- Theological Education
The winter holiday season generates the greatest “marginal member” traffic into our churches. Those folks, who almost never attend throughout the year, respond to the traditional pull or their sense of obligation, and reconnect with the church community during this holy season.
This isn’t the occasion to berate these prodigal sons and daughters for their lack of weekly engagement. Rather, it is a perfect opportunity to proclaim to errant members the news of the great activities, opportunities for ministry, and wonderful programs happening at the church — to remind them of the loving community they are missing by not attending regularly. Church leaders often acknowledge, celebrate and even bemoan the hordes of quasi-visitors during the holiday season but they tend to ignore that this as the perfect time to try to woo them back into more active involvement.
The holiday season is the perfect time, not just to anticipate and celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus and remember the gifts of the magi, but also to spread the message that congregational involvement entitles members to privileges 52 weeks a year not just during the holidays.
A church that wants to generate greater participation should also use the season to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts that core volunteers give to Christ’s mission throughout the year, whether they are lowly shepherds or wealthy wise men.
A congregation can also subtly use the influx to remind guests and occasional members what the active life of this congregation has to offer. Now is the time, not just to collect for Habitat for Humanity or Bread for the World, but also to display and acknowledge the many service and ministry groups and opportunities available throughout the life of the church. Additionally, plays and cantatas by the children and youth draw in their extended family members, so what better time to let them know of the educational and spiritual enrichment opportunities for all ages?
Make sure greeters don’t welcome errant members with the not-so-subtle greeting, “We haven’t seen you in so long… where have you been?” Even the prodigal son was welcomed with a feast and gifts from his father. More welcoming messages and greetings might include:
· A hallway of tables selling micro-business products to fund a mission trip with display of last mission trip photos
· A “Year in Review” timeline on the wall about all the enjoyable events at the church
· A global map displaying the missions and missionaries being supported, and a local map of all the places money and members are engaged
· Literature about opportunities for education, fellowship and ministry at the church
· A call for volunteers for all sorts of holiday service events from food, to clothes, to toys, to shoveling driveways, and then intentional bridging connections to established outreach groups
· Display of the small groups and home fellowship groups with maps and times of their gatherings
· Announcements of the next few sermon series for the coming months
· The schedule of youth, young adult and adult religious educational classes available throughout the winter and spring
· A sign-up sheet for a “snowy day ride-share” program, or a mission offering rides after dark and shopping excursions to the mall
· A computer kiosk with the year’s highlights in photos or that has the recently updated church website displayed
· An insert in the bulletin asking visitors to sign up for the church newsletter
Any of these efforts will remind the occasional member and visitors who connect with the church during the holidays what congregation is up to, and perhaps incline them to reconnect and get engaged.
This article was written by Scott Thumma, Ph.D., professor of sociology of religion and director of distance education and doctor of ministry Program at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Hartford Seminary. Thumma is the author of a book on member engagement, The Other 80 Percent: Turning your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants. A version of this article was previously posted at Huff Post Religion.