LifeWay Research in 2010 showed that 47 percent of households celebrate the holidays by attending special Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services. An earlier study showed that 47 percent of visitors indicated they were most open to matters of faith during the Christmas holidays. (tinyurl.com/churchPR-LW).
Among your visitors might be out-of-town guests and family members, people looking for others or individuals seeking to return to their faith roots.
What are ways your church can be more inviting in the Christmas season - and continue that invitation after the holidays? Here are some general ideas with links:
Invite. When you have a celebration, you invite guests. A personal invitation is by far the most effective means to attract visitors.
You can, of course, utilize other means - mail, newspaper and radio. The keys are advance planning and creativity.
In addition to traditional advertising, try something unusual: t-shirts, bumper stickers, clothing pins and stickers.
Global public relations firm The Edelman Company found media messages that people notice and welcome include respect, emotion, genuineness, empathy and engagement.
Be social. Utilize Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (tinyurl. com/ChurchPR-P) for promotion. They are free and can help you reach those with whom you don't directly come in contact.
United Methodist Communications has good starter steps (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-UM).
The most common social connection is Facebook. MarketingTwins.com has a good overview (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-FB). Once a Facebook page is established, create a welcome tab for everyone. Use the menu to create events.
Make your Facebook presence stand out on your website, blog, stationery and email signatures. Ensure your leaders use Facebook and that your congregation knows how to use it to "tag" and "like" your church on their profiles and invite others to events.
EvangelismCoach.org (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-EC) has other tips.
Want examples? Advent Conspiracy (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-AC) shows how social media can be used. Planning Christmas (planning christmas.info) has video presentations by church leaders.
Spruce up the grounds. You clean and tell the family to be on their best behavior for a special occasion. Your church should do the same.
Signage should be accurate and up-to-date, and worship programs user-friendly (tinyurl.com/ ChurchPR-ANN). Make sure to get good information from your visitors.
Josh Hunt shares several ideas at tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-VC.
Spruce up your website. Your website can help or hurt your efforts to attract those who may attend your church for the first time. Does a search easily find the church site? If not, use the church name and city in meta tags and photo descriptions.
Use Google Analytics to see which pages people are visiting.
Is needed information - service times, childcare, directions, staff, contact information, suggested dress - prominent?
Another possibility is something special on or by your church that can create lasting buzz. For example, First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., created SimpleChristmas.org, encouraging simplifying Christmas and subtly linked to the main church site.
Hook. Make activity length and content child-friendly. Let your services and follow-up promote what you are doing after Christmas. Point them towards Easter.
Smile! It's important that greeters be prepared for those who may be unfamiliar with, even uncomfortable at, church (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-CH).
In interviews of visitors, the Church Growth Institute found church friendliness - especially in the 10 minutes following a service - is the major factor in guests' overall opinion (tinyurl.com/ChurchPR-talk).
After the holidays, follow up with visitors and evaluate your planning. And start planning for next Christmas!
Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.