8 Ways to Maximize Christmas Outreach at your Church

I’m an American serving as a lead pastor at a great church in Canada after serving over 30 years in the U.S. Canada is a great place to live and minister and I’m learning how to leverage key outreach events. Christmas Eve is by far the most attended service of the year, even surpassing Easter. This year Christmas Eve falls on Saturday which means Christmas Day falls on Sunday. As a staff we’ve spent considerable time planning how to maximize Christmas outreach. You might want to consider some of these ideas.

How to Maximize Christmas Outreach at your Church

  1. Provide multiple services.
    • Our church is one church with three unique language services. In addition to English, we offer a Spanish service and a Mandarin service, all at the same time on Sundays. We’ve tried doing a Christmas Eve multi-lingual service. We found, however, that some English speakers opted out of coming on Christmas Eve. This year we are offering four different services, three at 5 pm (English, Chinese, and Spanish) and one at 7 pm (English only). Although we probably could cram all the English speakers into one service (our auditorium seats 800 and we have space for the Spanish and and Mandarin service in other areas), parking would be an issue. And, multiple services provides options for families with special family gatherings on Christmas Eve.
  2. Pay special attention to families with kids.
    • This year for the first time we are providing a kids program through grade 2 during the 5 pm service. We usually include all kids in the service but during the last two years we’ve had some screamers and runners which made it difficult to keep people’s attention. We are also providing two options for families on Christmas Day. We will hold our regular 10.30 am service, although shorter and with no childcare. We also will provide packets of materials for parents who may want to have a family service at home on Christmas Day instead of coming to the church facility. We will make those available the Sunday before Christmas and at our Christmas Eve service.
  3. Distribute invite cards.
    • The past several years we’ve designed an attractive card that we mail to our community and put into the hands of our attenders two weeks prior. We encourage everyone to invite one to three friends using the invite card.
  4. Do a live nativity.
    • Our children’s ministry holds a live nativity in front of our building on Christmas Eve. That may sound old school, but people from the community actually come just for that. They and their kids visually see the Christmas story. We hire a company that provides live animals. The company also brings some smaller animals kids can pet. The highlight last year was a baby kangaroo. We even provide a petting zoo on Easter which is a huge draw. Kids (and adults) love animals.
  5. Design a special bulletin.
    • Each Sunday we hand out a standard format bulletin which highlights events at the church. But for Christmas Eve we design a bulletin targeted to the unchurched attender. We highlight programs and ministries that might interest them.
  6. Promote a felt-need sermon series.
    • In the U.S. I never saw many returnees to our felt-need series after Christmas Eve. However, some pastors in Canada say that they’ve seen unchurched people return to such a series. We’re going to try that this year.
  7. Recruit a special greeter team.
    • We use regular greeters and ushers each Sunday. Those greeters and ushers will be on duty Christmas Eve as well. But this year we are recruiting a special team of greeters who will wear a shirt that says, “Ask Me” on it. Their sole purpose is to mingle in the atrium to meet new people and to be available for questions new folks may have about our church.
  8. Begin Christmas planning in September.
    • If you are just now planning Christmas, you may not have enough time to implement some of these suggestions. In the past couple of years it seemed that Christmas simply slipped up on us. Now, however, we have visually scheduled onto our staff wall calendar to begin planning for Christmas each September. We are in great shape for this year.

What innovative things are you doing this year as you prepare to reach out this Christmas?

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6 Ways to Add Interest to your Leadership Training Meetings

There are good meetings and there are bad meetings. I’ve been in and led both kinds. I once attended a webinar lecture that was definitely a ‘good’ meeting. The facilitator used a technique that leaders can use to increase attention and retention in their leadership training meetings. Here’s what she did in that training meeting that you can try to improve yours.

First, some background about my state of mind as the meeting began. Drowsy from a poor night’s sleep and in a brain fog because of too many carbs for lunch, I forced myself to log in for my class. Had I been given a choice, I would have taken a nap instead. My attention level was low. However, the professor used several simple techniques to rouse my attention. As a result, I learned a lot from the lecture.

