Creative Ideas for Advent Outreach
As individuals and families look at their holiday to-do lists with a critical eye, will their schedules involve celebrating Advent in some way at your church this year? This countdown to Christmas provides rich opportunities for churches to bring meaning to the season, and to provide events that can introduce neighbors to a loving and welcoming church community. Here are a few ways churches across the conference are leveraging events to engage their communities:
Community Intrigued by Floating Manger Scene
Each year, Cedar Bayou Grace UMC in Baytown sponsors a boat captain’s breakfast and lighted Christmas Boat Parade since the church sits right on the water. Since Baytown hosts a huge land parade through the streets of the community each fall, CBG UMC enters a “boat float” and church members hand out flyers to the crowd that announce the upcoming CBG UMC Christmas boat parade. Longtime member and boater Dr. Steve Coggins who heads up the Christmas boat parade logistics says, “We’ve had everything floating by from decorated kayaks to yachts – and even a shrimp boat one year.
I put my 22-ft fishing boat in the parade each year and have even been known to pull a manger scene behind it!” Adds Steve, “The prime viewing spot is at the church, so we make an evening out of it with a band playing holiday music and fire pits for marshmallows and it has really taken off in the community.”
To further extend the outreach aspect of these events, Cedar Bayou Grace UMC hosts a captain’s breakfast for the registered entrants the morning of the parade, and hosts an awards celebration service at the church on the Sunday following.
This year’s boat parade will happen on December 15. Notes Steve, “All of these activities show newcomers that there are normal, fun loving folks at church. Many visitors and new families come to church after the parade to see the photo slide show and learn who won, which just provides yet another touch point to experience a true sense of community.” Cedar Bayou Grace UMC members also have a longtime tradition of making hand poured, fired, painted and stained nativity figurines for the children, and giving one out on the first Sunday in December until the child has a whole set.
“It’s a 12-piece set, so it is a sad time for me to hand the donkey to a child because that means the end of this special celebration,” says project chairperson Diane Gillet. “We have a special Christ child figurine Celebration at 5 pm with carols, the Christmas story and other events that are cherished times for families and grandparents in the community.”
Bringing the Christmas Story to Life
According to Reverend Harold Travis, Clearlake UMC hosts a "Walk Through Bethlehem" as a special event to involve the community. Members of the church stay in character as shop keepers, beggars, shepherds, wise men, and, Baby Jesus in the manger. “Staying in character is so important,” says Rev. Travis. “I went to an elementary school and a student saw me and said, "I saw the baby Jesus at your church."â€¨â€¨
Another of his favorite interactive ministry moments was when a small child asked the shopkeeper if she lived there. “When she said yes, he then told her that he thought that the Roman soldier was about to get Jesus, so she asked what Jesus should do and the boy replied I think he needs to escape to Egypt."
As a part of Christian Outreach Alliance, each year the church (1) hosts a Christmas dinner for our Hispanic neighbors, (2) collects and distributes toys to 50 children who have a parent in prison, (3) hosts a Cookies with Santa event, and (4) and will be hosting Amal and the Night Visitor in mid-December.
First UMC Pasadena has a tradition involving special lunchtime devotionals on Wednesdays. Sunday School classes bring soup to share with all that attend.
This year the church is adding a new component by asking those who come to lunch to help package desserts that will be delivered to individual staff members from two schools in Pasadena ISD.
Pastor John Stephenson says, “We will also put a copy of the week's devotional in with the dessert. Those who attend lunch will be invited to help the staff deliver those care packages to the schools.” First UMC targeted two schools in their district that receive almost no support from parents, service clubs, or corporate sponsors.
“When we spoke with the principal of one of these schools she was nearly in tears when she accepted our offer of doing this,” he adds.
“Apparently, nobody in the community has been doing anything like this for their school. It is my hope that this will serve as an expression of the love of God to the men and women who work so hard to educate children and teens in our community.
I also hope it will be the beginning of a larger movement within our church, a new way for us to be more intentional about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Silsbee Soup Sing-a-long
Dr. Dan Darby, Senior Pastor First United Methodist Church in Silsbee, TX says, in addition to a Christmas Cantata, Children's Christmas Pageant, and standard Christmas Eve Services, his church is hosting a Pre-Parade Party.
“Every year Silsbee has the Christmas in the Big Thicket Parade on the first Saturday of December at 6 pm, so our party before the parade is open to the public, and we will serve hot dogs, popcorn, desserts, and hot chocolate at 5 pm before the parade, and invite everyone to sit on the church lawn and watch the parade as it passes by.” On Sunday evening, Dec. 21, community residents and members are invited to bring a pot of soup to the church for the Sing for Your Soup event.
“We put the soup on the stove or in the crock pot under a watchful eye of a volunteer, and then the rest of us pile into cars and go out and sing Christmas Carols for the shut-ins, elderly, nursing home residents, or anybody we think needs a little lift.” Participants then return for soup, cornbread and dessert to add to their Christmas spirit.
In a new advertising campaign for Advent, United Methodist Communications invites local churches to Reclaim Christmas and Rethink Church with a sermon series and a website re-design focused on simplifying the season and asking families to spend time, not money. The advertising campaign leads faith seekers to a re-designed and mobile-compatible RethinkChurch.org homepage.
New IP detection capabilities will display a customized listing where visitors can find church-hosted Advent events to get involved. Additionally, churches that update their Find-A-Church profiles with special Advent activities-such as service events, free meals and candlelight services-will be prioritized above others on the homepage when a visitor in their area lands on RethinkChurch.org.
The IP detection will then signal churches via email when someone from their area visits the site. In addition to finding ways to get involved in local church activities, RethinkChurch.org visitors can get information about simplifying their lives and discover opportunities for supporting those in need.
To download the free sermon series and to update your Find-A-Church profile to include Advent activities, visit umcom.org/differentkind.
At RethinkChurch.org, visitors may interact, learn more about the church, and search for involvement opportunities.