Where should you spend most of your time during your Christmas services this weekend?
I often fantasize about teaching a class at a Seminary or Bible College on being a pastor. Many people (including myself at times) feel uncomfortable in places where good authentic pastoral care is required of us. Whether at a death bed, an emergency room, or a milestone event, I have learned the simplicity of one action alone that covers 90% of what’s required. In fact, my college professor fantasy begins with this speech on the first day of class:
“Welcome to my class on being a Pastor. I am going to give you now the answer to the first question that will be on every quiz in advance. It will also be the first question on your Final Exam. It is a two-word answer that is so foundational to being a pastor that if you get this one question wrong on any of the tests, it is an automatic fail. This two-word hack covers a multitude of sins that come from not knowing what to do during intense moments of crisis or major affirming celebrations in people’s lives. It leaps off the pages of Psalm 23 so unobviously, it can be missed. Are you ready for it? Here is the two-word job description of a pastor: Being there. I could have also used the two words “showing up” so I will accept either answer. Get it wrong on the test, get it wrong in your ministry, and you may become many things but a Pastor won’t be one of them.”
What I have learned in 37 years of vocational ministry and from the lyrics of Psalm 23 could be best summed up with those two words. Our presence as Sherpas/Shepherds means more than you could know and our absence does too. It comes down to focusing on geography, not theology. It means not worrying about the question of “How to” as much as answering the question of “Where to”: Where do you plant yourself in people’s lives and on weekends to help guide them through the next passage in their journeys?
Training a tribe of Sherpas is part of my job year round, but especially at Christmas. That’s why the most important place for you to invest your time this coming weekend at your Christmas services is alongside them at this geographical location:
Your church lobby
Maybe you still call it a Vestibule. Maybe you call it a Narthex. Wherever the “common areas” surrounding your auditorium/sanctuary are, that’s where I’m talking about. Why? Because Christmas is an all hands on deck “all Sherpas on the mountain” type event.
Out in your Common Areas, what can you focus on this Christmas?
Look for eyes that wander inquisitively
Looking into people’s eyes as you walk around to see if they are trying to find something is a call to inquire. “Can I help you find something?” is a great question to ask people staring up at wayfinding signs or stoping to survey where to go next with their kids. Walking handicap people to the front of the line or the auditorium is a nice touch here too and reflects the heart of the one whose birth we are celebrating.
Take photos for people at any photo ops
Though we have volunteers manning the photo ops, sometime your church’s Christmas decor creates an unplanned photo op for a family or group of friends who would love everybody to be in the photo if they had someone to take the picture. Be that person.
Ask if this is their first Christmas at your church
If it is, have a VIP experience in mind to kick into. Maybe its some candy in your pocket for kids or a gift card for free cocoa in your cafe. If it’s not, ask what made them come back. You will find out things from this spontaneous focus group that you would have found out no other way. Put their answers on your note app on your phone and send them to relevant staff when everyone comes back to the office to evaluate Christmas in January.
Work the lines
If lots of people come early are needing to stay in your lobby till the doors open, have stanchions for them and/or a special room where you and other Sherpas can “work the room”. We have staff and volunteers sign up for just this every year. Some give out candy, some play a Christmas version of “Heads Up” on their phones with others. On one campus, we even have a volunteer performing illusions for people in line while they wait. Conversation is a great way to connect and welcome Christmas guests but you can’t have conversation if you are not located where the conversations can be found.
Respond with spontaneous prayer
One time in our lobby, I was leaning against a podium that was being used for check in. Someone came up to me to ask for prayer for some people they were inviting to church. I leaned against it and prayed, inviting this person to hold my hands on the “prayer podium” as I did. We laughed about it, but then someone else wanted prayer when they saw it. I moved the podium (a small stand) up to them and did the same thing in a humorous but “get the job done” kind of way. I prayed for a few people spontaneously in the lobby that day. I also got to baptize the people I prayed for from the first request a month later at their small group. If someone asks for prayer, take their hand, include others and pray right then and there. It also shows the heart of God and your church in a way nothing else can.
Meet family and friends that people have invited
Don’t let people get away with not introducing their guests to you as you wander the lobby. Hearing their stories, having a few lines in your pocket that get a laugh, asking questions like, “How did they get you here tonight?” and “How far did you drive?” among many others are good conversation starters among 1st timers that came on the arms of people in your church. The people of your church will feel very valued that you did so.
Invite them to come with you and get a welcome gift at your One Place for guests
When you engage with people after your services, ask them if they got their welcome gift. If not, walk them over to where your One Place for guests is, introduce them to one fo the volunteers there and stay with them until they fill out their information and have received their gift. Letting them know ho great is was to share Christmas with them before engage with someone else is a nice way to give closure to that new connection.
Our Lead Pastor Gene Appel sets the example by doing this every weekend much less at Christmas. You can too. You are a powerful jet in the “lazy river” that guides guests into deeper connection with God and your church family. Don’t waste it by being in a back room somewhere just enjoying the camaraderie of other staff and team members. Be were your guests are. Show up. That’s where the impact is.
“You are a powerful jet in the “lazy river” that guides guests into deeper connection with God and your church family. Don’t waste it by being in a back room somewhere just enjoying the camaraderie of other staff and team members. Be were your guests are. Show up. That’s where the impact is”.
For 2 more posts with ideas on connecting with guests this Christmas, click here.
To watch three 1-minute videos on how we are connecting with Guests this Christmas at Eastside, go to my instagram account, gregcurtis_cta, and follow me there for fun thoughts, examples and resources not found on this site.
Since this is my last post for 2018, I want to cap it off with 4 ways to connect with me, and a preview of 5 things you can expect from me in January:
Connect with me in 2019:
To book a Skype, Zoom or Facetime session with me and your team, click here.
For my best resource on how to connect with people next year and much, much more, click here.
To have me work with your staff for 2 days in 2019, click here.
To follow me on Instagram, click here.
What’s next in January?
Praying for you and your church by name. I take time to do this every January for ALL the churches that subscribe to my blog. Click here to send me a specific prayer request.
Two new unSeminary podcasts. I’ll have two podcasts next month: One on Multisite, the other on 2 things churches don’t instinctively know about Assimilation, and more. Last Friday, our multi-site podcast was the 3rd biggest download on iTunes in the Religion & Spirituality category….unbelievable!
I’ll be doing a free Ministry Boost Webinar January 23rd. on The Four Key Ingredients of a Successful Assimilation Strategy (details TBA)
The Top 5 posts of 2018. I post the top 5 most read posts of every year on the first week of January. I was surprised and encouraged as to what made the list this year…
How to change the culture/DNA of your church. I have had this one in me for months (you may remember it as the one that disintegrated as I posted it last month due to bad wifi). I cannot wait to share this as it is new thinking on a fresh topic for me. It will offer help for those of you who feel limited by a church culture that is unintentionally “assimilation hostile”.