On one power point slide she printed a single URL. She cued up the slide in this way. She said we were about to do an exercise that required us to focus for 30 seconds on people in the video who wore white shirts and were throwing a ball to each other. We were to count the number of times they passed the ball. She also commented that most people’s attention span lasts only 12 seconds.

Immediately part of my brain alerted other parts to pay attention because something was about to happen. These internal dynamics helped elevate my attention with a shot of norepinephrine, a brain chemical related to adrenalin. In this 30 second exercise she literally used 6 techniques that woke me and helped me learn better.

  1. Curiosity: The exercise woke up the part of my brain that is drawn to novelty. Novel things get our attention more easily than common things.
  2. Challenge: I was drawn into the lecture by the prospect of competition with others and with myself. I now wanted to learn.
  3. Motivation: The 12-second rule motivated me. I thought to myself, I know I can pay attention longer than that.
  4. Relevance: Related to the challenge, not only was I good with numbers but the exercise was relevant to the current topic about attention.
  5. Anticipation: In anticipation I sat up in my chair, opened my eyes wider, and felt my heart rate elevate.
  6. Satisfaction: After the exercise, I felt good because I had beaten the odds and gotten the right answer. This good feeling was due to the increase of another neurotransmitter, dopamine, which makes us feel good when it enters our brain’s pleasure center.

The next time you schedule a leadership meeting, try to use several of these simple techniques to increase attention and thus improve learning.

What techniques have you tried that have helped enhance your leadership meetings?

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Are you a Mary or a Martha Leader? Take this Quiz to Find Out

One of the most famous stories in the Bible describes Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. The story contrasts two kinds of living and leading: one a frenzied, driven style shown by Martha and the other a reflective style seen in Mary whom Jesus commended. In this post I include a personal inventory a leader can take to discover his or her leadership style.

Greg McKeown who authored the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less captures Mary’s style with his definition of what he calls an essentialist.

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless (p. 7).”

I’ve included Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit below and follow it with a 10 statement self-assessment you can take to discover which of the two styles your leadership is most like. I’ve based the assessment from insights I drew from the story.

Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha or Mary Leadership Style Inventory

As you take the assessment, grade yourself in this way.

  • If the statement is never true of you, give yourself a ‘0.’
  • If it’s sometimes true of you, give yourself a ‘1.’
  • If it’s often true of you, give yourself a ‘2.’
  1. The urgent often crowds out the important. 
    • Martha’s busyness in the kitchen caused her to miss what was most important.
  1. Projects often take precedence over people. 
    • Martha’s project and busyness to make a meal trumped being present with Jesus. Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll writes, “Busyness rapes relationships. It substitutes shallow frenzy for deep friendship. It promises satisfying dreams, but delivers hollow nightmares. It feeds the ego, but starves the inner man. It fills the calendar, but fractures the family. It cultivates a program, but plows under priorities. (Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, p. 79)
  1. Everything has to be done perfectly.
    • A simple meal would have sufficed for Jesus, but not for Martha.
  1. You feel a nagging feeling of oughtness.
    • Martha had to attend to the details that had to be made.
  1. You often show insensitivity and impatience toward other people.
    • Martha yelled at Jesus for not sending Mary into the kitchen to help.
  1. You feel resentment about others who aren’t as driven.
    • The story reveals Martha’s resentment toward Mary’s lack of helping her prepare the meal.
  1. You convey a demanding spirit with others.
    • Martha demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help.
  1. You have difficulty concentrating on one thing at a time.
    • The scripture uses the word worried to describe an agitated state of mind which certainly inhibited her ability to concentrate and focus.
  1. Delays easily frustrate you.
    • Ditto what I’ve written above about Martha’s response.
  1. You often experience sunset fatigue.
    • This term sunset fatigue comes from John Ortberg. He describes it as coming to the end of your day with no energy for important things like being present for your family. Martha must have been exhausted after Jesus’ visit, not because of Jesus’ presence, but because of her misplaced priorities.

How did you do? Here’s the scoring key.

