Christmas is an opportunity like no other for introducing new faces to the local church. People are often more willing to come for a visit and hear the greatest story of all. A few years ago I was asked to help put together my home churches Christmas service, I wondered what would happen if all the local churches worked together to engage , instead of working separately.
Hailsham is a medium size town in Sussex and at the time of the first Community Carols by Candlelight, it had approximately 15,000 inhabitants and seven churches. It was typical of towns across the country where each individual church held its own Christmas carol service.
Most of the local churches were members of the local Churches Together group so I approached them and asked if they would like to arrange a more community wide celebration. I think the idea that someone would be willing to put on a Christmas service for them persuaded them this could be a good idea!
Working as a group we decided to host the event in a "neutral" location, the town sports hall. We deliberately included local community groups and figures for different parts of the service, for example, the local schools did the Nativity and the Bible readings were done by the police chief, head teacher and a councillor.
The local choral society and silver band helped support the music, while the local flagged organisations such as cubs, scouts, and St John's ambulance did a flag parade and placed their flags either side of the stage. We also utilised local businesses to help with logistics, using an external sound company to provide the lighting and sound system. We also made it a charitable event, with a collection bucket on leaving and raised money for the local youth club.
The event was ticketed, but we only charged a very low fee - £1 for Adults and 50p for children, and sold the tickets through local shops. This not only gave value to the event but also helped us gauge numbers. You tend to find that if people have parted with cash, no matter how small, they will make more of an effort to attend rather than if the event is free.
We had approximately 800 people attend the first event and had to turn about 100 away! I'm convinced this outstripped the numbers attending the separate service. I believe it also made a statement to the town on Christian unity and that we wanted to be in the community. Through the generosity of those attending we raised approximately £1000 for our local youth club.
It was hard work coordinating such a large event, but we had a core team of six who carried the major part of the load. It was great to see so many people, who may not often be all in the same room, come together to spend time together as a community and hear the good news of Christmas.
Andy Bodkin is CEO at Same Boat Music and Out of the Ark Music, having worked previously as a global executive for Christian Copyright Licencing for 18 years. Same Boat Music provides music resources for churches, with their most recent release being a new all-age Christmas album featuring seven original songs written by Mark and Helen Johnson. It is free for a limited time only at Sameboatmusic.com