Each year pastors face the unique challenges that come with preaching through Christmas Eve and Easter sermons. Both holidays bring increased attendance numbers. But with that comes the challenge of keeping the focus on Jesus as families try to get that perfect family photo and juggle their schedules to fit attending church in with family gatherings. And all this as they scramble to get all of their shopping done.
Preaching through Christmas and Easter does provide increased evangelism opportunities, but at the same time, the evangelism experience during these services often feels overrated. Distractions are so high that the number of visitors who experience a life-changing encounter with Jesus on Christmas Eve and Easter is much smaller than we hope.
Differences and Similarities
There are a few differences between Christmas Eve and Easter that change our approach to preparing for each holiday.
- Christmas is a season versus a Sunday (or a long weekend if you incorporate a Good Friday service). The Christmas season seems to begin earlier every year, but we have at least a month of focus and celebration each year. With Easter, if you blink, you might miss it.
- Christmas has many “characters” in the story, from Mary and Joseph to Harrod to the Wise Men. Easter has a singular focus on Jesus. The disciples are a part of the story, but the focus is on Christ.
- Christmas is more festive, bringing decorations down every street, festive songs in every store, and holiday programming on every channel. Churches follow a similar pattern, including Christmas songs in our worship services and decorating throughout the building for the entire month of December. With Easter, we typically just decorate for the service.
- Christmas Eve can land on any day of the week, requiring us to adjust our calendars annually. Easter is always on Sunday.
- Easter tends to sneak up on us. It comes every single year, but every year it tends to catch us off guard a bit. It seems we are still recovering from Christmas, only to realize Easter is fast approaching. It requires intentionality to place Easter planning on your calendar in advance to allow adequate time for preparation.
There are a couple of similarities between the two holidays that are worth noting:
- Both Christmas and Easter have seasonal traditions that lead up to the day, transcending the Sunday morning experience and finding their way into many Christian homes. Leading up to Christmas, we celebrate Advent, while leading up to Easter, many will participate in Lent.
- With both holidays, there is one central story to tell and immense pressure to keep it fresh. As pastors, there can be a tendency for us to get way too cute about it. But the truth is no one remembers our sermons as much as we do, and we probably overthink it.
Christmas Eve is not designed for people to have an “aha” moment. If every year you come to the pulpit with that expectation, more often than not, you will probably find yourself frustrated and disappointed.
Christmas Eve and Easter are not quick start evangelism opportunities. You have to change your time horizon and view these sermons as the first step in someone engaging with your church. The real-life change happens when they begin to engage with the life of the church.
A Christmas Eve sermon is more like a Young Life talk, short, punchy, introducing people to Jesus, giving the audience something to think about, and then it is over.
When you view Christmas Eve and Easter as the beginning of a slow burn instead of an instant flame, it decreases the pressure on that 25 or 30-minute sermon.
Introduce Jesus and celebrate him! Give people a good experience and taste of something that will make them want to come back. They may come back next week, or it may be a few weeks, or it might be Easter before they return. Realize the goal is not how they respond at that moment; the goal is to provide something that compels them to want to return.
It’s not wrong to try to win them now, but the pressure we often put on ourselves is unnecessary.
Before a major holiday, do a check on your church’s assimilation and discipleship strategy. Plan well to ensure when someone commits to Christ or shows interest in becoming part of your church, they have a positive experience. You want them to witness just as much thought and intentionality in the assimilation process as they did in your Christmas Eve or Easter sermon.
Four Steps to Prepare For Preaching Through Holidays
“The sermon needs careful preparation, but altogether more important is the preparation of the preacher himself.” – Martin Lloyd Jones
Llyod Jones’ statement is valid all year long, but is especially true when preparing to preach through Christmas and Easter.
Good preaching comes through the overflow of your life with Christ. If you prepare sermons, but your heart for Christ isn’t deepening, the well starts to run dry. You have to dig a well to draw from year-round but recognize that Holidays are much more stressful and will require drawing from a deeper well. If you are trying to draw from an empty well, it will exponentially compound the stressors.
There are a variety of ways you can fill your well.
- Engage in counseling
- Spend time with family and friends
- Enjoy your hobbies
- Read books and scripture that aren’t related to your preaching topic
- Raw and honest prayer
- Walking, breathe fresh air
- Rest, get plenty of sleep
- Prioritize being a Christian before being a pastor
When we walk up on the stage to preach we should present a posture of enjoying Jesus. These are moments to celebrate!
