December is just a few days away and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve already started pumping the Christmas music station on Pandora. Because Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year for visitors to attend church, it only makes sense to plan for a really awesome service. Whether you’ve already planned out every detail of your big service(s) or if you’re just getting started, I’ve got a few tips that I’d like to share with you to make your Christmas experience memorable for your church family.
As we have planned our holiday services at our church, we’ve aimed to create an atmosphere that would both remind of joyful Christmas seasons of the past and also create lasting memories of this year. For inspiration, I revisited a great book called The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching by Rick Blackwood which reminded me of some great methods for recalling and creating memories. To give you a general gist of the read, Blackwood teaches that the more senses that are involved in a memory, the more likely a person is going to remember that event. Some of the most pleasant memories that people hold on to are from Christmas time. To really make an incredible service for your congregation, why not use our powerful human senses to spark a reminiscent mood? Also, by using new elements that speak easily to the senses, you can captivate your congregation and send them away talking about the service for days. Below are some different examples of how you can target each of the senses and make a lasting memory for your audience.
This is probably the most natural area for those who are involved in church media. Not only can visuals create an engaging atmosphere, but they can also make it easier for your message to be understood. People have higher levels of attention, comprehension, and retention when a message is presented in a visually rich form. To create a Christmas service that’s truly memorable, use elements such as motion backgrounds, visually rich sermon graphics and slides, bulletins/handouts, holiday decorations, and stage design. (Having these items match makes them easier to remember!) Adding elements such as skits or using props in your message can make a big impact, too. A great way to emphasize family is to have an area in the lobby where people can have family photos taken together. As service begins, these photos can quickly be thrown into iMovie with some Christmas tunes and be shown as a transition video. (Also, you can add these photos to your church Facebook later to get people plugged in to your ministry online.)
I don’t mean to go too Elf on you here, but “the best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear!” Seriously though—Christmas songs are a must for your services! As your congregation sings, the sound of their voices is sure to spark some great Christmas memories. While I’m a big fan of the classics, I’m all about adding some excitement by using some modern versions like David Crowder’s Joy To The World. Even adding some not-so-religious songs like Frosty The Snowman or All I Want For Christmas Is You can be good for a laugh and make people feel at home. Make sure to have some good holiday tunes in the lobby, as well as other areas in your church. They should be able to hear the Christmas atmosphere no matter where they are in the building. Music can also create great mood and tone for your skits and create a sense of drama when telling stories.
This is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season—the food! This is a perfect opportunity for your church’s hospitality team to really get creative. How awesome would it be for your church family to be greeted with warm, freshly-baked cookies at your Christmas service? Why not have some stellar hot cocoa for a time of fellowship after church? If a simple breakfast and coffee is a regular thing for your ministry, why not take it up a few notches? Get on Pinterest and find some new recipes for baked goods and cocoa that go well with the Christmas season. This is not the time to go cheap! Spend the extra few dollars and create some tastes that are going to be truly memorable! (Leave them asking for the recipe!) Taste can also be integrated into your sermon. In Leonard Sweet’s book, The Gospel According To Starbucks, he describes a time when he allowed everyone in his audience to taste a rare, expensive coffee bean to illustrate a point. You can even use detailed references to different tastes in your messages and let your congregation’s memories/imagination do the work.
Smell is different from all the other senses in a very special way. A smell from your distant past can unleash a flood of memories that are so intense and striking that they seem real. As you think back to Christmas as a child, certain smells are sure to come to mind and they can almost make you feel warm inside. The cookies, cocoa, and baked goods from the previous sense are sure to add a great smell to the environment. Other smells that work great are peppermint, fir, and cinnamon. When was the last time that you took a trip down the air-freshener aisle at Target? There’s plenty of holiday variety! You could even have different scent themes for different areas of the building so that the sense is constantly being used. As bad as it sounds, as I’ve visited different churches over the years, I’ve found that there are some ministry buildings that just stink! If smell is the most memorable sense, you’re going to want your church to smell good. Am I right?
In a digital world where most social connections are done over smartphones and computers, it’s super important for your Christmas service to involve touch. Having friendly greeters that aren’t afraid to give warm handshakes and hugs is so important. Pastors, this is a perfect time to show up in the lobby or around the sanctuary a little more than normal. Demonstrate how important the human connection is to the Church body. I encourage distributing some kind of small object to everyone as they come in so that you can pull from it in your sermon. A simple example of this would be a small bag of hay. As you’re describing how the King of Kings came down to Earth and laid in a lowly manger, instruct your congregation to run their fingers through the hay and see how coarse it feels. (I’ve also seen this done with a small nail on Easter Sunday and a small shovel for a sermon illustration on digging ditches.) Using an illustration like this can make a HUGE impact and will keep them engaged to your message. Or maybe after a busy Christmas season of rushing around, instructing your church family to collectively take a long deep breath is a “feeling” that they really need.
Ultimately, you want your congregation to feel at home so that their hearts are in a place to hear the Good News message. By creating an experience that speaks to the senses, you can encourage thankfulness for the past and hope for the future. What better way to approach Christmas?
Kendall Conner serves as the Creative Pastor at Piedmont Chapel in Greensboro, NC. He is a graphic designer, video editor, and all-around media geek, but above all enjoys seeing lives changed. Together with his beautiful wife, Holly, they strive to use media to spread the message of Christ and equip others for ministry.