It’s beginning to look a lot like (a digital) Christmas!
It is no surprise that Christmas in 2020 looks completely different than it ever has in the past. For as long as we can remember, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are marked by extravagant church services and droves of attendees. This year, Christman plans will make a major, first-time shift to the digital experience.
Before the pandemic struck, none of us could have ever imagined the necessity of a digital Easter experience. But as churches closed all over the world, the pressure was on to put all of our focus on our digital reach and learn to conduct church differently.
Nine months have passed since the pandemic struck, and we are still facing the same challenges now that we did months ago. Although some churches are open to full capacity, many are still fully digital, and some are a hybrid of digital and physical. The same reigns true for all churches: Christmas service is not going to be the same in 2020 as it always has been. Digital church is far from fading away.
Let’s start with the obvious answer to why Christmas matters.
This is a story unlike any other. It has completely interrupted our broken world and given us a chance to know the Most High God. Christmas is the most beautiful story that cuts to the hearts of men and women from every background. There is so much magic in this season where people celebrate family, friends, and the joy of the world: Jesus!
Christmas is a tradition that is deeply embedded in our culture. Whether someone is a practicing Christian or not, the odds are that they attend church on Christmas.
But the traditions of attending Christmas services are not quite as strong as they were once before. There are no signs of the pandemic slowing down anytime soon, so we must be able to plan accordingly and expect a smaller turnout than we once had. Just like at the beginning of the year, we cannot just be waiting to reach the green post-pandemic pastures; we must water the grass where we are right now. This means doing the necessary work to share the Good News of Jesus no matter how drastically different it may be.
Unfortunately, the research shows that church participation overall has suffered throughout the pandemic. In July, Barna Research reported that 1 in 3 practicing Christians have stopped attending church during COVID-19. This statistic is not just reserved for attending church in person but also attending church digitally. There is no question that if regular attendees have declined in church participation that irregular attendees have declined in their participation as well.
We cannot pull the “it’s Christmas, tons of people will show up” card this year. Our digital outreach needs to be ramped up now more than ever before if we want to see people partake in our Christmas Services. This season is bound to be the biggest digital Christmas in history, and it’s going to take a lot of work across the board to make it a success.
If you haven’t begun to think about Christmas yet, now is the time! While planning your service may look a bit different this year, there are several strategies you can use to ensure that people join in on your service, the content is engaging and unique, and there are ways for visitors to get connected to your church.
This strategy will differ depending on what type of service your church decides to do. Many churches will be doing a fully digital experience, some only a physical experience, but most will be doing a hybrid model of digital and physical church. Regardless of what your service model looks like, it remains true that you need to get very creative in this process to make the most impact.
Christmas is known for being a season of marketing, marketing, and more marketing. While people are shopping for their loved ones this season, they will undoubtedly be bombarded with advertisements for a ton of products.
So, when marketing your Christmas service, the goal is not to be just another face in the crowd or email to send to the junk folder. You need to engage members and first-time guests through creative storytelling.
Christmas is the greatest story ever told and is one that has completely changed humanity as we know it; it is a story that absolutely must be shared with people! We have a unique opportunity during Christmastime to share this story through creative and engaging means.
This means that your Christmas marketing plan must go beyond blasting out an email with an invitation to your services. Here are a few ideas for what your marketing could look like:
Getting the word out about your Christmas service will definitely be a challenge when the Internet is already so saturated with advertising during the holiday season. However, if the marketing strategy you use is engaging enough, it will catch the attention of someone who wasn’t previously planning on attending a digital or physical Christmas service.
Marketing is not just about sharing information and details. It is first and foremost about grabbing the attention of the viewer. If you don’t do this within the first few seconds, they won’t engage with content enough to even get to the details. Everyone loves a good story, so start here and you will be golden.
Social media is an incredible tool to use to reach both your existing community andthose you want to eventually graft into your community. There are different platforms, but ultimately they all exist to give people a glimpse at what your church stands for.
However, social media is not the end all be all. Think of it as a delicious appetizer to the ultimate main course. What is the main course? It is a well-established, professionally crafted, and all-encompassing website.
While social media is a great tool to drive engagement with your audience, it is also a great means to point people to the crux of who you are. Social media is not created to go into great detail about all your church stands for and does week in and week out. It shows the general highlights of your church, and then your website is designed to go in-depth.
Your website serves to:
One of the main goals as we approach Christmas is to create clear digital pathways from our social media channels to our website. This is vital because if we truly want to see people go beyond spectatorship to discipleship, they need a clear path in order to take the next steps.
