A Very Multi-Site Christmas
By the time this post goes live, we’ll be three days away from Christmas With the Summit, a day-long series of celebrations of the incarnation.
But at the time of writing, we’re still on the frozen turkey side of Thanksgiving. No one has gone over the river and through the woods, Black Friday hasn’t yet happened, and Christmas…though closing in quickly…is still a month away.
It’s important for me to state that clearly, because what follows is a bit of holiday prophecy. The following things may or may not come to pass, in which case I’ll either delete this draft or get stoned (Deuteronomy 18 style, of course).
First, some background: for the last seven years we’ve hosted Christmas at DPAC: celebrations that stretched over three days at a performing arts venue in the heart of downtown Durham. DPAC is a beloved Summit tradition. Each year we have upwards of 15,000 in attendance, hundreds of volunteers who serve, and many who hear the gospel for the very first time. It’s a rare opportunity for The Summit Church to gather under one roof and make much of Jesus together.
This year, the available dates for the venue weren’t sufficient enough for us to be able to load in and do tech run throughs and hold worship rehearsals and offer enough service times in order to accommodate this year’s projected numbers.
So we made the decision to take our Christmas services multi-site for the first time since 2011. On December 22, we’ll offer thirteen services at four venues across the Triangle area. Now it’s important to note this is not our first multi-site rodeo. We do this every weekend. But because this is the first time we’ve done an event of this scale in multiple locations, I thought it might be helpful to share five things we’ve learned in the process:
1. It isn’t easier than “one big event.”
That’s a no-brainer. But I’ve been surprised at the number of people who have assumed the opposite. “Oh, this must be a piece of cake compared to previous years, right?” Well, no. Because honestly, we’d gotten Christmas at DPAC down to a formula. We knew exactly how many volunteers we needed and how many services to plan and the right number of supplies to order. Going from one location to four means that we’ve had to start from scratch in many cases. Even though all four locations will be at places where we have weekend services, our volunteer needs will be much greater. Our crowds will be much heavier. Everything from the way we sign up volunteers to the way we distribute tickets had to be rethought.
2. It has meant releasing control.
When our Christmas services happened in one location, our central team called the shots on just about every aspect of the process. Going to four locations puts us on more of a “normal weekend” footing where the pendulum swings to campus autonomy. Yes, there will be centralized elements to the services. Yes, we will be functioning from the same general playbook. But there will be site-specific training (led by the central and campus teams) and game-time decisions that must be made by campus leadership.
3. It requires central planning with campus execution.
We decided that our central Guest Services team (made up of me, two team members, and one former team member with loads of Christmas experience) would plan the process, handle volunteer sign ups and placement, set the stage for consistent language, and basically run things from conception until the day before the event. The goal was to avoid our Guest Services directors at each campus taking on a second job for November and December. However…
4. It means asking good questions of the experts.
…we didn’t make decisions in a vacuum. Our Guest Services directors know their venue better than we do, so we sat down with each of them in advance and sought their input. Many of their suggestions, we implemented. And on the day of the event, they are the experts we’ll defer to.
5. It means advance planning of the logistics.
To cram eleven campuses into four locations, we required our staff and challenged our volunteers and attendees to attend and serve at a specific venue. That helped us make an attempt at even distribution so no one place gets overwhelmed this Sunday. Requiring (free!) tickets for each service will spread out the crowd throughout the day at each site. Plus, we’re encouraging our entire congregation to “be the church in their community” by attending where they live, rather than heading to a campus 40 minutes away. (This also gives our church the chance to invite their “one” that they’ve been praying for in 2019.)
Again, this post is being penned four weeks prior to the event. So far, the plan is working. And if December 22 proves otherwise, well…get out those stones.
Just gift wrap ’em first. It’s Christmas, after all.