In Advent, we prepare to celebrate God taking on flesh and coming to us. It may be for this reason that many churches view Advent as an opportunity to bring new people into their congregations, often through special services like living nativities, Advent festivals, and Christmas pageants. Yet getting people to come to us is not the true nature of incarnation. We have to go to them.
Several church planting movements, like Fresh Expressions, have realized forming new disciples requires bringing church to the community. A phrase that is common in this movement is “missional worship.” In Tim Lomax’s excellent book on missional worship, he says, “If we are to remain faithful to the core of the Christian faith, then we must continue along the lines of God’s incarnation in Christ by being contextual in the way we worship and build Christian community.” God is Incarnational and so our worship of God should be, as well.
Advent could be a great time for your church to try putting Incarnational worship into practice. Here are three ideas to get you started.
1. Longest Night Service
Advent can be a painful time for many people in our communities. Whether it is the first Christmas after losing a loved one, the constant reminders of financial insecurity, or the ache of being alone in close proximity to others with happy families, pain is associated with the holidays. A longest night service offers people an opportunity to acknowledge lament while celebrating Christ. Scripture readings, candle lighting, singing hymns, and a brief homily can be an incredibly healing experience for many. Try hosting the service at a neutral venue in town and invite the local hospice agencies in town to be a part of it.
Learn More about longest night services.
2. Messy Church
Messy Church is a type of Fresh Expression that began in England in 2004. They bring together families without a prior connection to the church to learn about the love of God through welcome, crafts, celebration, and food. Children and parents can experience discipleship together as they create and have fun together. If it goes well you might consider hosting one every month. Host one somewhere outside the church walls and invite your friends and neighbors with children. They even have advent services already planned out for you.
Learn More about messy church and resources.
3. Community Hymn Sing
Contact a local coffee shop, café, or restaurant to see about hosting a community hymn sing of Christmas songs in their establishment. If it’s a slow night of the week, several establishments will likely be excited for an increase in business. Second, consider hiring local musicians to lead in the music and singing. Just like in hymn sings at your church, a group gathers around the musicians calling out their favorite Christmas hymns. You also might want to have hymnals on hand for the event.
Some churches have used bars and not shied away from the presence of alcohol. (Alcohol might be present in a restaurant or pub area, too, of course.) Mixing church and alcohol is not without its risks. Be mindful of what message this could send to your congregation, especially if your congregation has an outreach to people in recovery. Also, you will want to respect any denominational guidelines. If you are able to maneuver these risks and the context is right, your church has the potential to break down a great deal of barriers and connect with a massive group of people who might not feel comfortable coming to see you.
Does it seem too simple? Take a quick look at your hymnal and you’ll remember that these hymns preach the gospel better than most pastors you know.
Learn more about one expression of community hymn sings.