There are several practical ways to do this:
While creating digital pathways from your social media to your website is wise to do at all times, it can be especially beneficial when it comes to preparing for Christmas. You can use these pathways to point people to your Christmas service details, special creative elements, invitational graphics, and any other materials on your website related to Christmas. These pathways will be vital to utilize even after Christmastime as you seek to connect people beyond just the holiday season.
When you buy a product or utilize a service, the way you were treated within the transaction can have a lasting impact far beyond the product itself. Modern consumers no longer have blind loyalty to a brand for the product alone. They care about the entire experience when they utilize a service or make a purchase.
Millennials in particular care greatly about the ways in which they are engaged by a company they are buying from. In fact, 3 out of 4 millennials are more attracted to experiences than to physical products. Most of them wish to be connected with the brand beyond the transaction.
Companies, organizations, and especially churches need to prioritize their interactions with their audience to create a lasting impression on them. They cannot just rely on marketing alone, they must create an experience. The quality of these experiences can either severely hurt or substantially benefit the loyalty of their audience.
The experience can go either of two ways:
1. You have a positive experience and feel as if you can trust the company. You would be likely to partner with them in the future.
2. You have a negative experience and feel as if you cannot trust the company. You would be unlikely to partner with them in the future, no matter how good the “product” is.
You could have the perfect product and the most flawless service, but if the customer service stinks, your product doesn’t amount to much.
Our touch-points, or “encounters where customers and business engage to exchange information, provide service, or handle transactions” (Wikipedia), are among the most important aspects of running an organization and especially a church.
Touchpoints in faith culture vary drastically from touchpoints in the business world. Churches are not selling a product, but rather are providing an invitation to know Jesus and become a part of the Body of Christ. Although there is no exchange of goods and services, there is still a need to understand our encounters with others as we exchange information and provide an open door to the community.
Touchpoints are not the same as the channels through which we reach our audience. Touchpoints go beyond just the means but bring value to the consumer experience and work to understand their pain points. They are more in depth and focus more on what the consumer is going through and what drives their choices. In short, it goes beyond simple “cattle call” marketing and gets into the depths of what consumers need and desire.
This may sound more like marketing than church outreach, but we need to understand that we must get to know our audience if we expect to ever reach them.
This season as you prepare for Christmas, make sure your community has a focus on reaching potential service attendees through one-on-one communication. Most of the time, a person is much more willing to attend an event or church service if they receive a personal invitation over a broad audience invitation.
These touchpoints can play out through:
As the church begins to change more and more, the preservation of interpersonal communication will only become more vital to church growth.
Communication between church attendees and the church leadership can be extremely beneficial, especially when we get to know our visitors and attendees on a deeper level.
The goal this Christmas? To not allow anyone to slip through the cracks, especially if they usually only attend church on Christmas and Easter. Set aside the need to grow our churches for a moment and realize the true goal behind retaining people post-holidays: they need hope! This year has been extremely difficult for so many people and many of them are desperate for hope, joy and fulfillment. We have the opportunity to show them that the hope of Jesus is not just reserved for Christmas; it is available every single day.
Far too many people attend these two services and never return. We, as the church, have always struggled with connecting with the unchurched. This is especially crucial when we lack appeal during our two biggest church services. The world already knows the basics of the Christmas story. They don’t need a cheap regurgitation of the same story, they need a living hope found in Jesus.
Carey Nieuwhof has a great article about this very issue.
What we can do to connect the truth of God’s story to the people we are trying to reach is to focus on the “why” behind the Christmas story. The most important thing to keep in mind to retain Christmas attendees is the “why” behind the what.
These are the questions people are asking and the ones we have an opportunity to answer. This level of engagement in our Christmas services can propel us into a place of success when we attempt to retain our visitors post-Christmas. The best way we can do this is to deploy a strategic post-Christmas campaign that will ignite lasting growth. The purpose of this campaign serves to intrigue Christmas attendees and give them a reason to want something beyond Christmas.
Campaigns you can employ:
These are the questions your audience is asking and your answers need to be powerful enough to compel them to continue in the community. This is not an easy task, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and an incredible visionary plan, you can see more and more people become transformed by Jesus and the Church.
We hope these methods of preparing for the biggest digital Christmas in history have encouraged you and given you a starting point for how you can see lasting impact this Christmas! We truly believe God wants to do a deep work in your church community this holiday season and bring many people to know Christ!
God is so big that He can move just as much through a computer screen as He can in an in-person gather. Our only job is to be obedient, get creative, and make it as simple as possible for His message to be shared.
We pray that this Christmas is full of joy and abundance for you, your family, and your church!
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