FIRST-PERSON: A Christmas caroling outreach
-- Recruit great leaders. You'll need mappers, hot cocoa servers and a promotion team. Most importantly, recruit lots and lots of caroling team leaders. Set a big goal for the number of caroling teams. Give leaders an instruction sheet so they can be prepared.
-- Offer multiple party times. For best participation, offer a choice of caroling hours, and perhaps a choice of days. For example: 10-11 a.m., 6-7 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday. Or every evening one week.
-- Make caroling maps. Each caroling team will receive a unique list of homes and prospective members to visit. Design a plan that fits your church and community, considering distance and time. Mappers will attempt to set one pre-arranged appointment for each team, such as a homebound member or church guest. Caroling at one home takes about five minutes, then they can sing at nearby homes as well. Where to carol? Consider: 1) caroling for homebound members and their neighbors; 2) caroling at all homes within a few blocks of your church building, or an entire subdivision; 3) caroling for your town's mayor, police chief or other leaders; 4) caroling in hallways at a nearby nursing home, with permission; 5) caroling at the home of each recent visitor to your church, and at their neighbors. Also, consider including people with mobility limitations. They can carol from their car windows to nearby fire stations, outdoor Christmas tree stores, and, with permission, mall parking lots.
-- Add extras. Caroling team leaders should set a joyful atmosphere. They could bring Santa hats, long scarves, kazoos, sleigh bells or tambourines. Add a violinist or bongo player. Make signs on stakes that read "Merry Christmas" and "from [your church's name]." Teams may enjoy decorating their car with battery-operated lights and garland.
-- Advertise. Create excitement. Provide online registration. Make a Facebook invitation. Hang signup sheets at church, or pass them around in meetings, classes and worship. Ask all church leaders to help promote it.
-- Have fun on caroling day. Caroling team leaders should arrive early to choose a mapped assignment, and then pick up church brochures and printed invitations to church Christmas events. As carolers arrive, they immediately join a caroling team. They sign Christmas cards to deliver, and when a team has 6-12 people, they pray together and depart. Most teams are out the door in five minutes. Latecomers form additional teams. If a team drives to their destination, they could play Christmas music as they go.
-- Enjoy the after-celebration. Carolers return in exactly an hour to enjoy music and fellowship, hot cocoa and homemade cookies, and a great atmosphere of Christmas joy. A whiteboard is updated as teams arrive to show the grand total of people visited. Sharing the joy of Christmas with your community -- now, that's something to celebrate!
A sample instruction sheet for Caroling Team leaders is available at www.dianadavis.org. Diana Davis is author of "Fresh Ideas" and "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing).