By Diana Davis
The holidays are a time many churches engage the community—whether through Thanksgiving food drives or Christmas programming. Yet, many of these seasonal events are cancelled or modified.
How can a church reach out—with minimal contact? These fresh outreach ideas for 2020 can be accomplished with social distancing in mind.
1. Signs of Thanksgiving
Plan a growing display of “Thanksgiving stakes” on your church lawn, to create interest and anticipation in your community.
Prepare an abundance of blank white yard signs of foam board or wood and attach a stake and a simple instruction sheet to each.
Add a colored border, if you wish. Determine the most trafficked side of your church lawn for your “Signs of Thanksgiving” installation.
People in your church will participate by making one sign, thoughtfully determining a word (or phrase) to describe something they thank God for.
They’ll use thick, black permanent marker or paint to hand-print huge, wide letters—easily readable from ten feet away—on their sign.
A bit of color or art may be added, optionally, but the words are prominent. Ask a few volunteers to make their signs ahead to use as samples. Do it well—this will be a witness for Christ!
On a Sunday morning in November (a week or two ahead of Thanksgiving) post these two beginning signs at one end of the lawn–“Thank God!” and “for…”.
Explain the project during the worship service(s), show the sample word signs, and invite worshipers to take a blank sign as they leave and return it to the church office for display.
Include everyone—new members, guests, senior adults, kids, teens. Post new signs daily until Thanksgiving. If the row of signs becomes too dense, just cover the lawn, too.
On Thanksgiving morning, post the last two signs, which read, “Happy Thanksgiving, [insert your town’s name]” and “We hope to see you this Sunday!” Leave signs up through Sunday after Thanksgiving.
2. Church Neighbor Thanksgiving Baskets
Stand at the front entrance of your church building and look at the nearest neighbors—both residential and business.
Select a doable number of closest neighbors and make a plan to create beautiful gift baskets to deliver from the church before Thanksgiving.
Consider ways to involve many individuals and groups of the church. Be thoughtful and creative with basket contents. Here are some examples:
- Something homemade by a church members who volunteer. The handcrafted item can be different in each basket—a craft, a pie, etc. Attach a card or a tag that reads, “Handmade with love from your neighbor, [insert church name here].”
- A handwritten note composed by a church member that expresses the sentiment, “We thank God for you.”
- Extra treats, such as a small plant, Scripture bookmark, or holiday candies.
- A church brochure or magnet and a list of upcoming church events they might enjoy.
Wrap the basket elegantly with cellophane paper and ribbon. Carefully select a different friendly church member to deliver each basket.
Remind the recipient they are welcome at your church and ask how the church can help them or pray for them.
Follow up as needed. Pray a brief prayer, thanking God for this neighbor and asking His blessings on them.
3. Starry Starry Story
Create a spectacular light festival on a drivable pathway through your church parking lot. This will require lots of preparation and some nightly volunteers, but what a timely Christmas witness!
Use lots of Christmas lights. Add a huge elevated star. Carpenters and artists can construct large plywood displays along the path designed to tell the Jesus story in a way that unchurched viewers will understand.
For example, plywood sheets might represent storybook pages or Christmas cards. Spotlight the displays, and prep amplified music.
Print a short, well-written story page as a guide, explaining the life-changing significance of Christmas for every person.
Clearly mark the drive-through path and exit. Post “Keep moving slowly” signs. Create a large entrance sign reading,
“Turn here for ‘Starry Starry Story,’ a five-minute drive-through display! Join us nightly through Christmas Eve.”
You could add a live posed character, live animal, or creative props to displays. A small, socially distanced caroling group could occasionally sing at the entry.
The only personal contact is a 10-second stop at the entrance. A masked, gloved volunteer on both sides of the car quickly offers hot cocoa from a tray and gives a story sheet and church brochure.
No special requests, no donations. Simply say, “Merry Christmas! Drive very slowly and keep rolling. Enjoy!”
