For over a decade our church invested a huge amount of time, money and volunteers to pull off an annual fall festival. It was our biggest evangelistic bridge event.
In a previous BLOG post I share why we decided to stop doing the annual Fall Festival. You can read why we stopped doing the fall festival by clicking HERE.
In this blog I want to share why we decided to use Santa’s Wonderland as our largest Christmas outreach.
I received a message from a family stating they were leaving our church. They were outraged that we would use Santa Claus, an obviously secular Christmas character, as an invitational hook for the community. “Pastor, don’t you realize that if you rearrange the letters, Santa spells Satan! Why would a church promote such paganism!?”
Of course, this reaction is a bit extreme, but many Christians would feel uncomfortable with the idea of using Santa Claus for a Christmas outreach.
So why did we land on Santa’s Wonderland instead of maybe a living nativity?
1. We wanted to use the culture to build a bridge.
It’s important to have a historical perspective on how the church has handled paganism over the years. As the gospel advanced geographically over hundreds of years, the missionaries were winning people with rich pagan cultures. It was very common for these people to use feasts and celebrations as a rhythmic part of their community life. The medieval church decided that instead of telling these new converts to abandon their seasonal celebrations and stop having parties, they simply re-themed many of these holidays to celebrate their new found faith in Christ. In other words, they not only converted the people, they also converted their parties! Using cultural icons where applicable can be an incredibly effective evangelistic strategy if used appropriately. BTW – most Christians should be aware that Santa’s legend grew out of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a godly Christian, not satan.
2. We wanted to attract our target.
The target for our church is unchurched families. We needed a Christmas outreach experience that would speak the language of our target without using the classic bait and switch methodology so often employed by evangelicals. For example, many unchurched families have been to church sponsored outreaches that used fun for the bait, but then cornered the family into a high pressure evangelism, “turn or burn” presentation. Instead, we wanted to create an outreach for families that would best communicate, “No, really, this event is totally designed to simply be a fun experience for your family.”
Using Santa was a strategic decision. Santa’s Wonderland communicates that this is not a deeply religious event, but simply a “holiday fun” experience. This has the double effect of attracting the unchurched while also deflecting Christians from other churches who are just looking for a religious event for their family. BTW – There’s nothing wrong with the former, but the idea of an OUTREACH event is to create an experience designed to be a front door to the church for our target.
3. We wanted to do something no one else is doing.
Again, if you want to reach the people no one else is reaching then you have to do what no one else is doing. In our area we found that no one else was creating a FREE holiday experience for the family. Most families could count on spending significant money just to see Santa and snap a pic. We decided to create a powerful immersive experience for the whole family that includes:
- An entire North Pole set complete with dozens of elves
- Photo booths
- Holiday Characters in full costume such as Elf, Olaf, Frosty, Elsa, etc.
- Crafts and games
- Story time with Mrs. Claus
- A holiday movie theater
- Free candy, snacks, and hot chocolate
- and of course, a visit with Santa complete with a free photo op!
4. We wanted to demystify the church.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. One of the most critical elements of a successful outreach event is to show the unchurched that church people are not weirdos. We’re normal fun-loving, family-centric people who have been changed by the love of Jesus Christ. Our goal is for our Santa’s Wonderland guests to be so blown away by their experience that they walk away saying, “We have to come check this church out!”
And that’s exactly what has happened. Santa’s Wonderland has become one of the most effective evangelistic outreaches in our church’s history. We have connected dozens of new families whose first exposure to Oak Ridge has been through an old guy with a white beard in a red suit. 🙂