Some of you have likely seen the helpful article making the rounds on social media posted by Building Faith titled 7 Ways to Welcome Visitors on Christmas Eve. It's true that Christmas Eve offers congregations a unique opportunity to show Christian hospitality to many folks who rarely darken the doors of our churches.
To enhance the conversation, I thought I'd add a few more tips for parishes to help make visitors feel particularly welcome on this most holy night.
1. Instead of the bride's side and the groom's side, have ushers ask whether people would prefer the "actually a parishioner side" or the "who are you we've never seen you before" side. This will come in handy when the preacher later brings up separating the sheep from the goats in the sermon.
2. Judge rather than help people who have trouble navigating the Prayer Book/Hymnal/Bulletin juggling act. Snicker when they try to find Hymn 100 ("Joy to the World") but can only find S-100, that ever joyful plainsong version of the Trisagion.
3. At the announcements, remind everyone in the congregation (in a sarcastic tone) that you really do hold services more than once or twice a year. Also, toss around the term "communicant in good standing."
4. Make no mention of Christmas Eve services on your website or church answering machine. Or, if you do, insure you've changed the time since last year. Nothing says "Ho, ho, ho" quite like showing up just in time for the dismissal.
5. Don't explain the logistics of communion. It's best to keep newcomers' anxiety about appearing foolish or "doing the wrong thing" ratcheted up as high as possible. Don't forget to correct anyone who says "thank you" after receiving the host by hissing "you mean 'amen.'"
6. After the service on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, hold an adult education class to give
parishioners tips on perfecting their their dirty looks and stink eye for use on visitors who sit in their regular pews. Actually, why not just have them leave their coats on their pews for the entire week?
7. Keep the large front doors locked since everyone knows you go through that side door near the kitchen to get into the worship space.
Well, I hope this has given you a few extra ideas to make your guests feel welcome on Christmas Eve. What's the worst that could happen? They'll just try a different church on Easter.