At the exit, volunteers wave goodbye, calling “We’d love to see you Sunday.” It’s imperative to keep cars moving to avoid lines, but everyone is welcome to drive through again. And they will.
4. Pop-Up Carolers
Imagine the whole town talking about the pop-up carolers—a group of carolers that simultaneously shows up an agreed-upon location at a predetermined time—from your church to sing for an unsuspecting crowd (think “flash mob”).
Challenge every church member and guest (this is a great way to get them and new members involved) to sign up or show up for one or more pop-ups in town.
It’s a 15-minute commitment, and many, many individuals from your church can participate.
It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s lively. And quite entertaining.
First, recruit a dozen or more leaders who’ll champion a unique pop-up caroling group. You’ll probably add more later.
There are no planning meetings or rehearsals. Each leader determines who, when, and where to carol (see below) and submits that info by a November deadline.
Extra people who don’t want to sing can engage the crowd, inviting folks to church, and applauding. The leader also pre-recruits a couple of strong singers, and emails reminders to those who signed up.
A big sign-up calendar with details of all the pop-ups is also displayed at church and on a shareable web-based calendar or document.
Here are more thoughts for organizing pop-ups:
Each group leader selects the type of caroling group. Some will be “open” to all, but most will target a unique group of church members to participate. Of course, anyone who shows up is welcome, but a huge group isn’t necessary.
Ideas for groups include: single adults, moms, newlyweds/engaged couples, young families, collegians, fathers and sons, deacons and their spouses, a Sunday School class of any age, church staff, nurses, teens, senior adults, and bicyclers (caroling on bikes).
Those are but a few of the possibilities. There are surely other that could fit your church. Does your church have a deaf ministry? Plan a signing pop-up group to carol with their hands along with an accompanying instrument.
Each leader selects a caroling location where people hang out. State the precise place to meet because if a caroler is lost or late, they’ll miss out!
Most sites will (or should be) be outdoors. Get permission if needed.
Here are some ideas: the city’s Christmas tree, a stadium parking lot after a game, one end of the outdoor ice rink, a mall courtyard, a senior care center’s entrance, the courthouse steps, a popular park, a street corner by the church, a popular tourist destination, busy truck stop.
Each leader designates the exact day and time of their pop-up caroling event, carefully selecting the busiest hour. Caroling begins precisely on time and lasts about five minutes.
Pop-ups will occur morning, afternoon, or evening. Some groups may choose to do more than one pop-up.
Add a twist
The leader determines one fun feature and lists it on the pop-ups calendar. Here are some examples: Everyone wear something in common—like hats, scarves, Christmas sweaters, or battery-operated Christmas lights.
Perhaps an instrument—such as a harmonica, jimbe, violin, kazoos, or jingle bells—can accompany the group. Maybe small kids wear Christmas pajamas and first graders are dressed in Nativity costumes.
On their PopUp day, everyone arrives separately and casually walks to the singing site at the exact designated time. The leader begins confidently singing and other carolers immediately join in as they stroll to join the group.
The carolers social distance themselves as they sing, realizing that if they can reach out and touch, they’re too close.
Everyone enthusiastically and loudly follows the leader, singing just first verse of three or four popular carols about Jesus’ birth. One person holds a sign identifying the group:
Merry Christmas from [insert the name of your church]!
Your singing volunteers are smiling, animated, and having fun. The event is brief, leaving observers wanting more.
The pop-up ends as quickly as it began, with participants singing “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” as they wave and disseminate into the crowd as quickly as they arrived.
Your pop-up group may even decide to do another caroling next week!
Yes, sharing Jesus and reaching out to your community during 2020 may look a little different, but “Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).
In spite of social distancing limitations, we can be salt and light to those around us.
DIANA DAVIS is an author, columnist and minister’s wife who lives in Pensacola, Florida. Reach her at FloriDiana333@gmail.com.