I’ve been in church all my life, and I’ve been in volunteer leadership positions long enough to know that planning a service simply takes time and energy.
Around Christmas, however, it seems to take a ton of time and energy. My brother has worked at a church for the last several years, and our family is often astounded by his schedule. Between setting up the stage, rehearsing music, and being there for two, three, sometimes four services, we’re lucky to even see him—awake.
I struggle with this. On the one hand, I understand why there’s a high demand on people’s schedules under these circumstances. In fact, I appreciate the labor of love. Christmas is always a meaningful time for Christians, and it’s a natural time to bring unsaved family members to church. The careful preparation of our church leaders is truly a gift.
On the other hand, I wonder if the gift is beginning to cost too much.
We buy into myths when it comes to planning Christmas church services. It’s not about knocking hard-working churches. In fact, quite the opposite: it’s about helping them work smarter to conserve energy, enjoy the process, and get home to their families sooner.
So let’s get into it with the first myth:
Myth #1: Stress is inevitable
Stress is a feeling of bearing more weight than you can hold.
I’m a runner, and a few years back while training for a marathon, I sustained a stress fracture. It happens when a certain bone in your leg begins bearing too much weight with each foot strike. Multiply those strikes over the course of 15+ miles, and a tiny fracture forms.
Avoiding a stress fracture is all about properly absorbing impact—with the right shoes, with a balanced gait, and by strengthening your muscles gradually so they can take a beating without sending the impact to your bones.
In churches, much of the stress around Christmas happens when programs suddenly go from a jog to a sprint. Staff or volunteers are simply not prepared for that. The same way a bone begins to fracture when you require more than you’ve prepared it to give, a church staff can buckle under a workload they haven’t been prepared to bear.
So if you’re on staff, or even if you’re a volunteer, consider what you can do even now to prepare your staff for impact. Do you have the proper tools? Do you have a good workflow? Do you have the margin to absorb additional demands?
Here are some thoughts to help you with each of those questions—and how Faithlife’s church presentation software, Proclaim, offers an easy solution.
As I type, someone near me is disassembling a desk. He’s using a power drill, so each screw is taking him just one second to remove. But what if he was using a manual screwdriver? It’d take nearly 10 times as long. (I once disassembled an entire bunkbed this way. Never again.)
Where are you using a screwdriver where you could be using a power drill, so to speak? Take a look at your presentation software. PowerPoint might get the job done, but does it get it done well? Proclaim was made just for churches to make building presentations quick, easy, and enjoyable. It’s the power drill of church presentation software, and you can try it free.
Is one person doing everything? Are teams working out of sync? Are the right people doing the right task? A lot of time and energy is lost in transition or poor delegation. Take a moment to think through who’s on your volunteer teams, and if they’re working together to their full potential.
Proclaim helps with workflow by offering unlimited installs on Mac and PC, automatic syncing (so work is always up to date), and free volunteer training. Check it out with a free trial. A lot of people say that the collaborative aspect of Proclaim is their favorite part.
Margin is made, not found. An essential yet difficult question is, “Are my tasks in line with my priorities?” A more nuanced version of that question is, “Is the time I’m taking on a task in line with its importance?” For example, finding or designing church media.
A beautiful slide background matters, but does it matter enough to spend an hour clicking around Google for it? Probably not, but we’ve all been there. Proclaim helps you focus on your priorities by cutting out busywork. A free trial comes with over 14,000 pieces of media designed just for churches, easy to find and ready to go.
Final thoughts on this myth
Work is inevitable, but stress is not. If you’re working at a church this Christmas, I hope you will find ways to ward off stress. Remember that it’s all about preparing yourself and your staff to absorb the weight. Identify the pressure points, and look to relieve them. Stress is simply weight that’s heavier than what you’re ready for.
Myth 2: It’s better to just do things yourself
Growing up, Saturdays were chore days.
My mom would list all the family chores on a big chalkboard in the laundry room.
Weeding, mowing, vacuuming, scrubbing baseboards, cleaning vanities, you name it. If it needed doing, my siblings and I did it.
My parents could’ve done any of these chores better than we did. But they were concerned with more than the tasks. They were concerned with raising kids who contribute.
And it worked. By the time we all left the home, not only could we do just about any chore imaginable, but our instincts were to jump in, help out, and take responsibility—within our homes and outside of them.
