Toys "R" Us wants you for Christmas.
They plan to "invade the mall this holiday season, opening 600 ‘Express' stores in malls and other shopping centers around the country, more than six times last year's count, and hiring 10,000 seasonal workers."
"We've been very aggressive during the economic downturn," said CEO Gerald Storch, "and this is another aggressive action."
The company opened 90 pop-up stores last year, so the question became, "How big can we make this?"
How big can we make Christmas?
Or more specifically, Christmas Eve?
Evangelical churches of all kinds throughout the United States have seldom held services on Christmas Day when it has not fallen on a Sunday (a tradition that dates back to the Puritans). In fact, marking Christmas has never been tied to a Sunday-specific celebration (as with Easter).
If there is a day that has uniformly been seized by churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, it has been Christmas Eve. For many years, Christmas Eve has been the day of choice for the communal celebration among Christians of the birth of Christ.
Christmas Eve services are a last bastion against the rampant materialism and secularism that threatens to overwhelm the true meaning of the season, keeping the birth of Christ in the center of our hearts and celebrations.
They are also one of the most strategic ways we can reach out to individuals for Christ so that one day they may celebrate His birth with us in the fullness of the new birth He brought to their life. Christmas Eve really is one of the best times to reach out to the unchurched in a culture that, for now at least, still draws them to attend such services.
As a result, we need to ask ourselves - as Toys "R" Us did - "How big can we make this?"
By "how big can we make this," I mean, "How many people can we reach for Christ who wouldn't darken the doorstep of a church any other time of the year?"
How can we most strategically remind them of the reason for the season in a way their latest trip to the mall did not?
If they naturally turn their thoughts to church and Jesus, how can we serve those inclinations and let this Christmas Eve mark the advent of Christ in their life?
Our Christmas Eve services are planned months in advance; staff is out in full force; we employ hundreds of volunteers; we give a present to all in attendance (usually a book to serve a spiritual search or journey); we offer refreshments and, outside, carolers and lights.
This year we will offer eight identical services over three days. If you want to see our promotional video for this year, click here.
A lot of effort, I know. But the way we figure it, there was a lot of effort in the incarnation, and it was for more than a Christmas card.
It was, as the angel said, to bring "good news of great joy for all the people."
So how big are we going to make it?
As big as we can.
James Emery White
Mae Anderson, "Toys 'R' Us opening 600 holiday stores in malls, hiring 10,000," USA Today, September 9, 2010. Online at http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2010-09-09-toys-r-us_N.htm
Publication date: December 16, 2010
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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