By Maina Mwaura
My seminary education made it clear to me that ministry wouldn’t be easy and there would be seasons of great change. That lesson has never been more evident than in 2020, when we’ve endured a pandemic, economic and racial unrest, and an election season.
And now, we’re in the holiday season, a time when programming and traditions have been a staple in church life—until now. Recent findings from LifeWay Research show that Americans are rethinking their seasonal corporate worship plans. Given the recent COVID-19 spikes, many churches are doing the same.
As we begin this Christmas season, Facts and Trends asked four church leaders to give a first-hand account of how they’ve adapted their seasonal ministry plans and to offer perspective for other leaders who may feel daunted or frustrated. Here are some ways they told us they’re making the most of the altered traditions.
1. Leave Space for God to Do Something New
It seems that every month of 2020 will remind me not to let my guard down because something else may come down the pipe out of the blue. I have realized that anything this holiday season may not go as planned.
I think 2020 has shown us that anything can happen, good or bad. So, this year I am taking everything a day at a time and if I do plan something I have learned to go with the flow and not worry about it or get upset if it changes.
I am also navigating this season with the thought that simplicity matters—simple gifts, simple activities, a simple lifestyle right now are fine. God is in the simple things too and sometimes it takes a change in our situation to recognize the small things and be grateful for them.
Regarding church life, I am in an African-American Baptist Church and we usually celebrate the holidays with a Christmas program for the youth, Christmas parties throughout the season with all the church ministries, and then we top it off with an exciting Watch Night Worship service on New Year’s Eve to close out the year.
Well, none of that is happening this year and that is OK. I believe God takes us all out of our routine so we can evaluate, refresh, and rebuild. This will be a time for me to dream and see what new can come out of this season and get out of our norm and try some new things.
God is definitely doing “new” things right now and changing our lives, but are we all willing to listen and accept the “new” or do we just want to “go back” to normal? I don’t know about you, but I want to experience the new and I am excited about it.
Bianca Robinson, student ministry leader
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
2. Create Unique Outreach and Discipleship Opportunities
Our family ministry has utilized this time of pandemic to find new avenues to strengthen families of faith. Although the opportunities to meet in person at church are limited, our goal is to get families growing in their relationships and faith while at home.
That means the pandemic actually helps us leverage at-home opportunities with our families. We have held virtual challenges with gift card prizes, organized family scavenger hunts over Zoom, and hand-delivered discipleship materials to homes.
That last approach has been an amazing blessing to families who feel the love of their church. As the holidays come, we are continuing to come alongside our church families to encourage their growth at home.
Kevin Freeman, family ministry leader
Redland Baptist Church
3. Modify the Christmas Programming
The biggest change in our Christmas plans is how we are approaching our Christmas concert. We decided last spring to do Handel’s “Messiah,” a classic Christmas work that our church hasn’t done in 20 years.
We began distributing practice materials online through the summer and began socially distanced rehearsals in September. We practice in our chapel, which seats around 400, so we can spread throughout the room comfortably. The big decision we made in late September is that we would need to shift our plans for a live concert to a recorded event with a live component.
We will place our orchestra on the stage where they can spread out while placing our singers in the pews of our chapel comfortably spread out in sections. We will record the concert as a studio event with our video and audio team fully supporting us.
We will take a few days to mix down the recording and prepare the video. Then we plan to have a live showing in the chapel in the same way that we do worship services—socially distanced and masked. We will have a large screen while also streaming the concert for those who choose to watch online.
Since it will be recorded, we plan to stream the concert throughout the season and on Christmas Eve during times we are not streaming live services. This year has been full of change, and my prayer is that God will use me and our church to minister in ways that He will show Himself to us like never before.
Robert Comeaux, worship pastor
Dunwoody Baptist Church
4. Enhance the Virtual Worship Experience
We all know this is a year of pivoting. Our Christmas planning has been running on multiple tracks for some time. Once we let go of the “normal” planning process, anticipated uncertainty, and acknowledged we would have to be flexible, we could finally plan!
We are building our plans around reduced capacity services (with RSVP) plus an online service, or we will have Christmas Eve service entirely online if COVID continues to increase and our community implements mandatory changes.
As one might imagine, we are working harder this year on the online experience than the in-room experience. I believe our greatest potential is actually online this year. Our team has not let technology or new ways of reaching and engaging people stop us from the goal celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The stability of our online platforms is of utmost priority this year; this is a huge change from the past. A couple years ago I challenged our team to choose music that “every dad could sing,” and this year we are taking that even more seriously.
We are doing everything we can to build on the familiar, the known, and what will bring comfort in times of so much change, fear and uncertainty—familiar melodies focused on the hope we find in Jesus. We are pre-producing the online experience and programming with the perspective of the family at home.
For those joining us online, we are providing a digital download resource kit to enhance the at home experience. We are also creating an online resource for kids. This Christmas, our music, visuals, and verbals all bring us back to a focus and feel on peace and hope—the hope that a Child brought to the world some 2,000 years ago.
Mike Work, executive pastor of creative arts
Sun Valley Community Church
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.