You see it year after year: More people filling in your pews for the Christmas service. Some are coming to make their obligatory annual church appearance, while others are faithful members who are eager to participate in the traditions of a Christmas Eve service.

Though having more people fill the sanctuary is a good thing; seeing a noticeable decline in attendance after the holiday can be discouraging.

However, this attendance spike at Christmas is an opportunity to turn your unchurched guests into active church members.

One way to do this is by planning a memorable Christmas service that motivates and inspires. Through preparation and prayer, pulling off such a service is not only possible but enjoyable.

Here are four tips on how to make planning for Christmas easier and less stressful:

Tip No. 1: Start Now

It’s summer, and you’re knee deep in Vacation Bible School, back-to-school events, and summer camp activities. Christmas in July is a fun phrase to throw around, but never one you thought to take seriously.

However, if you wait until November to start planning your Christmas service, you’ll be mired in Christmas burnout come Thanksgiving. Trying to plan last minute can lead to long evening hours, excessive time away from family, and a harder time securing volunteers.

That’s why setting aside time now — when the holiday decor is still tucked away in a back room somewhere — to plan Christmas celebrations is the ideal way to smoothly plan a memorable service. After all, it’s Christmas, and being so stressed, we forget its importance doesn’t make for a great atmosphere in which to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Tip No. 2: Reflect on Prior Years

Since this probably isn’t your first Christmas rodeo, reflecting on last year’s service will help you know how to improve for this year. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team as you look at prior years:

  • How did you, your team, and your volunteers feel in December and once Christmas was over? Were you exhausted and irritated with each other? If so, why and how can you prevent those issues this year?
  • How did the Christmas events turn out? Was your attendance as high as you expected?
  • What feedback did you receive from church members?

Also, if you had a lessons learned meeting afterward, refer to those notes and see what the team mentioned during those sessions. Reviewing your team’s immediate feedback will be much more valuable than trying to reflect months later.

Based on this information, move to Tip No. 3 and decide what’s most important.

Tip No. 3: Decide What’s Most Important

Did your church hold a Christmas outreach in mid-December, a Christmas children’s play, a concert, a nativity production, and multiple services on Christmas Eve? If you answered yes to most of the above, then perhaps reducing the number of Christmas events can help you stay focused on creating fewer, yet more meaningful ones.

In addition to the reflection you did in Tip No. 2, ask yourself these questions:

  • As a church, what are you trying to accomplish in December?
  • Do you want to serve the community and invite them to attend Christmas services?
  • Does a big Christmas production make sense for your congregation and budget?

Once you know what you want to accomplish, narrow down your event list accordingly. Be brutally honest as a team about which events were successful versus which ones are simply “what we’ve always done.”

Tip No. 4: Gather an Event Planning Team

An event planner can be the difference between a successful event and a failed one. Designate an event planner to coordinate all the detailed tasks, deadlines, and communication between the church departments that will be involved with Christmas celebrations.

For churchwide holiday events, make sure you have a representative on the team from each department, including finance, communications, facilities, and other behind-the-scenes groups.

Also, invite volunteers to be a part of the planning process instead of just day-of responsibilities. Last but not least, make sure to track progress and hold people accountable to deadlines set by the event planner. And no, the fact that “Christmas is months away” isn’t a good excuse for missing a deadline.

The opportunity to turn non-church-goers into active members is a mission worth planning for. Summer preparation sessions will go a long way in helping you create a Christmas service to remember — and it’ll give a whole new meaning to Christmas in July.