12 tips to get people to come to Christmas Services

Earlier this year, I won a competition. Someone had published a new plugin for WordPress that allows you to fairly easily publish google maps with your own points of interest on them. As a way of promoting the plugin, the competition was to offer a year’s license to the top 20 people who came up with an idea for using it. My idea (which wasn’t really rocket science) was to use it to build a map of where Christmas services are taking place. I won one of the licenses with this suggestion.

I remembered that this week and decided that I’d better make good on my competition entry. I downloaded the plugin and started to build a map of the services that are taking place in this diocese on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year according to the data that I could find available on those churches’ websites. You can find the map at the bottom of this post.

Having taken a look around the websites of the churches in the diocese, there’s a few things that I think are worth saying.

The truth is, there are hundreds of people who are going to be using the internet (often through their mobile phones) this week to try to find Christmas services to attend. This is the time of year when people are most likely to just want to attend church. People will just turn up. If they like what they discover, they are likely to turn up again next year. Or even next Sunday. It is the primary time when people will be predisposed to turn up to church. If we do care about mission, then this week matters hugely and as always, the three big mission themes that so often get ignored (worship, web and welcome) are absolutely key.

Here’s a few tips for getting people to come to church at Christmas using the internet

1 – Put your Christmas Services on your website.
2 – Put the details on the front page either with an obvious link that says “Christmas Services” or right there, right on the front page itself.
3 – Put the address of the church, with a full postcode right on there too so that people can use sat-nav technology to find the church.
4 – As our Lord said, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel pdf”. If you put the details in a pdf and upload that to your website, far fewer people will see them. Similarly with making pretty graphics of your Christmas services. The reason this doesn’t work without plain text is that search engines like google can’t see your Christmas services and lots of other people will never find the details either. Oh, and flash based websites are so last century. Don’t. Just don’t.
5 – This year at Christmas take some nice, good quality photographs of the church when it is decorated so that you can use the pics online next year, if not this year. Try to include pics with people in them. You want either close ups of the crib/decorations or pics of people with Christmas Trees in the background – that kind of thing. You don’t want pics of an empty church.
6 – If you use social media then link to it from your website and link to your website from your social media stream.
7 – Use social media. Just use it.
8 – Remember that people out there make their judgements on what they see online and not what you know to be happening. You can have the best all singing, all dancing children’s service in Christendom but if there’s nothing about it online people will say, “What a shame that the church doesn’t do things for children at Christmas, where shall we go instead?”
9 – If your website doesn’t work on a mobile then start to plan for next Christmas by upgrading it as soon as possible. More people search for information using mobile devices than desktop computers now and it is only going to rise. Easiest way of doing this is a website built with a content management system like WordPress running a responsive theme. Responsive means that the theme adjusts to the size of the screen that people are looking at it on. It matters very much indeed now as Google will rank pages lower if they are not responsive.
10 – Make a new year’s resolution to learn something about Search Engine Optimisation. Sounds technical but isn’t really – just means that you have a website organised so that those search engines can point more people towards your website when they search for things. Again, WordPress is a good answer along with an SEO plugin such as the one published by Yoast.
11 – Remember that people search using their own words and not your words. Don’t expect people looking for “Christmas Services” to click on “diary”, “lectionary”, “events” or “calendar”. Again, don’t hide your information but bring it right out into the open.
12 – Remember that your website is primarily for people who don’t come to church and that they are actually already reading it. Yes, really.

Now, on to the map.

It is colour coded. Those churches in red had their Christmas Services easily available on or from their front page. Those with purple markers had the information available but it took some work to find it. Those in blue had websites with no Christmas info that I could find. Those in yellow were churches where I couldn’t find a website at all.

There will be gaps and mistakes – I did this fairly quickly last night. I’d be very happy to include information that is missing if anyone wants to drop me a line. If you do want an update, tell me gently – and remember just because information doesn’t appear here it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It just means that I couldn’t find the information – and that’s the point. If I couldn’t find it easily then the chances are lots of people won’t find it.

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My very grateful thanks to Chris Lema for running the original competition that brought me the Maps Builder Pro plugin and to Matt Cromwell for releasing it. It is fantastic. I wish there were a lifetime access deal for purchasing it as I happen to hate annual subscription licenses but apart from that, this is one sophisticated mapping plugin that is very easy to use and there’s a ton of things I can think of doing with it.

UPDATE – 18 December 2015
There have been a couple of updates since the map was originally published.
All Saints’, Bearsden get a Red Pin of Righteousness – I had been looking at a version of their previous website though how I accessed it, I’ve now no idea.
St Oswald’s, Maybole get a Red Pin of Righteousness – They’ve moved the details of their Christmas services out of a jpg file and into plain text.
St Bride’s, Hyndland get a Red Pin of Righteousness – They’ve now got their Christmas Services right on the front page.
St Augustine’s, Dumbarton move up to a Purple Pin of Plausability – their details are there but it still takes a bit of work to find them.

Christmas Sermon 2013

[UPDATE: The Herald newspaper covered this sermon as a front page story here:

Here’s what I said in my Christmas Sermon this year.

