The wonder of Christmas

Every church wants to be a light in its community and, at Christmas time, the people of Maroochy Baptist Church do this in a very special way. PRAC caught up with Senior Pastor Phil Greenbury to find out all about their Christmas Lights.

PRAC: Tell us about Maroochy Baptist Church’s Christmas Lights. What does it involve?
The Christmas Lights are MBC’s main community outreach. We run the program each year, every night from 6:00pm to 9:30pm, for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The event has grown enormously since we began seven years ago. We started small but the Lights now attract more than 20,000 people over the two-week period.

There are a number of facets to the program. We do a major light theme on the front of the building each year that encourages people to come and find out what is happening inside. This year the major lights will feature the words “The Wonder of Christmas” and this theme will be carried right throughout the presentations in the building.

We have a musical production that runs for about 45 minutes each night. There are songs, dancing, drama multimedia presentations, lighting effects and a 5-minute preaching spot to challenge the people with the true purpose of Christmas.
The animal farm is a great attraction for the families. We have over 100 animals including baby ducks, guinea fowls and chickens, which are always a hit with the kids.

We run a “Bethlehem Walk” that depicts the full story of Christmas. People line up and are escorted in groups through the old town of Bethlehem (created in our church hall and joining rooms). With all the sights and smells of village life, people listen to various actors unfold the story as they move from room to room. The journey leads them into a large marquee where there is an evangelism room and prayer area. People are challenged with the gospel and then given an opportunity to write out a prayer or be prayed for before exiting into the market place. And finally, the Food Piazza is open every night for people to get a cheap meal while at the Lights. They can wander through the market place where there are lots of goodies for sale. There are kids areas with jumping castles, balloon creations, shows and games as well as free fairy floss and popcorn for everyone.

Why have you opted for Lights instead of the traditional Carols service?
There are a few reasons we have decided to do the Lights instead of the traditional carols service. Firstly, it is the wet season and many outdoor carol services are washed out while our program continues rain, hail or shine! Secondly, by holding it inside the church complex people build a greater connection with the church through the Christmas Lights. We have heard a number of stories of people claiming that MBC was their church for the sole reason that they go to Christmas Lights! During the event we distribute a comprehensive church booklet to explain the many ministries of the church and people turn up to various events throughout the year based on the information and connection they made through Christmas Lights. Thirdly, because it runs over two weeks rather than being a one-off event, many people come back time and time again, bringing more friends with them!

How long has it taken you to reach this scale of event?
It has taken us seven years to get to this scale. The first year was small – just a handful of people, some lights, and some carol singing. We have varied it each year and added some different things as we have grown. People enjoy the changes from year to year.

To what degree do you think this taps into a cultural vein?
Because people already have a small understanding of Christmas, I believe it is tapping into their cultural veins. People today have a spiritual hunger but don’t like or see the relevance of church. Through the Christmas Lights they see a Christian community in action, inviting them into to the church to celebrate part of the Christmas culture. I have been amazed by how many people take the time to write out prayers when given the opportunity through the Bethlehem Walk. We started with a few bits of paper, not expecting people to be bothered with writing a prayer. We now have 40 books and hundreds of people taking the time to write out prayer requests each night. Our prayer team faithfully prays through each prayer every night. We send out follow up letters to the prayer requests and from time to time have taken food parcels to those who have been in need.

What principles drive the creative content of your Christmas Lights?
The creative principles we use reflect the culture of the community. We take a contemporary approach and try to do things equally as well as the world does them. We communicate our message in a way that we believe the everyday person will be able to understand. We watch X Factor and Australian Idol to get ideas on how to present our musical program. At times we have used some well-known songs from these programs. This year we are using Amazing Grace by Stan Warner. We have a great team of musical people, creative dance teams, sound and lighting guys and multimedia presenters as well as actors who help us with our production each year.

What is your missional intent behind putting on an event of such a large scale?
Our aim is to reclaim Christmas on the Sunshine Coast. There are no Santa Clauses or reindeers in our Lights. We believe that there is enough in the true Christmas Story without them. I can’t think of a time in the last seven years when Santa has been missed with all that we have had to say about Jesus!

How does this help you connect with people who don’t come to your church (or any other church)?
We connect with so many people who don’t come to church. We have people coming to our church throughout the year because they have been to Christmas Lights. Many Sundays when we welcome new people they tell us that they first came to the church at Christmas Lights. All over the Sunshine Coast whenever someone says they are from Maroochy Baptist Church, they hear praise for the Christmas Lights. They call us “The Lights Church!”

What impact does this have on the people of your church?
Our people are really blessed as they serve in Christmas Lights. There is such a sense of community as young and old work shoulder to shoulder with each other. God gives us all a sense of His presence throughout the time and there is a real buzz about the place. We’re tired once Christmas is over and need a slow start to the New Year but the effort is worth it!

What are some examples of the fruit that has come from your Christmas Lights?
We have a number of examples of people encountering God throughout the Lights. Last year, we had a family come back to thank the prayer team for praying for their daughter. She had been losing her sight but God had healed her after they had prayed for her.

Another particular lady was driving past the church on the way home from work and God just drew her to the Lights. She was drawn in and felt compelled to come every night. She then came regularly to the church and got her heart right with God. Now, a few years later, she is part of our worship team.

Another lady saw the star on top of the building and was drawn to come and see what God was doing. She had been thrown out of a church for smoking 18 years earlier and had felt isolated and unloved. She came and God challenged her and she has been part of the church ever since. She gave her testimony as she was baptized earlier this year.

Where would you like to take this in future years?
Our aim is to continue developing the presentation in ways that impact the community. We long to see more churches involved and using the Christmas Lights as an outreach by bringing their friends to the evenings, talking about Jesus, then taking them back to their own churches and discipling them. I believe that the whole community can be changed as more and more people over the years encounter God in some way during the Christmas Lights outreach.

 

PRAC interview with Phil Greenbury, Maroochy Baptist Church Senior Pastor. Prac10.