Advent is far and away my favorite liturgical season of the year. Perhaps it’s because I was ordained just before Advent and the season was my first experience as a priest. Perhaps it’s because the days are getting shorter, the evenings darker and colder, and all that seems perfectly matched with the themes and readings of the season. Maybe it’s because the season is set deep in the twin mysteries of Christ coming in time and at the end of time, a mystery that creates a sense of anticipation that I relish.
Another reason I love Advent is because of the opportunity it represents when it comes to evangelization. More people are willing to make an invitation to church during this time of year than at any other time. And, more people are willing to accept that invitation.
This year is an especially significant opportunity. As we have discussed previously, the COVID experience of the past 18 months has kept a lot of people away from church attendance…a lot. Last spring and summer we were experiencing about 35% of pre-COVID attendance. This fall, it climbed up to a steady 50%, for which we are grateful. But think about that. Fully 50% of our congregation is not currently in attendance. And that is consistent with the experiences of other parishes we speak to and work with.
This Advent and Christmas is our next best opportunity to acknowledge this unexpected (and somewhat baffling) fact and face it head-on. Here are a few simple ideas that could help.
- Preach in a message “series” this Advent, with each weekend building on the last. This can create interest and encourage people to come back. We have resources you can use for free.
- Create a paper as well as an electronic invitation card with basic information about your church (schedule and directions) that people can use to make an invitation.
- Or, create a card that lists your Christmas schedule along with other holiday community events, as an even more subtle way to encourage people to consider church as an option.
- Do what you can to decorate the outside of your church building. Sure, you can keep decorations to a minimum inside since its still Advent, but outside why not acknowledge that the culture is celebrating Christmas and you are open and accessible, relevant to your culture.
- Spend some time prepping your host team, or ushers, on how to deftly be on the lookout for visitors and newcomers and how to best greet them.
- Greet newcomers and visitors from the Altar sometime early in the Mass, and make sure they hear words of If you’re streaming your service, make sure to greet newcomers there, too.
Consider seizing the opportunity that I believe is Advent 2021.