Christmas in July

Hey friends,
(Hopefully we are friends after this post . . .)

So we've started working on Christmas eve at Connexus already.  I know  . . . I know . . . it's July.  We want (need) to get the ball rolling.

We're working on some great creative concepts and have started to block out some big ideas.  Our goal for Christmas Eve is to present this incredible message that God came to earth in Jesus.  We want to create the kind of service that we all can invite our friends to and clearly present this idea that God isn't passively waiting for us to find Him but that He took the first move to come to us.

We've started looking into locations and are running into some snags.  We originally were thinking about the Barrie Molson Centre and doing a "kidstuf" sort of event where we would invite families to fun/wacky/great family experience.  We liked the BMC because it's a neutral space – the kind of place we think folks who don't normally attend church might be less creeped out with attending at – we want to keep the spirit of that in whatever location we end up at.  Turns out BMC is closed for Christmas.  (We've tried being annoying and asked lots of people – to no avail.)  After the BMC was gone . . . we started looking into other locations.  Orillia Opera House – Nope  … Gryphon Theatre – Nada … East Bayfield Centre – Zip  … Barrie Sports Dome … Zero   Any Highschool in Barrie/Orilla … Zilch    So as you can see . . . we started running out of good (obvious) options.   We could ask a to borrow space on an "off time" from a couple churches – haven't explored that option yet.

This where you come in – the reason for this blog post tonight.  We are thinking about a couple different options at this point for Christmas eve . . . and we're wondering if people would be up for weighing in with your thoughts.  WARNING: My bias is going to show through in this.  I'm not pretending to be impartial.

Idea 1 – We could rent two elementary schools in Barrie and Orillia and host two services.  We'd need to go through the hoops with the people at the school board to open up the facilities for us but we feel pretty confident that we could find space in some schools.  We like this option because it's community oriented – it's in the heart of the cities we are attempting to serve.  It would also be nice to have something close to all of our people this year – rather than a central (outdoors or otherwise) event like last year.

Ideal 2 – We host a single Christmas eve event at the Convention Centre at Casino Rama.  (Wait!  Hear me out before you send your cards and letters.)  When I think of the Christmas story I am struck by a number of things.  Jesus arrived in a completely unexpected place – a barn – a Casino is close to the last place I could image people thinking a Christmas Eve service would be.  I am also struck that God "risked" coming to earth as a child rather than coming as a full grown man – we could probably use the location to talk about why God took that "risk".  It's also an incredible conference centre attached to the hotel (so kids can attend) with virtually free busing from all over central Ontario.  (Plus I "bet" that there are more people in Casino Rama on Christmas eve than in all the churches in Barrie & Orillia combined – a sad state of the communities we live in.) 

So now . . . it's your turn.

Some possible questions to answer:
1) Do you know of some great mystery facility we should be thinking about that we should be exploring?
2) What do you think of these two options?
3) What could we do to craft the sort of Christmas eve experience that would have a shot at reaching those 90% of people in our cities that didn't attend anywhere last year?
4) Do you think I'm totally nuts for thinking about Casino Rama . . . and may need to get my head checked?

Please fill in your comments below.

Rich Birch
[email protected]
Connexus Community Church

p.s. We're going to post stuff about the Summer Book Club tomorrow. Stay tuned, friends.
p.p.s.  We're pulling together an event for the end of August that I am totally pumped about.  It's not the "Fill the Truck" event that we're going to talk about this weekend . . . this other event is going to be at the end of August and a lot of fun.  Keep your ears to the ground!



  1. Vaneesa says, July 3, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Not that this really pertains to me, but go for Casino Rama, sounds awesome! I like the spirit of wanting to step out of the box and be available to so many who may not even have the chance to hear about Jesus.

  2. Dave Mc says, July 3, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Sounds like the casino idea is exciting, edgy, and needs lots of prayer. I know a few people that would have a hard time going there without gambling a bundle…
    I'm good with the site, however.