My parents were in it for the long game.
The long game should define how we approach church volunteers, too.
How often have you said or thought:
• “No one else can really do it.”
• “It’d take too long to explain.”
• “I don’t trust someone else with this.”
I know I have.
Honestly, sometimes it’s true. A discerning leader knows the difference between what can be delegated and what can’t.
But if we’re only playing the short game—“I have to find them, I have to train them, I have to schedule them . . . It’d just be easier to do it myself.”—we’re not serving those we’re called to lead.
If we stick with that line of thinking, we’ll never ascend to what Scripture commands leaders to do: train the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
So this Christmas, whenever you’re tempted to go solo with planning or prep, here are three reasons not to.
1. More will get done
You may think you’ll get more done if you do it yourself, but ultimately that’s just not true.
Missionaries have proven time and again that the key to multiplication is training. This is an especially common thread in what are called Rapidly Multiplying Churches, churches that spread so quickly missionaries can’t even keep track of them. I remember reading of one pastor in this movement who said, “I never do anything that I’m not also training someone else to do.”
This is an excellent example of playing the long game. Training someone else will slow you down in the short term, but it will speed up church growth in the long term. How we approach volunteer training tests our priorities, asking us to put the growth of the church before our own productivity.
What’s something you can be training a volunteer to do this Christmas? Maybe you could train someone for public Scripture reading. Maybe, if you’re a music director, you could ask someone to assist and shadow you all season, and they could lead next year (or even next month). Think about what you can do this Christmas to empower volunteers with even more responsibility next Christmas.
2. You’ll create a sense of shared ownership
Ownership is where momentum is.
When training to be a counselor, one of the first things you learn is the importance of asking questions. Particularly, questions that lead the counselee to a discovery.
This is important because the most motivating ideas are the ones you come up with yourself. They stick. You could sit across from a counselee and tell them exactly what would fix their problem, but they may not be open to hearing it. However, if they talk their way toward the solution, the friction is eliminated. Because they found it, they own it.
The same is true with groups and volunteers. The more that ownership is shared, the more sticking power there is. Hand someone a to-do list for an event, and they’ll just feel like a workhorse. Invite someone to help dream up the event, and they’ll feel like an architect. They’ll be motivated. It will be their event. And suddenly, you’re not exerting energy trying to motivate volunteers. You may even be in the fortunate position of having to rein them in.
What’s stopping you from holding a brainstorm session even now? Can you or someone on staff round up a few volunteers for a project you know needs to get done for your Christmas services? Consider who might be your co-architects this Christmas.
3. You could discover a leader
Consider your own path to leadership. You probably took a number of steps to where you are now.
Most of us got started with a small volunteer role. I helped plan a youth group lock-in and sang in a middle school worship band. From there I grew. When I think of all the leaders who nurtured my growth, who affirmed my gifts even when they were still emerging, I am humbled. Any one of them could have done better than my contributions.
Who are the people in your church whose gifts you could nurture? Maybe there is a youth who needs an outlet for all his energy. Maybe there’s a widow or widower eagerly waiting to contribute. Maybe there’s a college student who shows leadership potential.
Empowering volunteers is the best way to identify and nurture leaders. It creates a context where you can examine someone’s character, consistency, and initiative. Leaders naturally emerge, and soon enough you might find the person you’ve been looking for to lead a new ministry.
And who knows what they’ll go on to do?
Trust the process
You may be discouraged, thinking you’re a long way from where you want to be with regard to volunteers. I want to encourage you to trust the process—even now in the busyness of Christmas.
It will take time. It will take energy. It may even seem like a waste at first.
But in time you will reap what you sow. You’ll “lose” some hours, but you’ll gain so much more: new leaders, shared ownership, momentum—critical elements of expanding churches.
God calls leaders to equip others for ministry. Trust the process. Play the long game.
For more practical advice on planning your Christmas services without unnecessary stress, grab a copy of the free Ultimate Countdown to Christmas checklist. It comes with administrative tips and tricks, a bonus week of follow-up tasks, and more you won’t want to miss.
And to get beautiful church media for the Christmas season, start a free trial of Proclaim. You’ll get over 24,000 graphics, including Christmas-themed designs, not to mention high-powered presentation software designed just for churches.
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