Our Christmas Efforts: What Happened & What’s Next
The goal of C18
When we began C18, we said our goal was “to reach” one-million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize “reach” is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. Congregations do not ask members to submit reports. “How many people did you share the gospel with this past month?” So it is hard to quantify.
What I can report on is certain verifiable numbers.
- Approximately 70% of WELS congregations participated in C18 in some way, i.e. they used some of the resources that Congregational Services provided.
- There were over 32,000 downloads of C18 resources that took place in the past four months.
- There were at least 1.2 million Light in the Darkness Christmas Eve postcards that were shared in a variety of ways.
- At least 2,400 families used WELS online daily devotion and accompanying booklet.
Later in January, we will send a survey to parish pastors to ask about a) total number of Christmas Eve worship visitors and b) how many, if any, of those visitors have ended up in a Bible Information Class (BIC).
Ultimately, however, we will gauge the impact of C18 in early 2020. If a guest who came on Christmas Eve joins the congregation, it is likely they will complete BIC in 2019. Those numbers will not show up until the 2019 statistical report is published, which will be in March 2020. Adult confirmations in WELS have been trending down for some time now. If they would trend up significantly in 2019, it would be logical to say that C18 played a small role in that.
While C18 was an attempt to reach people with the Christmas gospel, we believed there would be ancillary benefits. The exit survey seems to indicate that is the case. (You can still participate in that exit survey by answering three short questions HERE.)
Refocus on evangelism
It seems people appreciated the effort to refocus congregations on doing whatever they can to increase their evangelism efforts. Some responses from the exit survey:
I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this… several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events.
The best part of C18 was the widespread publicity, a cause we could all rally behind as a synod. It makes it exciting to be a part of something bigger.
Our congregation did more evangelism in the past three months than we have done in the twenty years I have been a member here.
You provided the materials and training that made outreach easy for our church.
We hope C18 helped some WELS members experience the joy of sharing their faith. We pray that those efforts continue even without some special synod program taking place.
See the potential for worship
The C18 program offered a lot of worship resources. It seems to have helped congregations see the potential for worship in two ways.
First, C18 illustrated the potential for liturgical variety. There was the special Advent Gathering Rite. There were a variety of styles for psalm options. Liturgical worship has been proven for centuries to let the gospel predominate. When done properly, it also demonstrates a rootedness, illustrating that the Church deals with ancient threats and universal problems. However, the liturgy also allows for appropriate flexibility, opportunities “to bring out… new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). It seems people appreciated that.
Second, C18 illustrated the potential to use worship as a part of your congregational evangelism efforts. Worship folders make it extremely easy for someone who has never been to church in their life follow along and not get lost.
Some quotes from the exit survey:
The worship folders did a great job of showing how all the parts of the service fit together.
That Advent gathering song was a wonderful way to begin worship. It was so meaningful!
I have at times been afraid to invite friends to church because I was not sure if they would get how it works. The worship folders take away that fear. It was the first time my church has used them. I hope we use them more often.
Stress the family altar
We saw Advent as a good time to encourage parents to realize how important it is to have a family devotional life. We shared materials which explained that what goes on in the home is by far the biggest factor in retaining children in the faith when they reach adulthood.
So, we used the very popular WELS online daily devotion. In the late 20th century, dad might read a devotion out of a book. Today, we figured he could just drop his smart phone on the table and play the devotion. We published a devotional book, sort of a mini-hymnal for Advent and Christmas.
Based on exit surveys so far, we know thousands of families used the online devotion this way. (The season of Christmas still has a few days left. The exit survey is technically supposed to be done after Christmas. So we expect this number to rise.) It seems, for many WELS families, restoring “the family altar” enhanced their Advent and Christmas worship.
We bought Advent candles for the first time. I didn’t know what they were all about. This year has been the best year for me and the family focusing on Christmas throughout the month.
I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.
A simple prayer we had for C18 was that by providing plug-and-play resources, it would help take work of the plates of pastors and lay leaders at a busy time of year. It seems that was the case.
Having the Advent worship mostly prepared for me freed up time to do some other things I had been wanting to do but never had the time—most notably, holding an evangelism seminar to help people feel prepared to do the work of outreach we asked them to do.
I think you saved us a good forty hours of work in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We used that time to do more evangelism.
What we will do differently
Another ancillary benefit of C18 was learning ourselves, within Congregational Services, how to better help the people God has called us to serve—you! The exit survey has yielded great information there too. Let me highlight two things we will do differently in the future.
First, all materials for Congregational Services initiatives will be released at the same time.
With the timing of new Congregational Services team members arriving on staff, it would have been impossible to have all 342 C18 files ready to go in July. For future initiatives, that will be a goal. Rather than releasing resources week by week, they will all be uploaded to welscongregationalservices.net at one time, four to five months in advance. Weekly e-mails will still be used to encourage congregations to use those resources in a timely manner.
Second, the online resource center will be formatted differently to make those resources easier to find. Some of you had trouble finding new resources or figuring out how to download them. We will try and make that easier. One possibility: we have all the resources located on one page and numbered. Then, the weekly e-mails, would say, “This week, you want to be sure to download file #45 and share it with your choir director.” You could have downloaded it weeks in advance of that e-mail blast. But if you haven’t, you’ll be able to find it quickly.