Your well is dry if you have to walk on stage, pasting on a phony smile. The enemy wants to neutralize you. Engaging in activities that will restore your spirit and provide rest takes intentionality.
A full well will allow you to radiate your true joy in Christ. From this outpouring of joy, people who don’t believe in this amazing story you are telling will begin to wish it were true. Let them see that you believe in this story with all your heart and are so full of joy over its truth.
Prepare For the Recovery:
In the weeks following Christmas Eve and Easter, energy and adrenaline drop off. Prepare ahead of time to recover well.
Be intentional in minimizing meetings and events on your calendar the week after a major holiday teaching weekend. With Christmas Eve, this is easier as many churches close or go to minimal programming the week between Christmas Eve and New Year. But Easter is harder. We have to be very intentional about creating a slower week after Easter.
Put fewer meetings on your calendar and take more walks throughout the day.
Plan time with your spouse two to three weeks later to get away and recalibrate.
As much as the church needs you to show up on big days, your family needs you available for the long haul, and your church needs you for long-term ministry impact. Be good to yourself so you don’t get used up.
You need to plan for it. You won’t spontaneously create space for rest. Put it on your calendar (in ink) in advance!
Prepare the People and Prepare the Service
Preparation is key to allowing the service have the intended impact.
When are services?
Is there one service you want to encourage your regular attendees to attend so that attendance is more balanced between services? Share this information with your church well in advance. Many people are waiting to hear the service times so that they can plan family gatherings accordingly.
Encourage people to invite friends and family.
It sounds simple, but first, they will want to know they can trust the message that will be preached and the overall experience will be safe to bring others to.
Consistency of the experience leading up to a major holiday will help people trust they can safely invite others to a service. If your church finds they are consistently surprised by what they experience on a Sunday morning, they may continue to attend but be reluctant to extend invitations to an uncertain experience.
On Christmas Eve, Easter, and even Mother’s Day, if that is a big Sunday for your church, aim for a really good version of who you really are. Simple quality trumps complex mediocrity.
The reality is the Christmas and Easter stories are amazing! They are shockingly simple yet beautiful. You don’t have to overthink it!
Prepare the Sermon
Don’t wait until the last minute to begin preparing your sermon. Yes, the Spirit moves and inspires, but the Spirit can move in advance just as easily. Preparation shows respect for your entire team, allowing them to prepare the best experience possible for your church and guests.
It is incredible to see how God will make much out of whatever loaves and fishes you bring to the table. We come with our humble thoughts, and as 1 Corinthians 1:21 says, God will “use our foolish preaching to save those who believe.”
We pray, hope, and seek, then trust that the Spirit will fill in where we fall short.
Prepare yourself for the fact that more children are usually in the room. Think through how to engage them early because if they get squirrely, everyone else is checking out. You might share a story, quiz, or illustration that will capture the attention of a 7-year-old. Then, throughout the sermon, periodically bring in elements that will re-capture that 7-year-old’s attention.
Four Decisions To Be Made
Decide on a Target
If you try to aim for everybody, you will hit nobody.
Pick one demographic that you want to specifically target in your message. Picking a target doesn’t mean you must be blatant about it in your sermon, but who are you keeping in mind as you craft the message?
The 17-year-old who is trying to build their authentic faith?
The exhausted parent?
There is no right or wrong answer, but prayerfully choose a target and let the Spirit move.
Pick A Lane
There are several “lanes” or approaches you can take to your sermon. Consider picking a different lane each year and rotating.
- Narrative. Simply tell the story. The Christmas and Easter stories are so amazing. We don’t tire of hearing them!
- Apologetic. Deep dive the resurrection, how God used the shepherds, or other existential questions.
- Theme. Teach about forgiveness, reconciliation, or hope.
Pray, bounce ideas off of a few leaders, and think about what your church has been going through lately. What do they need? What is appropriate given your current teaching series? What will set you up well for your next teaching series?
Length of the Sermon
The sermon length will depend on all the other details of the service and the day.
How many services will you be doing?
What is the planned worship experience?
Are you incorporating baptisms into your Easter service?
Sermon lengths are measured in minutes beyond people’s interest.
As much as we’d like to believe people are there to be solely focused on connecting with Jesus and hearing the message, the reality is they have a thousand other things on their minds.
Go long enough to share the good news. Give them a taste of something that leaves them wanting more. But remember that most people attending on Christmas Eve and Easter are also focused on getting family pictures, making it to family gatherings, keeping their kids sitting with them in the services entertained, etc.