  3. Jenn says, July 3, 2008 at 8:32 am

    The convention centre @ Rama is a fantastic venue. Let’s GO FOR IT! I love the idea.

    Christians can often sanitize the Christmas story…and as you said Rich, it wasn’t like that. The shepherd’s came and worshipped Him in a barn. God blessed us by giving us the opportunity to worship Him anywhere. Even better yet, for us to make His story accessible to those who may not come to the typical places the Christmas Story is shared each year, simply excites me! I love thinking outside of the box.

  4. Sandy says, July 3, 2008 at 8:50 am

    I like your Casino idea. It doesn't sound like you are drawn to it to make some statement but because it would provide you with the best option right now for what you want to do. Plus we can take a free Casino coach from T.O. and attend. As long as there is no Santa involved go for it.And that shows my bias.

  5. rich birch says, July 3, 2008 at 9:13 am

    thanks for the feedback so far!


    p.s. Sandy – no Santa at this christmas eve service. :o)

  6. Carey Nieuwhof says, July 3, 2008 at 10:09 am

    I think you're totally nuts,but that's beside the point. :0)

    I love the planning we've been doing so far this summer for the fall and beyond. So much has been on the block – so many innovative and creative ideas. It's been a great summer planning for the fall and winter, and I'm excited.

  7. Michael Creasor says, July 3, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I love the idea. One of the places I would least expect to hear about God's love would be at a Casino.

    Everyone goes to church on Christmas Eve. Even if they don't go any other day of the year, the churches are standing room only on Christmas Eve. What a great way to show that we are a church that really welcomes everyone, to take the church right to the door of the Casino.

    I think it is a great venue … take the church to the people and then let God work.

    Sign me up for the eteam set up !!

  8. Heff says, July 3, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Mr Birch,
    I love the way the synapses happen in your brain and what comes from that.
    Rama, is a stellar idea.

  9. Jeff Henderson says, July 3, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Rich, I don't know which is the best option but I LOVE you are thinking this far in advance. Great ideas seem to get better with more percolation. Keep me posted.

  10. Christine says, July 3, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I think it's awesome! My kids love the casino….well the restaruants at Rama anyway. 🙂 I have absolutely no hesitation in inviting my friends! Can't wait to see how it pans out!

  11. Jen says, July 3, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Well, looks like casino it is. :o) I'm looking forward to bringing family to it! The plan will be in my prayers and you can put me down for e-team set up, too! Go for it, Rich!

  12. Tim L. Walker says, July 4, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Nice… we can call the night "Jesus at the Slots" – lol.

  13. sare says, July 4, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    AHAHAHA well said Tim

    rich! sweet idea! im definaltey game, ill help with set up too. and keep me up to date with the kidstuf too.

  14. Alison says, July 5, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I say casino. Actually, before I regularly attended church, my family would actually go to the Casino on Christmas eve and have the dinner buffet…I know I know, it sounds bad. I think it's a really interesting idea.

  15. Joey says, July 8, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Sorry Rich, but I don't like the casino idea. Firstly, I wouldn't like it because I'm not in favour of gambling because of all the destruction it causes and false hope it gives people. It would feel like we were endorsing that somehow. Secondly, it would be too far for us in south Barrie and certainly friends would not be too interested in driving 40 minutes to a service on Christmas eve.

    I prefer the schools idea – one in Barrie, one in Orillia. These neighbourhoods are packed with young families who don't go to church – I think they'd be more likely to attend a service at their local school.

    Still, it is obviously not about one person's likes or dislikes and it seems like many really like the Casino idea.

    I loved Christmas on the waterfront last year. That rocked!

    Glad you are exploring many possibilities! Even having this discussion is great – it causes us to think about Christmas and reaching people.

  16. Rich Birch says, July 8, 2008 at 9:06 am


    Thanks so much for speaking up! To be honest . . . I thought more people would be posting similar comments on this blog.

