Toys "R" Us wants you for Christmas.
I remember reading an article about a very targeted plan by the toy giant to "invade the mall [during the] holiday season, opening 600 'Express' stores in malls and other shopping centers around the country, more than six times [the previous] year's count, and hiring 10,000 seasonal workers."
During a time of economic downturn, then-CEO Gerald Storch saw this as a necessary "aggressive action" plan.
The company indeed went into action and the question simply became, "How big can we make this?"
Which led me to wonder, how big can we make Christmas?
Or more specifically, Christmas Eve?
Evangelical churches of all kinds throughout the United States have seldom held services on Christmas Day when it has not fallen on a Sunday (a tradition that dates back to the Puritans). In fact, marking Christmas has never been tied to a Sunday-specific celebration (as with Easter).
If there is a day that has uniformly been seized by churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, it has been Christmas Eve. For many years, Christmas Eve has been the day of choice for the communal celebration among Christians of the birth of Christ.
Christmas Eve services are a last bastion against the rampant materialism and secularism that threatens to overwhelm the true meaning of the season, and serve to keep the birth of Christ in the center of our hearts and celebrations.
They are also one of the most strategic ways we can reach out to individuals for Christ so that one day they may celebrate His birth with us in the fullness of the new birth He will bring to their life. Christmas Eve really is one of the best times to reach out to the unchurched in a culture that, for now at least, still draws them to attend such services.
As a result, we need to ask ourselves – as Toys "R" Us did – "How big can we make this?"
And by how big can we make this, I mean:
How many people can we reach for Christ who wouldn't darken the doorstep of a church any other time of the year?
How can we most strategically remind them of the reason for the season in a way their latest trip to the mall did not?
If they naturally turn their thoughts to church and Jesus, how can we serve those inclinations and let this Christmas Eve mark the advent of Christ in their life?
Our Christmas Eve services are planned months in advance, staff is out in full force, we employ hundreds of volunteers, we give a present to all in attendance (usually a book to serve a spiritual search or journey), and we offer a treat (like cookies and hot cocoa) after the service.
This year we will offer 18 services over six days and four campuses. A lot of effort, I know. But the way we figure it, there was a lot of effort in the incarnation, and it was for more than a Christmas card.
It was, as the angel said, to bring "good news of great joy for all the people."
So how big are we going to make it?
As big as we can.
James Emery White
Mae Anderson, "Toys 'R' Us opening 600 holiday stores in malls, hiring 10,000," USA Today, September 9, 2010, read online.
This blog was originally published in 2010. The Church & Culture Team brings this blog annually as church's prepare for their Christmas Eve services.