Christmas Eve and Easter sermons should include a clear call to action. The evangelism opportunity is not just in that day or that service, but what we can move them toward coming out of the service.
We can be tempted to provide options that meet every need and schedule, but the more clear and limited, the better the response will be. In the presence of many choices, “no choice” is the easiest choice to make.
If you are launching a new series, align your call to action to encourage people to show up for the series launch.
At the end of Acts 17, after Paul shared the story of the resurrection in Greece, we read that some thought Paul was ridiculous, some said, “we want in,” and some said, “we want to hear more.”
The response to your sermon might not be too different from the response Paul received. Give people an opportunity to come now and follow Jesus or to keep coming back and ask questions.
Have something worth coming back to.
Four Dangers to Avoid
Don’t be a church (or a pastor) that you are not.
There can be a tendency to try and pull off programming that isn’t consistent with who you usually are every other Sunday.
If you aren’t authentic, people will be able to tell.
Also, think about the person who comes on Christmas Eve and experiences one “church” only to return the next week to find it is nothing like what they experienced on Christmas Eve. They will feel confused, frustrated, and misled.
It is perfectly acceptable to do something special on those days. Just ensure it is in line with the core of who you are as a church and a pastor
Don’t practice on the people.
Rehearse before giving the message to the church! Maybe in an open room, in your office, or on the stage when no one is in the room. It may feel awkward, but it will be less awkward than the mistakes you might make if you don’t practice.
Don’t make it about you.
This may sting a bit, but the truth is they aren’t showing up on Christmas Eve and Easter for you, the pastor. They are coming to learn about and celebrate Jesus, and rightfully so.
We think we have to be clever or funny when we are insecure. Not that being clever or funny is wrong or doesn’t have a place, but it is a mental shift from wanting to connect with people far from Christ versus wanting to be noticed as a pastor.
This is Jesus’ day, not ours.
Preparing with your head but not accessing your heart.
Crafting a message accessing only the heart and not the head might leave the audience feeling great but without truth. However, if you prepare your message only from your head without accessing the heart, the sermon will likely come off as a dry lecture where few are inspired to know Jesus.
If you’re struggling to access the heart, maybe you are tired, weary, or overworked.
Find ways to reawaken it. Music often helps. Or, try listening to a sermon that moved you or a chapter of a book that inspired you. If you are a nature person, get out in nature for a few hours and let the wonder and beauty of nature reawaken your heart.
Show people that you are a customer, not just a salesperson. Jesus isn’t just for them; He’s for you too.
When planning your sermon, make intentional decisions about where you will display your excitement and what you want people to walk away with. The goal is that unbelievers say, “I don’t know if I believe this, but that pastor on stage truly does.”
Maybe share your testimony. God has done this in my life, and here is how he changed me. Be careful not to manipulate the audience with an overly emotional or tear-jerker story. Look for engaging stories that will stick with people. But when you hear how someone came to Christ, you usually remember that.
If Preaching on Christmas and Easter Isn’t Your Favorite
First, know that you aren’t alone, and it doesn’t make you a bad pastor. They are high expectation days where you are trying to figure out how to make this story feel fresh yet comfortably the same again and again.
The attendance numbers are up, but most people aren’t there truly seeking a life-transforming experience with Christ.
A few tips that might help:
Reframe the day within the context of your whole ministry. Christmas Eve and Easter sermons are a piece of the ministry, not THE ministry.
As we mentioned earlier, this is a slow burn. Don’t go into the day expecting explosive numbers of people giving their life to Christ. It is a slow drip. This may be the first drop. Just because they don’t surrender today doesn’t mean you didn’t start to fill the bucket.
The reality is you will likely never know all of the ways your message impacted the people in the room. What we do know is that God takes our mere human words and does amazing things with them.
Finally, if you consider changing up tradition, bring core leaders, trusted elders or deacons into the fold. Ask them, “If we were going to make changes this year, not saying we are, but if we did, what could we improve?” Receive the input of voices from others who love God and want to see you as the pastor thrive.
Preaching Through Christmas and Easter Podcast Episode
If Easter Sunday is the Super Bowl of preaching, Christmas is the college football national championship. There’s a lot of hype, excitement, and planning to make the most of these two events, yet they represent just two moments in your larger ministry.
How much priority should be placed on each one?
What is the true evangelism opportunity that exists?
Where should we set our expectations for short-term and long-term impact?
In this episode of Preaching Through Podcast we examine how preachers can prepare themselves for the two biggest services of the year as well as call out some dangers which could undermine all other efforts.
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