Sharing Jesus through Carols by Candlelight
Christmas is one time of year when Christians and Christian communities can openly celebrate the Christ-Story with a relatively positive level of community acceptance and engagement. Christmas services and events present unique opportunities for churches to reach out to those in the wider community who may not regularly engage with church or the Christian faith.
For Christians, Christmas is the season of incarnation, where we celebrate that Jesus came into the world as the expression of God’s gracious, rescuing love toward us. We remember that the sending of Jesus as our Saviour was the ultimate Christmas gift.
Our culture, expressed in myriad ways in local families and communities, desperately needs to see and hear this true message of Christmas. But how can they hear if no one tells them? Many people find themselves drowning in the stresses and pressures of consumerism, and other oppressive distractions, at this time of year. Yet, if there is any season for people to discover the peace and presence of Jesus, then surely it should be Christmas time!
So how can we as communities of believers create effective opportunities for people in our area to see and hear the Gospel during the Christmas season? What might it take for your church’s outreach at Christmas to have a very real and lasting Gospel impact on your wider community?
At Gymea Baptist Church we have been running a community-focused ‘Carols By Candlelight’ event in our local area since 1992. What began as a gathering of a few hundred people at a local school has become an annual event engaging upwards of 5000 people from the local community each year, many of whom have no regular contact with a local Christian church. ‘Carols’ has become a keynote event in our church calendar as one of our biggest and best opportunities to serve our local community by demonstrating God’s love in both word and deed.
Using our ‘Carols By Candlelight’ event as a case study, let’s look at three primary outcomes we have sought to maintain as part of our local outreach and mission over the last 22 years. This is not to suggest that every church should run a ‘Carols’ event! These core principles, however, could be applied to almost any Christian outreach event. It is important that your church’s outreach should be consistent with the calling of your specific church, and with the character of your local community.
1. Gospel Centrality
The first outcome we’re committed to is ensuring that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the central message in every aspect of our Carols event.
This means filtering everything we do through a Gospel lens, and it means judiciously filtering some of the messages our wider culture commonly associates with Christmas. The reason we do this is so that there is no confusion about who we are as a church and why we are doing what we are doing. We believe that we can engage, bless and serve our wider community without compromising our message, although we will seek to do that in a way that is relatable, warm and grace-filled: just as Jesus did with those he met who were on the journey toward faith.
Practically-speaking, this means that we minimise Santa at our Carols event, while maximising Christmas songs, themes and activities that focus on Jesus. We give a brief Gospel presentation or testimony (less than 5 minutes) that is often accompanied by a short 1-2 minute professionally produced video. This is followed by a low-pressure invitation to attend a Christian church on Christmas Day.
When communicating the Gospel in a public forum, there is always a tension that exists between cultural accommodation and cultural accessibility. With wisdom and courage, we are aiming to faithfully proclaim the name of Jesus in ways that reflect the light of God’s kingdom into our community without compromising our core message or identity.
2. Community Connection
The second outcome we are seeking is to facilitate a deeper connection with our local community by adding value. As God’s people we are ‘sent’ into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus (John 20:21). This means that Christians are to be a foretaste of the kingdom of God, reflecting His light in all we do. We are called to speak and demonstrate His love as we engage with the world beyond the four walls of our church buildings.
In this way, ‘Carols By Candlelight’ has become for us as a church a very practical way to reflect the light of God’s kingdom by engaging with and serving our local community using the resources and talents He has given to us. Running a community-based event like ‘Carols’ is an opportunity for us to make an initial contact with individuals and families in our local area with high levels of accessibility and low pressure. It is our desire as a church to connect with many people in our local area who have little or no faith background, and this event gives us an opportunity to start to build these connections with our wider community.
There are many ways that ‘Carols’ has become a way to connect with our wider community. For instance, in the preparation for the event, we have opportunities to connect with local businesses and our local council for sponsorship and partnership. In this way, we are not only able to share about what we are doing and why, but we are working alongside our local community rather than disconnected from it. Also, we seek to make the carols event itself easily accessible for our local community to attend by hosting the event in ‘neutral’ territory such as a local park or sports oval. ‘Carols’ is also an easy way for those who are a part of our church to personally invite people in their networks and relationships. We also advertise broadly in our local area to ensure as many people as possible are aware of the event and know that they are welcome to come along and join in the event.
3. Credibility Building
Once a first-contact connection is made with individuals and families in our local community, it is our desire to develop a relationship built on trust, warmth and openness. In order to do this, we seek to build credibility upon which a relationship of trust can begin to grow between our church community and the people around us who don’t necessarily identify with or profess Christian faith. We believe it is important that the Carols event reflects who we are as God’s people and the nature of God’s Kingdom so we seek to run this event with a commitment to excellence and authenticity, in order that we may best serve our local community.
Practically, this means that we have an incredible, highly competent and committed core team who work yearround planning and preparing to ensure that it is a safe, fun, professional and family-friendly community event. We want Carols to bless those who attend, so we have sought to ensure that everything we present is as outstanding, professional, engaging and well-organised as possible. As a church, we strive for excellence in all that we do as a reflection of our desire to worship God with the very best of our resources and capacities. We seek to consistently reflect this desire for excellence in every detail of the event, from the running of the children’s activities, to safety and security for the event, to the management of the venue, to the fireworks and entertainment, to the professional musicianship presented from the platform, as well as hundreds of details that are looked after behind the scenes.
This is so important because the way that we host the event communicates the culture, values and beliefs of our church community, and demonstrates our genuine desire to love and serve our community to the best of our ability. These are the building blocks for establishing credibility in our community and earning credibility – without compromising the Gospel message – gives us an opportunity for our voice to be heard. This desire, of course, is generated by the impulse of the Holy Spirit in our lives who moves in us and sends us out to go, love, and serve others, graciously sharing the Gospel in both word and deed, reflecting God’s Kingdom in all we do.
Joy To The World!
As we seek to bless our local communities this Christmas, let us seek out ways that we can connect with those outside of our churches in order that the true message of the season might be communicated with love and grace in both word and deed. By keeping the Gospel central in all of our activities and by seeking to connect with our local communities in their spaces in ways that they can relate to, we may have opportunities to build ongoing relationships with people in our local community that allow us to share the joy of Christmas with those who really need it.
Questions For Further Reflection:
- What can you and your church do really well in reaching out and serving your community at Christmas?
- What can you do to connect with and serve people in your local community without compromising the Gospel message?