The Songs of Christmas

Christmas is around the corner. If you’re like me, you’re listening to all the new music, trying to figure out what you will be doing for the holiday worship services.

Christmas is the only time I can hear the story of Jesus proclaimed through song in shopping malls and hotel lobbies. Sometimes there is a moment of tenderness toward the Lord people feel when they remember the Christmas songs they learned as children.

Yet I hear the same complaint over and over from people visiting their local churches: “The arrangements were so hard to sing, I could barely recognize them.” “I didn’t know any of the songs.” “There was nothing familiar in the service.”

As a pastor and worship leader, I understand how hard it can be to make Christmas feel fresh and meaningful rather than stale and rote. It’s fun to create new arrangements and play challenging music. But worship leaders, please hear me out: It’s not for us.

This is the time of year you don’t even have to try to get people to come to church. People who never come will show up for a grandchild’s program or a Christmas Eve service. But so often, there is nothing they connect with because the experience is so foreign for them.

I’m begging you, for the sake of unbelievers and the dechurched, please prepare a service they can recognize and connect with. Our goal should be to set the table for them so they can connect with something they know and love. And through it, perhaps their hearts will open to the Spirit of God.

Here are four ways to make worship in your Christmas services meaningful:

For the sake of unbelievers and the dechurched, prepare a service they can recognize and connect with.

Sing Traditional Songs

In our ever-evolving church culture of excellence, we have a disdain for anything that remotely resembles tradition. But that’s what Christmas is about. It’s repeating the things we have done in previous years, and even previous generations.

Through The Life You’ve Always Wanted, author and pastor John Ortberg suggests God finds joy in repetition. God makes the sun rise every morning and brings the tide in every day. Even if you don’t do it at other times of the year, lean in to tradition at Christmas.

It’s OK to repeat things you’ve done in the past. Also, please sing the songs in ways that are doable for the congregation, in keys that don’t make them feel like Minnie Mouse.

Invite the Presence of God

Follow the traditional songs with a time of focused worship. Welcome the presence of God. Again, do music that is fairly familiar, but it doesn’t have to be so old it’s in the hymnal. It may not be a Christmas song, but it should be about Jesus so that it fits with the rest of the theme.

Sing Something Soft

We live in a world full of chaos and strife. This may be the only quiet moment of the year for someone who tries to block out the pain with noise. Let them hear God. Be brave. Do something with just an acoustic guitar or acapella.

Jesus was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. He left His majesty and became a person of low estate so He could save us from our sins. It’s important to strip away the pomp of holiday madness and help people remember who Jesus is.

Keep It Simple

Sometimes we just try too hard. Don’t overproduce it. Let it be straightforward. Let Christmas speak for itself. It’s hard enough to play the chord changes that were originally written for organ. Don’t get too crazy.

Hold back the desire to do something totally new. Remember that it is not about our listening pleasure. We are deferring to the people who seldom come to church. We want them to have a chance to connect with God through experiences they may have nearly forgotten.

Most importantly, invite God’s presence to transform the room. It may be a Christmas they never forget.

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