Mark Wingfield, Associate Pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and former managing editor of the Baptist Standard, reflects on the forethought and intentionality that must accompany the season of Advent.
This summer, when the published church calendar showed a Hanging of the Green meeting, several church members questioned whether that was a typo. Why would we have a meeting about Advent before Labor Day? Had our minister of music finally lost his mind?
That’s the way it goes in church planning, though, unless you want to get caught unprepared. In churches that observe the season of Advent, the hardest work must be done months in advance, when thoughts of a white Christmas seem only distant dreams.
In research I’ve done on successful traditional Protestant congregations, it quickly became apparent that intentionality is one of the common traits that define these congregations, even across denominational lines. By “intentionality,” I mean the ability to plan ahead, to focus, to think about what you’re doing and why, not to fly by the seat of your pants.
Christmas comes every year, but it’s something we only do once a year. Unless you’ve made notes from last year, you’re not likely to remember that the wreaths need replacing, that the candles burned down too low last year or that you ran out of elements for communion at the Christmas Eve service. These are problems that can’t be solved an hour or two before a worship service. And those cute little candles for the candlelight service? You can’t buy those at Target on a Saturday night.
The scope and scale of Advent worship eclipses the norm. With so much to do in a period of only four weeks—special concerts, fellowships, parties, receptions, devotional guides, children’s choirs, decorations—church leaders must plan like commanders headed to battle. The only way it gets done is to map out a plan and work it day by day.
Advent offers the opportunity to involve far more people in worship and educational leadership than at other times of the year, but only if you enlist them in advance. People want to be used, but they also make commitments during the busy Advent season. Work ahead, and you can use more soloists, scripture readers, devotional writers, ushers and other specialized volunteers for the seasonal services.
You’ll reach more people during Advent than at most any other time of the year. We joke about CEOs—Christmas and Easter Only members—but the reality is that not only inactive members but also guests are more likely to attend Advent services than typical Sunday services. It’s important to put your best foot forward and make a good impression at these high holy days.
Are you ready for Advent?