Thank you for the kind words you shared in the exit survey. Thank you also for the loving, constructive critiques, which will allow us to make future programs better!
The final question in the C18 exit survey asked people to share stories of how their personal or congregation outreach efforts went. Here are a few responses.
We had nearly 50 prospects attend. We are a mission church and we had 265 in attendance Christmas Eve, so having this number of prospects in attendance is exciting.
We had the best turnout at church that we can remember. (172 souls. I think the record had been in the 120s.)
One of our campuses, which was averaging only 20 people in worship on an average week just 18 months ago, had 120 people attend worship on Christmas Eve. Of those 120 nearly 60 were guests. Of those 60, 38 were prospects. God be praised!
A Hindu family worshiped with us due to the efforts of one member who knew them and made an effort to invite them. This was their first time in a Christian house of worship… It was a thrill for me as a pastor on so many fronts!
We had our largest Christmas Eve service attendance ever! It was great! And so many first-time visitors, family members that never come, and coworkers of members who were so happy they came. It was wonderful to see the smiles!
It was great to see the members of our congregation involved in inviting friends, family, etc. We had a record attendance of 1,000+ for our services, with 230 of them being visitors and guests.
One woman in the congregation was wishing she’d be able to fill a pew [with worship guests]. She arrived about 30 –minutes early and was pretty bummed that she’d be all alone. Then, about 10-minutes before the service they all piled in as a Christmas surprise to her, and did fill a whole pew.
People were inviting others. We sent postcards to members of the congregation, inviting them to worship. Members we had not seen in a long time attended and were able to hear the gospel message. The Christmas Eve services were the highest attended that we’ve had for quite some time. All due to the Lord blessing the efforts to reach out with the gospel!
We set an attendance record at our C18 service. We ran out of pews, service folders and candles.
Our congregation normally has 80 to 90 people on average for a Sunday morning. On Christmas Eve, we had 165 people in worship and almost 50 of them were visitors. God be praised!
However, I don’t want to only share stories that stress the number of visitors that came on Christmas Eve. Because that number is up to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, don’t you dare think that if your congregation did not have a ton of visitors, you don’t have a good story to tell! Here are a few others.
Our outreach committee became re-energized and found so many ideas that it sparked ideas on their own. We also reached out to other WELS congregations in our area to work together in outreach.
I don’t know if we had more visitors than normal. I can say our people were exited about trying to invite their friends and family to church. I think they will continue to do that which will have a longer lasting impact than can be measured by one worship service.
C18 gave something for our teens to do. They helped with the Facebook promotion and canvassing. My son seemed excited to do something for his church maybe for the first time ever.
We had six visitors. We would have liked more, but it is ok. An evangelism committee is now formed, and we are going to try doing more outreach in the future.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. It is a point that is echoed in one of our mottos in Congregational Services. If we are doing all we can with the gospel, then numbers don’t matter. Because growth—spiritual and statistical—is up to the Holy Spirit. But the way he produces growth is through the gospel. Typically, the way the Spirit unleashes the gospel is through the efforts of believers. So we do our job—doing all we can with the gospel. We then sit back and thank the Spirit for whatever fruit comes of that effort.
Thus, if you did all you could with the gospel and no one showed up to your Christmas Eve service, know that your effort is just as pleasing to the Father… just as glorious in the sight of the angels… as the effort of the congregation that had fifty visitors! Because, in your love for Christ, you did all you could.
So what’s next? Welcome Home!
There were many comments in the exit survey that sent like this. I can’t wait for C19! Except, we initially had no plans for C19.
Congregational Services’ 2019 initiative is titled Welcome Home. In C18, we targeted the lost… the unchurched… the dechurched. In 2019, we are targeting the 155,000 WELS members (about 43% of our baptized membership) that are largely absent from church, attending two or fewer times per year. We estimate about half of that 155,000 has not been in church in over two years. We are going to be offering training and resources for congregations to help them pursue those lapsed members and joyfully welcome them back home to their church family.
The goal is to have all those Welcome Home resources ready and online in early June 2019. We will encourage churches to have a Welcome Home Sunday on either October 20 or 27.
However, due to the overwhelming response to C18 and the many requests to repeat the effort, we may also produce some worship and evangelism resources for next Christmas Eve as well. Go to welscongregationalservices.net, go to the bottom of the page, and subscribe to receive e-mail updates. Those updates are where you would learn a) if we do a C19 effort and b) when and where those resources would be available.
But for now, I pray you and your congregation get ready for the Welcome Home effort. I think it will have the potential to reach a good number of straying sheep.
Thank you for all your ministry efforts throughout the year. Thank you for your participation in C18. And thank you for the privilege of working with you as you strive to do all you can with the gospel in your corner of God’s creation.
Rev. Jonathan Hein
Coordinator, Congregational Services
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling
You can make a difference. Your prayers and gifts can help WELS ministries carry out their missions.