Many churchgoers travel during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you can continue to encourage them from afar during the holidays.
By Aaron Earls
“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” as Perry Como sang. For many people in your pews, “home” may be somewhere else. Whether it’s college students leaving campus or families who moved to your area for a job, some regular churchgoers will likely miss services during the last few weeks of the year.
Your congregation may be spread across the country or even the globe during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. So, how can you stay connected to those who live in your city but are “heading for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie”?
The job of pastors and church leaders is not to develop church attendees who never miss a week but rather disciples of Jesus who value the local body He has placed them in. Don’t heap shame and guilt on anyone missing services at your congregation to visit family.
Have leaders and pastors share that they recognize people will be traveling over the next few weeks. Tell those who may be leaving that they will be missed but you understand the desire to see family and friends. For some, this may be their last holiday season with a loved one.
Encourage churchgoers to continue to pray for their congregation even when they are traveling during the holidays and not in a pew on Sunday morning. Tell them you will be excited for them to return in the New Year.“Encourage churchgoers to continue to pray for their congregation even when they are traveling during the holidays and not in a pew on Sunday morning.” — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
Change up the sermon schedule
If you really want your entire congregation to be together for an extended sermon series, either through a book of the Bible or an important issue, consider taking a break during the holidays. You should expect many regular churchgoers to miss some Sundays over the next two months, so adjust your sermon planning accordingly.
Plus, many people come to church services during the holidays and expect to hear seasonal sermons. That doesn’t mean your Christmas messages have to be predictable, but people enjoy the rhythms and routines the holidays provide, including hearing the Christmas story at church.
Use digital connections
Almost every church learned to stream or record their services during the pandemic. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, only around 3 in 5 churches posted any part of their worship service online. By April 2020, 97% of churches offered some type of digital worship service. The increased emphasis on online avenues yielded new connections with the previously unchurched, as 15% of U.S. adults said they normally don’t attend church in person but watched a service during the pandemic.
If you’ve continued streaming or recording services, make sure your regular churchgoers know that. Encourage them to keep up while they are traveling. If you’ve stopped streaming, consider dusting off the equipment and trying it out again over the holidays. But don’t stop at making digital connections through the services.
Provide holiday resources
Try emailing Advent devotions to all your members. Text seasonal verses to churchgoers leading up to Christmas. Send holiday coloring or activity sheets for parents to print off at home. Provide family devotionals. Share favorite holiday recipes and invite members to bake them for a neighbor if they’re in town or a loved one if they’re traveling.
Think of new and creative ways to stay connected with your churchgoers and encourage them in their spiritual walk, even when that takes them away from your congregation for a few weeks.
Leverage small groups
You may have no idea who is going to be out of town, but chances are your small group leaders know which members of their classes will be traveling. Use group leaders and teachers as a connection channel. Have them communicate a similar message in a similar manner as you will be from the pulpit or other channels.
Strategize with leaders on ways the church can encourage those who plan to be out of town. Plan small group Christmas activities, but also think about some New Year events that could welcome people back in town and back to your church.
Pay attention to guests
In a time when regular attendees may be missing, use the opportunity to look for guests who may be visiting. These may be people in your area who associate Christmas with church and want to stop by for the first time. A 2014 Lifeway Research study found 63% of Americans say Christmas activities should include a visit to a church service, while a 2015 study found 61% say they typically attend church at Christmastime. A 2022 study of pastors found 48% say their Christmas Eve service is their most attended service during the holiday season.48% of U.S. Protestant pastors say their Christmas Eve service is their most attended service during the holiday season. Click To Tweet
Connect with local guests and make them feel welcome. They may soon become regular churchgoers. But don’t ignore those who may be in town to visit family and are members somewhere else. Treat those who show up to your services in that situation as you would want a church to treat your members visiting family somewhere else.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.