As each Christmas passes, it becomes increasingly noticeable that traditional carols are falling into disfavour. On the one hand, this is to be expected in a secular society unreasonably afraid of offending, but it also suggests that there is still a great opportunity for Christians to fill a gap in making meaning of the Christmas season. Whereas televised events such as Christmas Eve’s Carols by Candlelight provide the strongest December faith connection for many Australians, recent research shows the potential of Christmas to proactively heighten Christianity’s impact.
Of course, only one third of people identifying as Christians actually attend church at least monthly. One in six adults have also abandoned the faith of their upbringing. This has perhaps contributed to a recent Australian Community Survey finding that two in three Australians do not have any close friends or family that go to church, despite more than a third claiming they would go if invited.
Whereas the proportion of Australians going to a church event in the past twelve months was 33%, the figure rose to 73% of those with at least one church-attending friend. The most likely event to be attended was either a regular weekend church service, or … a Christmas service.
This suggests three observations about the potential of Christmas for optimum impact.
1. Friendships help to facilitate intentional personal invitations.
Successful invites to services, including at Christmas, provide a foundation for ongoing connection with people for whom Christianity is otherwise not on the radar. This, however, needs intentionality.
We can never be too busy to care for people in the major ways that ultimately demonstrate that care.
Many Christians’ enthusiasm for inviting people to their church is sadly diminished by an overcommitment to less important aspects of the season.
It is also sapped by the belief of some that their own church lacks appeal.
Nevertheless, it is surely the responsibility of every churchgoer to stir their own passion for faith at such strategic times of engagement that serve to highlight the value of Christianity.
2. Familiar elements of Christmas can enhance the search for meaning.
When events to which people are invited at Christmas include traditional carols, these will be familiar enough to facilitate better connection than many of the more contemporary songs that have no resonance. A mixture of both, plus well-crafted variations on the old, can help to reach different audiences.
Quality events help the message get through, and these need our focused best in December. Tapping the emotion of Christmas can still inspire the undergirding message of Christ as the gift to our world.
Story-telling around the true meaning of Christmas and its promise of hope and peace can also allow a healthy confrontation regarding what is missing in people’s lives and what faith can offer them.
There is little point to our efforts if mere empathy is not also matched to clear engagement with the Gospel in a way that promotes surrender to the lordship of Christ.
3. Christmas events connect openness to the Gospel with renewed belief.
Nothing repels as quickly as badly-presented songs of poor quality or leaders going through the motions of running ‘just another service.’
People hear about Jesus in December and are also more open to hearing about why he matters, especially given that the research reveals that seeing people living out a genuine faith is the top attractor to faith today. And how do I logically demonstrate that I am a Christian without being an advocate of what (and who) has changed my life, anyway?
Each time Christians meet, they offer the chance to showcase the difference that that faith makes. The weekend service is the shop window opportunity to advertise the benefits and promise of a relationship with God. That calls for a continued commitment to a culture of excellence in churches today. The content of the message of Christ will speak for itself, but is best presented if it is well packaged.
A wave of recent texts on the positive impact of Christianity on Australia (The Bible in Australia, God is Good for You, The Fountain of Public Prosperity, and Attending to the National Soul) show its prevalence, but also the ongoing cause for optimism. Christianity is inherently good, despite its sometimes flawed practitioners, yet we can all rise to offer our best efforts at spruiking Jesus.
Christianity is not just resilient. It is genuinely life-changing. Many still attest to the power of a personal turnaround that reveals faith to be as relevant and compelling as ever.
Does this not make Christmas so critically important for every Christian in order to also be critically important to every Australian? Is this season not truly as vital as ever in inspiring each of us to excitedly, confidently, and passionately promote the hunger to connect with Jesus who is the only way to eternal life?
Have a great Christmas and the best start possible to a fruitful 2020.