The first obstacle we identified was busyness.
The second obstacle we identified was materialism.
We decided the church should combat this tendency rather than contribute to it. So, instead of adding programs and activities during December, we've actually reduced them. For example, we've stayed away from large Christmas productions for children or adults. These events, while beautiful and worshipful, often take weeks of preparation that fill up the calendar with practices which separate families. We also suspend most adult and children's classes on Sunday so families can worship together, and we provide at-home Advent family devotionals and encourage heads of households to gather their clan weekly.
In addition, beginning in late October we start encouraging everyone to complete their Christmas shopping before December 1. This frees up time during Advent to connect with others, and hours that would otherwise be spent at the mall can now be used to serve someone in the name of Christ. It seems so simple, but I can't tell you how many people have been blessed by this suggestion.
To address this obstacle, we encourage our community to reduce their shopping expenses and match whatever they spend by giving to a compassion or missions project. This year we're highlighting two projects in particular. The first is in partnership with our missionaries in Cambodia working with AIDS patients. The other is an urban ministry in Chicago we've been connected with for years. There are other projects available, and a number involve more than giving money. Many small groups, for example, take time to engage a local service project together and children are encouraged to participate as well.
To be honest, not everyone has appreciated this approach. Some come to our church with expectations of an elaborate Christmas pageant, and others don't want to be challenged every week to shop earlier and spend less. But our desire is simple: to release time for communion with God and service to others, and to refocus our attention away from the kitsch and onto Christ.