  • If you scored 0-3, you’re in good shape.
  • If you scored 4-6, take 2 baby aspirin.
  • If you scored 7-12, take 2 extra strength Tylenol.
  • If you scored 12-20, you might need Valium.

If you found yourself more like Martha than Mary, consider three ways to counter a Martha driven leadership style.

  1. Slow down your pace of leadership. Once when the pace got too frenetic, Jesus told his disciples to get away to a quiet place and rest (Mark 6.31). Slowing down involves not just slowing our physical pace, but our mental pace as well.
  2. Reflect more often to discover what is most essential. Martha was in such a rush that she failed to reflect upon what was most important at that very moment, being with Jesus. Jesus preferred her company over her service at that moment. Life will not automatically arrange itself into the correct priorities. We must regularly stop to reflect so we don’t miss what’s most important.
    • McKeown tells a story in his book that illustrates this idea. He tells about a man whose three-year-old daughter died. In his grief the dad put together a video of her short life. But as he went through all of his home videos he realized something was missing. He had taken video of every outing they had gone on and every trip they had taken. He had lots of footage. That wasn’t the problem. He then realized that while he had plenty of footage of the places they had gone— the sights they had seen, the views they had enjoyed, the meals they had eaten, and the landmarks they had visited— he had almost no close-up footage of his daughter herself. He had been so busy recording the surroundings he had failed to record what was essential (p. 236).

  1. Put first things first. Jesus told Martha that “One thing is needed.” Sometimes we simply must narrow our choices to put first things first. The word priority kept its singular focus until the 1900’s when we pluralized the term. We often need to step back from the pace of life and leadership to make sure we have prioritized what is truly most important, keeping ourselves moored to Jesus as we lead.

As Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What has helped you become more of a Mary leader?

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Generosity and the Brain

I believe my leadership calling is to bring insight about the incredible gift from God called the brain into conversations about Christian leadership. So, many of my blog posts reflect this bent from my current learning. Since we’re to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6.20) and the brain is part of our body, we need to honor God with our brains. In this post I explain two significant processes in our brains that influence generosity: the sense of reward we personally experience when we give and the empathy we feel toward the recipient of our gifts.

I grew up in the church and I tithed even before I was a Christian. I go beyond a tithe because the bible says I’m supposed to be generous. We certainly must preach and teach about generosity, but we also must recognize how people make decisions. Emotions are a vital part of our decision making. In fact, neuroscientists are discovering that people whose emotional centers of their brains are damaged (called lesions) can’t make wise decisions. Often they lack discretion because they can’t emotionally connect that a decision could bring a bad outcome. So, it makes sense that we pastors have some sense of how the brain works.

I’d like to think that Christians give solely from obedience, not on the basis of a reward they will get. They don’t. People give partially because it makes them feel good and gives them a sense of satisfaction. I believe that in many cases, such giving is biblically justified because the bible often speaks about serving God for reward. In fact, when people give, it increases a neurotransmitter in their brains, dopamine, that makes them feel good.

Secondly, neuroscientists have discovered that a key component that increases giving lies in the degree the giver empathizes with the recipient of the gift. If their hearts are touched and they feel empathetically drawn to the need, they usually give more frequently and more generously.

So, in light of what we know about the brain and generosity, I suggest four simple ideas to incorporate into your stewardship plans.

  1. Put a tangible face on giving to increase empathy. Certainly provide budgets, but translate those dollar figures into tangible, heartfelt needs. For example, I’ve sometimes explained that giving helps us do even the small things like buying pampers for the nursery.
  2. Tell stories to connect with people’s hearts (empathy). When I’ve promoted giving we’ve often told stories how their giving has changed someone’s life.
  3. Regularly report financial status to build trust. Trust builds favor and connects with the brain’s sense of fairness. Use clear, concise, and frequent reporting to keep people in the know.
  4. Appeal to personal satisfaction to connect with the reward motivation. Share biblical stories that model how when bible characters gave sacrificially, they experienced personal pleasure and the pleasure of God.

