Despite the biting winter wind she wasn’t allowed a cup of tea mid-shift. Besides, she explained, if she did drink a brew she would only need a wee and that was a big no-no and wasn’t allowed by her boss. She had to stand for four hours without moving, holding a sign with her gloveless, cold shaking hands, an arrow pointing to the nearest Cash for Gold shop. It wasn’t exactly her idea of an ideal job but she had to do it. How else was she to pay for the kids’ Christmas presents?
We chatted for a while and she spoke of how she managed to keep the children’s expectations of Christmas lower by explaining to them the real meaning of Christmas, not all the commercial bling and tat and plastic crud. I smiled; thankful that I had met someone who, like me, knew the reason for the season.
“You see,” she explained, “Christmas is all about the birth of…”
I nodded in agreement waiting for her to finish her sentence.
“…Santa Clause. isn’t it.”
Wide-mouthed and lost for words I stood under the Cash for Gold sign contemplating her understanding of a Christmas that celebrated Santa’s birthday.“What about the nativity?” I finally perked up from my shocked state.
“The nitty watty?” she asked. “What’s that then?!”
I gently explained about the birth of Jesus and the gift of him for her and her family too. She hadn’t thought about Christmas like that before.
This short conversation woke me up once more to the fact that most people around me simply just don’t ‘get’ what Christmas has to do with Christ. I must admit that I love it when people ‘get it’ and when mad creative ideas actually work and spark off people’s imagination as it dawns on them that this good news of Jesus is, well, flipping good!
So, here’s my top 10 ways to reach people in your community with the story of Christ’s birth, they don’t include events or carol singing as I think the church as a whole has got this down to a fine art. So, instead of the ‘come and hear’ kind of things churches can do, here is a list of 10 ‘go and tell’ kind of activities.
1. Get in the Picture
Here’s a mission file that will help you set up a free Christmas project that is loads of fun! getinthepicture_sep16
One of the easiest and fun filled projects you could ever do! This is a project I started in 2008 which has now been used by hundreds of Churches in the UK. It enables all kinds of people to be involved in the Christmas story by encouraging them to participate and experience being part of the nativity in a fun way.
After setting up a nativity scene in their local town, churches invite people from their local community to dress up and be part of the scene.
2. Tell people they are loved
At the heart of the Christmas story is the message of love. A love for every person on the face of this planet, overwhelmingly loved and loved and loved some more. The most outrageously generous over-the-top gift that has ever been given is this: Jesus. For you and me. So whatever you give with the message of being loved: Mince pies, gifts, gold coins, the story of Jesus in booklets, whatever it is, give something away that echo’s the gift of Jesus for the world! A free gift is a symbol of grace. Last year I joined a team giving away small bags of chocolates and sweets with a simple message: ‘because you are loved.’
3. Give the story of Christmas away
There are two places I love to get my nativity story booklets from: Bridge builders and Life Words. There simply isn’t another time of year when people are willing to take and read a booklet about the life of Jesus. Some parents have commented to me how they would like to read to their children about the life of Jesus as they feel they haven’t learnt the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas.
How about running a film night in your local school/ shopping centre or village hall showing The Nativity as a means of giving the story away? It’s a beautiful adaptation of the Christmas story and one that will spark conversations.
4. Hide baby Jesus around your community
Paint some oval shaped pebbles as a baby sleeping and lay on a bed of straw in different places around your community, on doorsteps or benches, bus stops or pub tables… hide the baby Jesus for people to find!
This is something that everyone can take part with. Also, don’t be put off by the painting aspect, it really is as simple as 1,2,3.
- 1. Using white acrylic paint, paint an oval shape on one side of the stone. Let it dry.
- 2. Using a brown or pink acrylic paint, paint a roundish smaller shape for the face of Jesus. let it dry.
- 3.Using a permanent black marker draw around the face and body. Draw 4 lines for the swaddling clothes. Add the eyes, smiley mouth and one curl for the hair. Have fun!
