6 important questions to ask when planning a Christmas Carol Service.
It’s easy to think ‘well it’s the normal Carol Service, we do one every year’. But Carol Services can be as different as chalk and cheese – and if you intend for yours to be well attended by those who are not regular worshippers, it is important to ask some questions first. More than any other time of the year, Christmas is a time when people are open to coming to a church event, and with careful planning and preparation we can ensure that the Carol Service is a really positive experience for visitors.
1. Who is the Carol Service aimed at?
There is no such thing as ‘just a Carol Service’. Are you planning a family friendly service for all ages? Or a traditional Lessons and Carols that is aimed primarily at adults? Or a modern style with contemporary music? Or something else? These are important questions, for a number of reasons. Firstly, you want people to know broadly what they are coming to. If they think they are attending a traditional 9 lessons and carols, but it turns out to be a lively affair with children and lots of modern music (or of course visa versa), they may well not come next time. Secondly, church members will be much more confident about inviting their friends and neighbours if they know what style of service it will be. This doesn’t mean that there is no room for something dramatic, challenging or unexpected, but think and pray carefully about the kind of event you are planning, and be very clear in your advertising and publicity.
2. How will it be publicised?
If you are hoping to attract people who aren’t normally part of church life, they are unlikely to have read your Sunday notice sheet or monthly magazine. A poster on the front of the church might catch someone’s eye, but there are many different ways that we can publicise the service. Did you know that you can print 1,500 A6 colour flyers, or 500 double sided postcards for around £20, by ordering over the internet? It is so much easier for church members to make personal invitations if they have something in their hand that can be handed over. And then of course there is Facebook, local newspapers and magazines, posters in shop windows, the church website, personal invitation, etc, etc . . .
3. How can the service be planned so it is accessible and memorable to those attending?
The main consideration for a Carol Service will be around the selection of music, readings and the inclusion of other elements such as drama, a brief talk, or other elements. Singing carols learned in childhood is a favourite way for most people to get into the mood for Christmas. But those of us who are used to singing Christmas hymns and songs should not underestimate how unknown much of our repertoire might be to many people. If we are reluctant to include all the well known carols at the Carol Service, that means we will instead be including music that might be unknown to many visitors.
4. How can the environment be as welcoming and inviting as possible?
Having planned the content of the service carefully, we shouldn’t forget the other elements that will be part of our visitors experience. Do we need people managing the car park? Who will be on the welcome team? Are toilets well sign posted? What refreshments will we be offering, and how can we make sure there isn’t a 15 minute wait at the end of the service to get a cuppa? Will regular members be geared up to ensure there is a warm and friendly welcome? If we are genuinely concerned about making our Carol Service a positive experience for those that come – particularly visitors, we need to pray about and plan for every detail to be right.
5. What are you going to say?
A Carol Service probably isn’t the time and place for a 20 minute detailed exegesis on the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy. Informal probably works better than formal, and shorter might be more appropriate than longer. But we have a great message of hope and new beginnings, and the coming of God as flesh 2,000 years ago is key to this message. So think Gospel, think brief, and be engaging.
6. What future events or activities will people be invited to?
One aspect that sometimes can be forgotten is that of follow-up. Obviously the first element of this is to be planning ahead for suitable follow-up events or activities , and then secondly there needs to be appropriate communication and invitations. So it could be a new Alpha or other enquirers course, a one-off evangelistic invitation event, an invite to a regular church event or maybe a special service or services in the New Year that will be visitor friendly. Ideally the invitations would be both verbal and written. An explanation during the Carol Service of the fact that people will be receiving an invitation at the end works well.
And finally . . . We shouldn’t forget that a Carol Service is primarily an act of worship, not a concert. We can ensure that we actively build into the service, some opportunities for quiet, and a sense of awe and wonder that Christ not only came 2,000 years ago, but he still comes today into our lives.
These six questions will help us plan thoughtfully and prayerfully for our Carol Service to be a positive experience for visitors and regular attendees alike. Above everything else, we should pray that God will use the occasion to speak into people’s lives.