God gave us the incredible gift of our brains. He’s also given us smart people who sit around in laboratories peering into people’s brains with brain scanners to explain how they work. We need to stay teachable and to learn more about his magnificent creation called the brain. If you are a geek, you can read the report I’ve referenced below.

How about you? What insights have you learned that have encouraged people to give more generously?


Hare, T., Camerer, C., Knoepfle, D., O’Doherty, J. & Rangel, A. (2012) Value Computations in Ventral Medial PFC during Charitable Decision Making Incorporate Input from Regions Involved in Social Cognition. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (2), pp.583-590.


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Pastors Who Make $25 a Month: What I Learned about Leadership from them

I just returned from a trip to Cuba with a team of 8 from our church. We spent 7 days serving pastors and serving a local church there. It was an incredibly profitable trip on multiple levels. Although we came to serve them, I believe I learned more from them. Cuba is a very poor country with wages averaging about $25 US,  including pastoral salaries. Here’s what I learned about leadership.

First, a bit about what we did. The pastors there tell us that their greatest need is leadership development. So, we focused on working with their leadership and providing leadership development for them.

  • Working alongside a local church’s children’s leadership team to carry out a community VBS. We didn’t lead it. We simply helped train and resource them so they could lead it. This experience gave them ideas about how they could lead one themselves in the future without our help.
  • Visiting churches for three half-day training sessions for local pastors. To reach one church, we actually walked up a mountain for three miles after our truck got stuck in a river. 30 pastors and church leaders were waiting for us to encourage and train them. At the other two locations 30-40 pastors eagerly awaited our time with them.
  • Training a group of about 80 pastors and leaders in an intensive 3-day training session focusing on leadership skills.
  • Working with the men’s leadership at a local church to carry out a men’s retreat that included 25 believers and 25 unbelievers. 23 of those man came to faith during the retreat. Amazing.

By focusing on leadership development, we leveraged our short time there by pouring into the pastors themselves. All together, we served about 150 pastors that represented conservatively over 8,000 people in their churches.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Where there is a will there is a way.
    • You won’t find Wal-marts or Christian bookstores in Cuba. Neither do Cubans enjoy the convenience of Amazon.com. Few stores are available for simple supplies that we often take for granted (like crayons for the kid’s ministry). But the pastors there find ways to make do with what they have and God has blessed them. The churches are rapidly growing and they have a vision to plant a new church for every 1000 people.
    • Question  for reflection: Do you let obstacles hinder your vision or do you find a way?
  • Limited resources made them appreciate even the small things.
    • As part of the intense 3-day training, the pastors took a final exam and created a 90-day action plan where they recorded what they would apply during the next 90 days. I brought a few extra single sheet paper copies that I offered to them if they wanted them. They quickly snatched them up because even finding paper is difficult in Cuba. A simple piece of paper, even with copy already on it would get used in some way.
    • Question for reflection: Have you lost appreciation for the small things God has provided for your ministry (like internet access, bible resources, and paper)?
  • Ministry success really does rise and fall on leadership.
    • The church in Cuba has dramatically grown the last decade or so. The denomination we worked with has prioritized a well-organized leadership development plan that includes a seminary, extension sites, in-church computer labs with bible software, and on-going training through intense seminars like the one I taught. They recognize that leadership is a powerful lever to move Kingdom purposes forward.
    • Question for reflection: Do you have a leadership development plan at your church?
  • I’m not sure I really know what sacrifice is.
    • This is my second trip serving pastors in Cuba. I used to think that since I’m an American serving in Canada I was making a great sacrifice for the Kingdom. After spending time with Cuban pastors, however, my ‘sacrifice’ pales into insignificance. The pastors at the 3-day intensive slept in non-airconditioned rooms with little air flow. Yet, they were alert and hungry to learn each day.
    • Question for reflection: Do you ever feel sorry for yourself that ministry is a ‘sacrifice’ rather than a privilege?

As our church considers making ministry to Cuba a permanent part of our focus, I look forward to continuing to learn from a passionate group of leaders who love Jesus in difficult circumstances.

If you have experienced cross-cultural ministry, what have you learned?

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