5. Guard an empty cot for as long as you can
Find 3 willing volunteers to don a high viz security jacket for a few hours guarding an empty cot. (I got my jackets off ebay for £15 each) I’ve done this for a few years now and as people ask I’m doing, I’ve found myself saying:
“We are waiting for the birth of a king!”
“There’s a baby going to be born soon!”
“The king is coming.”
“Apparently there’s a king going to be born soon.”
People look and try to figure out the strange sight… If people want we also offer booklets of the nativity story. On a number of occasions people just say, “arh, I get it…”
The idea came from British artist Mark Wallinger. The Guardian newspaper reported his attempt of a commission for Leicester square.
I wrote and asked Mark Wallinger if I may use his idea. He didn’t reply, so I took that as a yes! It is a fun art installation to do. Full of anticipation and incarnation, a baby born right here in our midst.
6. Visit every pub in your town, even the dodgy ones
Some of the most deep heart-felt conversations have been down pubs while I have been dressed up as a shepherd or angel! I usually carry gifts and combine some of the ideas already shared, but the most effective is offering beer mats.
Pub managers love them (they are a good free gift) and those drinking in pubs usually accept them with thanks. We’ve got some awesome ones made up which declare:
It’s a boy! Don’t forget to whet the baby’s head this Christmas.
7. Give out some feathers, or other symbols! Really.
The message brought by the angels resonates with people. Buy a load of feathers and attach the ‘announcement’ of good news from the angels. When I have done this I have been amazed as to how many people want to talk about angels and finding feathers. A beautiful opportunity to talk about God’s presence and reality in their lives.
It really is quite amazing how many people find feathers in weird places. I heard a story once of a lady who in a time of heart ache and bereaving the loss of her child found feathers everywhere, including one in the fridge placed on top of a chocolate bar. I love how the Angels announced: do not be afraid. They brought good news and as I have given out feathers in the pub and on the streets I have also retold the good news of the one born for all people.
When I first gave out feathers last year I was amazed as to how such a simple gift brought joy to people. As I put them together down the pub some of the locals came over and asked about them… Some asked if they could take one for a friend too.
The challenge with the feathers is to be brave and tell someone who has yet to hear…‘ I am bringing you good news that will be great joy to all people.’
8. Wish Jesus a happy Birthday. Cheesy I know
It really couldn’t be easier. Ask people to sign a birthday card for a friend. Other ideas around this theme that a friend of mine did included giving out birthday candles with a simple message.
9. Dress up like an idiot
Getting dressed up to share the news of Jesus is fun! There really isn’t a time of year like Christmas when you can dress up like an idiot and get away with it. Here are a few ideas:
- A live nativity complete with donkey brings the old story close to people, and children love to pet a donkey gather round and take pictures. Nearly 20 years ago I did my first live nativity through the streets of Chester complete with Mary riding a donkey. It was a powerful roving nativity and people literally stopped in their tracks.
- Get a group of mates to dress as Kings who then frantically search for a star around a busy town centre. this creates a scene and a half and asks people of they have seen the ‘star!’
- Last year as a small team in Peterborough we wanted to give away gifts and to publicize this we dressed up one of the team as a star. He wasn’t too happy about it, but it certainly got people’s attention.
10. Whether it’s rapping or wrapping, use what you’ve got
I know this may seem like a cop out, a ruse to make a list of 10 rather than 9, but using what you have is simply the best gift you can give to let others in on the Christmas story. If you paint, then paint. If you sing then reverse busk (give away things instead of receiving donations.) If you dance then dance in your high-street! If you’ve got money, give it away to those who have none. If you rap or wrap, then get rapping or wrapping. If you have time use, serve, love and bless others who would be lonely this Christmas. whatever you’ve got, use it for the sake of those who have yet to connect with the Christmas story.
One year The Light Project made a stall on a busy shopping street with free teas and coffee and got a load of wrapping paper to wrap up people’s gifts. This generated lots of conversations!