It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and not just for kids’ toy collections. With Christmas right around the corner, churches across the United States are gearing up for special services and record attendance.

Pew Research ranks Christmas service attendance second only to Easter and shows peaks in Google searches for churches around the holidays. And according to a Gallup poll, nearly 62 percent of Americans report attending church on Christmas Eve or Christmas – compared to below 20 percent weekly attendance throughout the year.

For churches, this means more than crowded pews, overflow space and special programming. The Christmas crowd represents a group of visitors – many of whom might be coming to your church for the first time – who you have the chance to reach all year long.

While it can be tempting to put all of your energy into making sure your Christmas services are impactful and go off without a hitch, the real opportunity lies when January rolls around and you can compel people to return outside of the holiday hustle. So before you collapse into a post-Christmas coma, make sure you’re making the most of your January opportunity:

1)    Plan for January before your Christmas service.

Your Christmas services are exactly when you’ll want to announce your upcoming January series to this broader audience, so it’s critical to have the series already prepped long before Christmas arrives. Choose a theme, design graphics and be ready to announce the new series during the holiday services. Plan to launch this series a few weeks into the New Year, to give everyone a chance to get back from holiday travel.

2)    Start the year with a “felt need” series.

Many people who attend Christmas services might not be active church attenders or even professing Christians. To reach this group beyond just Christmas Eve, it’s important to offer messages that are relevant and meaningful to the challenges that everyone experiences. Hold the in-depth Revelations or apologetics study for later in the year and instead lead with a “felt need” series – one that addresses topics such as family, marriage, finances, hopes or dreams, fears or worries, or other pain points of the average person. Nearly everyone is thinking and planning for the New Year in January, so this is a great way to speak into the lives of regular attenders and welcome back those who are maybe new to or reconsidering the idea of church.

3)    Have materials available during Christmas services.

Not only should your January series be planned before Christmas, you should go into the Christmas services planning to promote, promote, promote. Here are some of the materials we recommend having available over the holiday week or weekend:

  • A video about the series that can be shown at the end of the service
  • A series postcard with the theme and service times in each seat
  • Mini invite cards available for congregants to take and pass out to family and friends
  • Social media posts planned and peppered in alongside Christmas messages (and of course, plan a larger series push once January arrives)

4)    Collect contact information and follow up.

No matter what you do, be sure to collect information from people who attend your Christmas service. While you likely won’t be able to meet everyone who walks in the door, you can be sure to make them feel welcome in the following weeks.

Find a non-invasive way, such as a connections card or text marketing system to collect contact information from those who are willing to share it and interested in learning more. In the first week or week and a half after Christmas, send out handwritten notes thanking them for attending and welcoming them to the church, along with a postcard about the upcoming January series. Friendly follow up and a direct invitation to return can make all the difference in whether someone joins you again.

Christmas is a busy, exciting and sometimes stressful time of year for churches. We get that simply making the holiday happen and accommodating new visitors can be time-consuming and draining. But if you put all the focus on the holidays and ignore what follows, you’ll miss incredible opportunities to make a long-term difference in the lives of those God sends through your doors. Strategic planning for January and intentionality in follow up can help you maximize the holiday and turn new faces into new friends.

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