It has become something of a commonplace that Christmas, at least in the life of the shops and the media starts all too early. Even at the end of September, the trees were being dusted down and the fairy lights for shop windows tested. The piles of mince-pies were arriving in the supermarket, all clearly marked with a best-before date of Halloween or before.

My local newsagent seemed to have done pretty well at resisting this kind of thing. I was pleased to see when I went in for a paper during the first week in Advent that they were only then getting out a new box of chocolate confectionary which was all wrapped in shiny paper. These delicacies were in a bright gold box which was placed right under my nose as I stood there on Advent Sunday. And clearly on the box was marked the slogan: “Cadbury’s Crème Eggs – your number 1 Easter Treat”.

Somehow the world seems to have become a bit muddled by when the Son of God appears.

And then the same week at the start of December I was driving down to the farthest end of the Diocese for a special service in Stranraer. I could only pick up one radio station in the car and it was one of the local stations down that way.

Come along, the announcer entreated me, come along to the shopping centre for our specially sponsored competition. Come and sing a seasonal song and see if you can win. Come down today. Maybe you will be crowned winner; the winner of our X-mas Factor Competition.

And as I was driving along I could hear myself start to splutter and exclaim. “It isn’t Xmas, it’s Christmas, I shouted at the poor unsuspecting radio announcer who was thankfully unable to hear a world.

And I drove on realising that I had suddenly become all my grandparents rolled into one. All I lacked was a walking stick to attack the radio with.

But now, the day has arrived. The Lord of Heaven and Earth has come and is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

And it is our joy and delight to worship him today.

There is no question now. We can sing our carols with gusto. We can enjoy the feast. Food will be eaten, wine will be drunk, presents and cards exchanged and all for the sake of a child. Born in a manger. Born a long time ago.

There is such goodness there lying in that manger. For there lies joy and challenge, peace and promise, blessing and love – all wrapped in the swaddling of all our hopes and dreams and expectations.

God is come into our world.

And there’s the thing.

When the world starts to celebrate the birth in September or October or November, it isn’t entirely wrong.

For though we rejoice in the coming of the child today, the news we celebrate now is that God is in this world. Always here. At home here. An inhabitant with us of this spinning, turning world.

We celebrate today the incarnation but that is just the theological name, spruced up in its Sunday best for the truth that we celebrate every week which is that God lurks in this world.

Here in this place we preach weekly of a God who is here. A God who knows us, share our joys and shares our sorrows and loves us to distraction, come what may.

What we celebrate at Christmas is not merely that God came into the world and gurgled in a Bethlehem cowshed but that God is here in Glasgow and in every place on this earth all ready to be encountered anew. For God is only a glimpse, a breath, a prayer away.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. In heaven, an unknown factor. But not forever, for the Word took shape and came amongst us to show, to tell, to proclaim the good news that God is with us in everything and that with God, all that is ill can be transformed.

Today, all eyes are on the manger. The city of Bethlehem is the place on all our lips. And Bethlehem is one of the cities that is twinned with this city, the city of Glasgow.

In the year that is to come, the city in which we live will become for a brief time the place that everyone is talking about. The City of Glasgow is the place where many eyes will be looking as we host the Commonwealth Games.

And we must not shirk from naming that which is ill. For all is not well in the Commonwealth. Sadly, driven by the legacy of British colonialism, several Commonwealth countries should be held to account when they come to us. After all, it will not merely be sports people who are here but their political leaders.

With Sri Lanka unable to face questions about war crimes; with Uganda and India even in these last few days attempting to turn the clock back for those who are gay, with human rights abuses across Commonwealth countries too numerous to mention, There must not simply be silence when so much of the English speaking world comes to sport and play. In these last weeks we have been reminded by the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s life that ordinary people can bring about massive change for the better.

For all that is ill can be transformed. For God is with us, already here now, working in us in this world.

We celebrate the birth of a baby – a real live baby with lips and hands and tiny feet. And in doing so, we celebrate the fact that God’s lips and hands and feet are now those of our own bodies. God incarnate not simply in this world but God incarnate right here in our own lives.

Here in this church, we know that God is here. In fact, we know that God is here, there and everywhere. For God lurks in this world wishing and hoping and praying that we will join the conspiracy of those who seek to put the world to rights and bring in the kingdom of justice and joy that all people of goodwill ache to see.

When I was driving down in Galloway earlier in the year, in the silence, having slammed the radio off, I had enough peace in the car to hear the truth of the announcer who spoke of the Xmas Factor.

Now, of course, I know that the X is the Greek letter Chi – the first letter of the world Christ. I know that the X abbreviation has been used since Christians first celebrated the birth of their Saviour.

Here in this church today, I tell you that the Xmas Factor is here. The unknown God is born and has a name. The God who was once unknown, the Logos, the X-factor – has now been born. That God has a name, for God is found in Jesus – the wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the prince of peace, and is here and lies in the manger.

For the God Factor is here.

The God Factor is everywhere.

The God Factor has come into this world.

And God blesses you this day as you come to this place to worship.

In the name of God, Father, Son of Righteousness, Holy Spirit.