Birmingham Christian Union did a great job this evening with their carol services at the Guild Hall on Birmingham University Campus. What inspired me was here was a group of empowered young people thinking creatively and strategically about sharing their faith with their friends. Nice job guys! Here’s five things I learned:
1. Think Big
the CU committee made up of students most of whom are under 20 went for the biggest venue on campus, the very impressive Guild Hall which is used for graduation ceremonies. It seats 1000 + and they booked it out for the day. Seeing as last year they had to turn people away from the event they did an afternoon event as well. The afternoon was about 50% full – which still makes it a huge evangelistic opportunity with 80% of people coming not part of the Christian Union. The evening was a pack out with more seats / stools brought in from the lobby. So that’s around 1500 -1600 people over the two services. I know very few churches, mission weeks, campaigns, concerts that get those sort of numbers. Maybe the rest of us need to learn to think bigger in our carol services – book out the biggest venue you can find, bring in some external talent, invest in making Christmas the set piece evangelistic event of the year?
2. Think Traditional
People love singing carols – so let them sing the old favorites, they didn’t ask people to sing funky remixes of familiar carols but gave it to them straight. We sang :
Once in Royal David’s City
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
O little town of Bethlehem
O Come All ye Faithful
Mostly accompanied by a huge pipe organ. I think this is the way to go – sing the old classics at your carol services with traditional arrangements so people feel at home. The words are so rich and the tunes so powerful. Go traditional make it a classic Christmas.
3. Think Funky
The CU cleverly outsources the funky by asking the University Gospel Choir to perform, they did a great job accompanying the carols with the descant to carols like Hark the Herald. But they did a fantastic version of Away in a manger and also Silent Night. It really lifted the evening and was very professionally done. Lets learn from this – add some contemporary elements to the service but do it as a performance piece rather than a congregational sing.
4. Think Hospitality
The two hosts Nicky and Tom did a great job as kind of girl and boy version of Ant and Dec like hosting duo. They were sharply dressed up in cocktail dress and suit and did an excellent job. They were funny and informative. The CU also bought 2000 mince pies from Tesco – they had to phone and confirm the order wasn’t a typo! And provided them for free at the back of the event. Make sure there’s enough food and drink for everyone – people will stick around and use the time to get to know people- brief the church to be on the look out to welcome newcomers.
5. Think Gospel
We had a great testimony from a student Laura who shared very clearly her own conversion story. it was so nice to hear from someone who began christian recently and being willing to stand up infront of 1500 of their peers!
I was given 20 minutes to speak which was a real privilege and told to tell it straight so I felt at liberty to speak as winsomely and directly as I could. I didn’t use any technology – which is a deliberate move at carol services in very traditional spaces. I try to speak without notes and this time experimented with a bit of audience participation at the beginning. I changed the talk between the afternoon and the evening because of visual feedback i got as people listened to the talk. (something video preaching won’t ever give you ;o) ) (see also richard littledale’s comments on this) The choir who had to hear the sermon twice said it was even better the second time round – which was nice. They had a bookstall selling discounted books 50p each. The idea being giving books away for free people won’t value them, but making them cheap means it won’t put off the interested. They had our book “How to save a life” out which was nice too – as it is aimed as a giveaway book for these kind of events.
Great job Birmingham CU!
1. Do two evening carol services back to back
There is a buzz about doing a carol service at night. It
2. Maybe have some spot lights
Being able to give a talk to a large group of the people who are in the dark but the speaker is picked out in Spotlight is great – Christchurch Clifton did this at last year’s Carol Services in Bristol last year which was great.
3. Plug the international student work
I met a really nice guy from Nigeria and linked him up with the friendsinternational work and was thinking that many of the people that came were internationals and the hospitality programmes that are available would be great to plug at the event.
4. Charity fundraiser?
Would be nice to do a retiring collection for a charity like Shelter, Stop the Traffik etc. I think it would make the event more attractive not less.
5. Invite the establishment to take part
Ask the Vice Chancellor to do a reading, the head of the SU, someone from the Muslim society?