going back and if they continue to falter, you will definitely not return.
Just like that restaurant, be enticing in your offerings, diligent in your preparation and excellent in your execution. Be aware of your staff’s calendar and make sure they are well-prepared. Look at the first of the year as an opportunity to reach out to the new people in your community and keep them coming back.
What is your church planning for January?