Round about now is when the mutters appear, as the stores begin to show the first hint of their Christmas stock. ‘Christmas already?’, people ask. ‘We’ve only just got back from summer holidays.’
We pastors live in a different world. For us, Christmas never really goes away. It sits there in our diaries, all year round, making a slight dent.
(Caveat: this is a very northern-hemispherist blogpost. If you’re lucky enough to live south of the equator, you experience this part of the year very differently. Totally get that. Enjoy the sunshine.)
We’ve just had (September) a big sit-down meeting to make sure everyone’s on the same page with everything, and that we’ve learnt our lessons. I’m sure other people are doing the same thing right now, even if it’s just that early autumn overview of your diary, so here are the three seasons of planning Christmas. You’re not too late to start!
1. Capture it while it’s fresh
Take careful notes after each of the different events you run, in real time —trust me, they will merge into one if you don’t. And then early in January do a proper shake down. If you’re on your own, use a simple spreadsheet or – even better – a different piece of A4 for each item. If you’re in a team, grab one of those clever rolls of plastic flip chart paper that stick to the wall by static electricity, and create a long whiteboard sequence that everyone can see and write on.
For each event ask yourself five questions:
- What went well, and how could we optimise that next year?
- What didn’t go as well as we hoped, and how could we improve it?
- What was confusing, and how could we make it clearer next time?
- What was missing that we need to add?
- What do we need to stop?
Warning – this can be quite a mind numbing experience, especially if your church does a lot. Keep it moving, keep it fun.
Now, you need to capture those thoughts somehow. I snap it all into Evernote, but it’s also useful if someone types it up.
2. Plan it from a distance
One of the things about Christmas that I think strikes pastors more than most people is that the day which is central keeps moving. Easter and Pentecost are always on a Sunday, but Christmas Day can be any day – and any pastor will tell you that the years when it falls on Sunday feel like Pharaoh’s fattest cows, and the years when it falls on midweek feel very, very skinny. Each year you have to start out fresh, seeing where the carols, the kids services and so on all fit together, and what you’re going to do on the surrounding Sundays.
The years when Christmas Day falls on Sunday feel like Pharaoh’s fattest cows, and the years when it falls midweek feel very, very skinny.
This really is a job for May or June. Dare to leave it until September, and you’ll realise that you’ve blundered. Have your musicians round for an early summer barbecue, and take a hard look at the diary over a cold beer and a very good steak. They’ll think you’re weird, but they’ll thank you as the evenings begin to shorten.
3. Review it while it’s still in pencil
This is why we’ve just had our sit-down meeting. We all need to know everything that’s being planned, and so we needed now to pull out our thoughts from last January and make sure that all those concerns are addressed. We had a side and a half of bullet points, and we worked through them together. It took about an hour, but it means we can head into the next few months knowing that we’re synchronised and aware of each others’ plans.
Even if you’re working on your own, there are some key members of the church you’ll need to liaise with, and if they’re starting to plan a crib service or something, they’ll be really glad you took some notes and haven’t forgotten them.
And, dear publishers, video producers, songwriters and other cool creatives – if we’re going to use your stuff this year we need you to share it with us now, not in November. Even small churches plan Christmas.