    It's great that in the body of Christ we can see the same issue from two different ends of stick. For me, the fact that we may be in the midst of the casino is a positive thing. The fact that we might be misunderstood is ok. I think we're in pretty good company. There is whole bunch of times that Jesus found himself in places where people could misunderstand his motives. Check out Matthew 9:9-13. He was having a party with "tax collectors and sinners." Tax Collectors where hated by the Jews of Jesus' day. They were lining their pockets with the money of their fellow Jews while serving the Romans. It would be like a Jewish person during WW2 working for the Nazis – and getting insanely rich from it. One the great ironies in the Bible is that God seems to be more at work "in the world" than in "holy places". It seems like God keeps meeting people "out there" rather than "in here". At some point we turned this on our head in the church and want people to come our spaces rather that us meetings people on "their" turf. I'm ok with being misunderstood . . . it seems like Jesus was misunderstood all the time!

    I have been thinking about the "it's 40 minutes from Barrie" thing. I think it is totally legitimate. I wonder why people are willing to drive from all over Ontario to go to the Casino all the time but people wouldn't be willing to drive 40 minutes to come to a church service once a year. Why is that? What are we doing wrong? We have the best message, true community and real life but people are resistant to driving 40 minutes to connect with it. Why is that?


  17. Jayne says, July 9, 2008 at 10:57 am

    What better place than a casino, filled with false hope, to spread news of the true hope found in Jesus? I think it's an extraordinary idea to bring the word of God to people where they would least expect to hear it. I think schools are generic and safe. Connexus has this unique opportunity to truly step outside our comfort zone to bring the news to the people.
    Besides, I think it would be interesting telling my non-church friends that I'm going to the casino Christmas Eve!

  18. Rich Birch says, July 9, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    bummer . . .

    I've been back and forth with Casino Rama. Turns out the space isn't available . . . they have a staff event on Christmas eve . . .

    Back to the drawing board . . .


  19. Tim L. Walker says, July 10, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Meh… that just means something better will come up. 😉

  20. Fid says, July 11, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Would kids have been allowed in the convention Centre at Casino Rama?

    How about a hockey arena?..Good Canadian

  21. Pat says, July 12, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    I vote for outside. The musicians loved that last year!

  22. Joey says, July 12, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Hey Rich,

    I don't think the church is doing anything wrong re: some people not wanting to drive 40 minutes on Xmas eve. Christmas eve for some is just inherently complicated – trying to accomodate parents, inlaws, steps, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, aging relatives, (and with some of those not getting along!). These dynamics just makes Christmas already complicated enough without a lot of driving. It isn't the church – its the pre-existing pressure of Christmas on some (certainly not all) families.

    Wow – what a heart for doing things differently our Connexus community has. I'm very impressed with our community in this discussion and its desire to outreach, though I see things a bit differently. As well, I'm probably over sensitive about addictions and places that promote addictions such as casinos, having been very negatively impacted by these.

  23. Fid says, July 12, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Joey, Have you been following me around
    on Christmas Eve??..You sure nailed it for me..

  24. Sare says, July 13, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    my friends work had a christmas party at a big community centre thing near rama.. cant think of what its called but it was super close to the casino and a good size too.
    ?? possibbllyy?

  25. Amanda says, July 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    What about the Race Track south of Barrie???
    If we pick an event centre in either town Barrie or Orillia, why not hire a bus in the other town to carpool everyone. It might be fun singing some worship songs and fellowship on the way. We won't have to worry about the weather as much either.

  26. Rich Birch says, July 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Hey Amanda,

    Good idea – Georgian Downs. I was in there last fall when we were looking for locations. They don't really have a good space for meeting. When they have "bands" and such in there they just close the food court and set up in there . . . not a good space.

    But maybe we could make it work for a single service . . .

    things that make you go "hmmmm"


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