Many churches have experienced great success and growth doing big ‘come and watch’ events.
Even if choir cantatas on Christmas and Easter have been replaced by an illustrated message with stage design, lighting and video, the idea is the same – to draw people in so we can present the gospel to them.
The big ‘come and watch’ event may still work in some places, but many church leaders (like Carey Nieuwhof, in a recent helpful post) have found that they work less well than they used to – or we thought they did.
Several years ago, our church stopped doing ‘come and watch’ events on special Sundays, like Christmas and Easter. Then we stopped doing them altogether.
Why We Stopped ‘Come and Watch’ Events
1. It Encourages Passivity
A person’s first encounter with a church sets the stage for everything to follow – including what they think is most important to us.
When that first encounter is ‘enjoy the show we’re putting on for you,’ they have every right to expect that this is what we’re about – a weekly show for passive consumers of religion.
As I mentioned in a previous post, an attitude of 'Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Service’ is probably hurting more churches than it’s helping – even if the crowds are getting bigger.
2. They Cost More Than They’re Worth
I’ve been a volunteer and a staff member at churches that did the all-hands-on-deck push for three to four months for our Christmas and Easter musical spectaculars. We often did very good work, and it was something I enjoyed.
But not once, after one was over, did we say “Wow! So many people came to Christ! That was so worth all the time, energy and money!”
Mostly, we were just one stop for Christians on the holiday church tour. And that cost us more than the time, money and energy we expended. It often made the walls of the Christian bubble even thicker.
3. We Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Compete
I live and minister in Orange County, California. Not only are we just eight miles from Disneyland and 40 miles from Hollywood, we’re less than a half-hour drive from the original Calvary Chapel and Vineyard churches, Saddleback church, Mosaic, Hillsong LA and more.
For decades, the Crystal Cathedral, mounted Easter and Christmas spectacles that people literally traveled from all over the world to see. And they’re just 8 miles from us.
In that environment, our church members wearing fake beards and bathrobes singing Christmas carols or reciting the Easter story doesn’t capture anyone’s attention.
Besides, we’re not supposed to be competing with other churches, anyway.
4. They Don’t Work Like They Used to
Not only are churches like mine competing with a better show at Disneyland, Hollywood and local megachurches, but churches in even the most out-of-the-way places are trying to draw people’s attention away from TV, the internet and the phones in our pockets. When we try to compete with Netflix, YouTube or ESPN by offering a better show, we lose.
But the good news is, when the church does what only the church can do, we truly have no competition.
For these reasons and more, our church no longer holds "come and watch" events for newcomers.
What We Do Instead
When an unchurched person decides to come to church for the first time, it isn’t because they want to see a great religious stage show. They’re more likely coming because they want something more authentic, applicable and challenging in their life.
So that’s what we try to give them in every way possible, including the following five ideas:
1. Come and Help
We love serving people in the community. When we clean a neighbor’s yard, repair and paint the apartments in an abused women’s shelter, or throw a Christmas party for Marines and their families, everyone is invited to come along.
When a person’s first exposure to our church is working with us to serve people, they get the idea that the church cares more about reaching out to others in Jesus’ name than being a passive audience.
2. Come and Give
Every year our church prepares birthday boxes for foster children, takes Christmas bags to impoverished kids in Mexico, fills baby bottles with money for our local pro-life clinic (which also offers parenting classes, newborn supplies, housing- and job-search assistance) and more.
When we do these projects, we encourage everyone to help – whether they’re church members, guests or entirely unchurched.
When unchurched people join us in giving to causes that don’t line the church’s pockets, they start trusting us a little more – and they’re open to trusting Jesus more, too.
3. Come and Have Fun
Whether it’s decorating ornaments before our Christmas Eve service, hunting for Easter Eggs, or having a potluck lunch and blow-up games after our water baptism services, we celebrate big events in the life of the church in visible ways.
On those Sundays when we know we’ll have more guests than usual, we give them ways to celebrate, connect and participate as much as possible. This also encourages them to stick around instead of running to their car as soon as the church service is over.
When they stick around, they connect. When they connect, they’re more open to come back and hear about Jesus again.
4. Come and Learn
You don’t have to be a Christian for biblical principles to work in your life. When the church can offer people some practical, real-life solutions with the Bible as the source, people will come back for more.
This can happen with parenting classes, financial stewardship (like the Dave Ramsey class we’ll be offering soon) and more.
A Word of Caution About Points 1-4
While all four previous points have value, they also carry an inherent danger. We need to be careful not to replace the message of salvation with self-help or feel-good solutions.
If all we’re doing is making people more comfortable in their separation from God, we haven’t helped them, we’ve hurt them.
Which is why the next point is the most important one of all.
5. Come and Worship (Or Join Us As We Worship)
You can’t really worship a God you don’t have a relationship with. But you can be with us as we worship. And you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as we do.
On Christmas Eve, Good Friday, Easter and other big days, we don’t have a special production. We use our regular team (who do a great job!). And we worship the way we always worship – but we do it with an awareness that there are more first-timers than usual.
No church should water down our worship just because we have guests with us.
When a person comes to a church, they should see our faith at its deepest and best. Not a sanitized-for-your-convenience version that doesn’t have enough depth and meaning to make a difference.
Do What Works
If your church does ‘come and watch’ events well, keep doing them. But if they don’t work for you – like they don’t for us – there are other great ways to connect with people and open an onramp to the gospel for them.
You don’t have to do what works for us. Do what works for you, your church and the people Jesus has called you to reach.
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