by Laura Neale
I remember reading an article a few years ago about just how many non-believers attend church services over the Christmas period. The report stated that these people ‘had no faith, or desire to get to know God, or even to come to church any other time of year’. These people gave two reasons that they attended church over the Christmas period – 1) they were raised going to church at Christmas and 2) they enjoyed the festive feel of the events that happened at this time of year.
(Did you see the famous Angel 3 Nativity video from 2011 - what a confident singer - apparently her mum was sitting at the back and told her to sing up so she could hear!)
Another statistic that came out of this research was that the majority of people who go to church in the Christmas period, want to attend a traditional service, such as a Christingle, a carol service or a nativity; only a small number wanted something new and different.
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a mixture of the old and new – a modern version of a classic carol, a retelling of the nativity (if you haven’t seen ‘The Star’, a film about the nativity story from the donkey’s point of view, I would highly recommend checking it out). The old and new don’t always blend together well, and sometimes, trying to do so can lose the original message and spoil the parts people love, but when done well, updating the traditional can provide new ways to make Christmas more relevant and accessible.
For many churches and individuals, last year’s celebrations looked rather different to usual. Many churches shared their Christmas services and events online and found ways of connecting as a community outside of the building. Although we have vaccines, mask wearing and rules to protect us, many people don't want to go to large gatherings inside church buildings. Other people are unable to get into church buildings and are therefore, still connecting online. This is why it is so important for churches to maintain their hybrid approach with a mixture of online and onsite activities.
(Last year's Admiralty Carol Service made good use of the video opportunities)
You might be thinking, “Isn’t a digital Christmas one of the things that doesn’t work well when bringing old and new together?” and my answer is "No, it doesn’t have to". It might in fact the best traditional modern combo that there is.
Moving church services, events and gatherings online over Christmas will allow more people to join in. Those who do not feel safe meeting in buildings can still gather; those who cannot physically leave their homes or access a building can join in; those who are working on the day of a service/event won't miss out and families with young children or with caring responsibilities can join in too! It may feel like too much extra work or cost but we all appreciate the effort and time more than you know!
Although many people from the YouBelong community (that I founded and run) have been busy over the lead up to Christmas, those who have come along to our online activities have been thankful for being able to be part of Christmas activities that they would otherwise be left out of. We have seen the nativity story, in the format of a film that we watched together via the watch party function, enabling us to chat as we watched. We also had fun at our Zoom Christmas Quiz as well as on social media where shared photos of our Christmas jumpers (t-shirts and onesies) laughed at Christmas jokes and played Christmas scattergories. In coming days, we will also be meeting via Zoom for Isaiah 6 bible study and creating Christingles together as we recognise the significance of each element and remind ourselves of the events that led to us celebrating Christmas.
The digital space is a special place, which allows us to bring the traditional and modern together in an inclusive and accessible way. Gathering online is genuine community, forming strong friendships between Christians all over the UK in a way that for most of us would never be able to do without online church.
Make your Christmas a modern traditional time this year.
If Jesus was born today, I know that the news would be all over social media so why do we feel that we shouldn’t be doing the same?
Merry Christmas, everyone!