Carols by glow stick

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The Rev’d Adam Lowe from St Bart’s, Toowoomba shares some simple ideas and helpful resources for churches so they can run enjoyable and effective Christmas carol events for their communities

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A simple carols service is one of the most effective ways to share the Good News of Christmas with a range of people from both inside and outside of your local church. Incredibly, almost everyone (even if only secretly) loves coming along to sing carols! Despite living in an era in which fewer people identify as Christian, it is amazing that still so many are delighted to join in and sing perhaps the highest Christology that would ever pass our lips! It is also an opportunity to be less formal and more accessible, providing an important ‘entry point’ for people who may never have been to a church before.

At St Bart’s, we have found that a simple one-hour service, followed by refreshments of fruit (fruit, fruit cake, and fruit punch), is an incredible opportunity to welcome people in a non-threatening way. We hold the service mid-week, usually in the last week of the school term, as this is often a slightly quieter time (and before everyone goes away). Over the years, we have also found that our own parishioners are increasingly comfortable in inviting other people along.

Two of our children’s team, Kate Venables and Bettrys Lowe (Children and Families Minister), delivering an enthralling Kids’ Talk at St Bart’s ‘Carols by Glow Stick’

We hold the carols inside (now over two nights) so that the events are less weather dependent. Holding the carols inside also helps create more intimate engagement with people, and is a first step in making St Bart’s Church familiar.

God has used these carol services in ways that we could only previously have dared to imagine – there has been some extraordinary Gospel fruit, including people coming to faith, returning to the life of a local church, and taking another step towards Jesus.

Over the years, we have used the following guidelines when planning our ‘Carols by Glow Stick’:

  1. Missional: The clear focus is sharing the Good News of Jesus. This happens through the songs, kids’ talk, Bible reading, a brief message, and also prayer. We do not start planning until we have an event prayer team in place to help ensure that our focus is on God.
  2. Welcoming: People should receive an amazing welcome (beginning online in the advertising, and continuing as they arrive in the carpark, enter the church building, during the fellowship time, and then extending afterwards following the event).
  3. Multi-Generational: There should be opportunities for all generations to engage. This means that we design a more contemporary and informal service to reach a broader demographic. (We do love the traditional lessons and carols too, but would serve a different purpose in our context.)
  4. Excellence: Everything we do should be simple, but high quality.
  5. Succinct: We keep to one hour for the actual service. We recognise that it is a busy time of year, people are tired, and we would love people to leave still wanting more (not less!). We also do not want to hinder people from staying afterwards by making it too late.
  6. Invitational: Our people are encouraged to be invitational (by distributing flyers and social media sharing, including sharing Facebook event pages). Making it easy for parishioners (e.g. quality promotional material), building their confidence (through positive experiences each year), and modelling (e.g. interviewing people on Sundays preceding the carols on how to invite someone) are helpful.
  7. Free: We do not charge for tickets, glow sticks, any gifts, or refreshments – the night is a small, but sincere gift to all who attend (however, we do have a bowl for optional gift giving in the foyer, as many people ask to make a contribution and we want to honour their request).
  8. Intentional: During the service we invite people to our Christmas services (flyers are handed out afterwards) and we also offer follow-up via expression of interest cards (e.g. a short four-week course on Jesus). Many people have responded!
  9. Generous: We offer a small gift with a simple Gospel message to all who come along (see the sample in the link below) that helps families of all shapes and sizes to be discipled. Last year we produced sets of cards with some really practical ideas to prepare for Christmas in a meaningful way. This was inexpensive, and very much appreciated.
  10. Relational: The fellowship time afterwards (refreshments) is not just an ‘add-on’, but a key opportunity for engagement and great Gospel conversations. Having a photo booth provides a terrific point of contact and also an appreciated gift (we print the photo on an attractive magnetic card with some information about children and family activities at St Bart’s) that can be displayed on people’s fridges.

To access a range of helpful resources (including a sample order of service, flyer, post cards for photo booths, 12 days of Christmas gift cards for families, and St Bart’s kids’ videos) visit our website.

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