As disciples, we ask ourselves how to best engage with others, especially those who aren’t yet believers, in meaningful, intentional ways. We know the holidays are a great time to open our homes, but we also see that for some, the holiday season is the most stressful season—attending one more Friendsgiving or Christmas party can just bring on the anxiety!
As a former missionary to Spain, I found holiday parties were the perfect way to engage with the community, neighbors, and new friends in Spain. There, they don’t normally celebrate Thanksgiving, so it was a new invitation they readily accepted. Christmas parties are usually spent with family, so when I invited them to an “American” Christmas party, they were sure to be there as well.
Having returned to the States for a few years, I’ve found it more difficult to engage in the community in the same way. People have their own Thanksgiving dinners with family, and the Christmas season is so busy with events from work parties to kids’ school parties and more that inviting people to a large holiday party ends up with more rejections than acceptances.
It would be easy to give up, but as everyday missionaries, we must read the culture. And American culture has its specific nuances different from certain cultures overseas. As we are all “missionaries” spreading the love of Christ through our words and lives, I’ve found the following tips helpful on how to engage and connect with others during the holidays here in the States:
- Accomplish a task.
Americans tend to be more task-oriented than people-oriented. This is a generalization and cultural assessment, so, of course, it may not apply to everyone. But if I found myself as a missionary to the United States, I would center my holiday events on a task. Sure, spending time together is fun, but it seems to have more value if you are doing something or learning something.
I would apply this by gathering a few neighbors, coworkers, or parents of my kids’ friends and making fall décor together or a fall flower arrangement. Have families with kids over for a fall or Christmas cookie-decorating party. Plan an event around sharing favorite family recipes and making them together. Take turns having cooking classes. Make it a potluck or simply share your own recipes and food with others. Have a holiday décor swap party. Get a group together to go caroling. The possibilities are endless.
Volunteering is also a fun activity to connect with others. Christian or not, people often enjoy serving together, whether at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or senior living residence. Gather a few friends and neighbors and sign up to play games with seniors or serve food at a nonprofit.
A party with a task or activity tends to win people over during the holidays.
- Set time parameters.
In Spain, invitations always had a beginning time but never an ending time. That’s because time is fluid. If an invitation states that it starts at 1:00 p.m., that means it will start around 1:30 p.m., and it could last until 5:00 p.m. or even later. Spaniards are event-oriented versus time-oriented. The event is the value, so if it needs to start late and end late, that’s perfectly fine.
Here in the United States, we tend to be more time-oriented. Not only do we set a start time for an event; we set an end time. We are aware that people live busy lives and have set schedules, so try to fit your event in a one-hour to a two-hour time slot, being mindful of all the other holiday activities people have going on. For better attendance, think of non-prime time slots like late Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons for your party or activity.
- Focus on conversation.
Americans are more vulnerable than other cultures. Our culture values exposing vulnerability versus concealing it. With other cultures, it might take knowing a person well to get her to speak about her emotions or weaknesses, but we Americans tend to love open conversation. Because of that, we can easily go deep in our conversations depending on whom we are talking to. Remember that the Holy Spirit can lead us to spiritual conversations at His pace, slowly or quickly. Be attentive and prayerful, listening for sacred moments to share about Christ, how He speaks into your life and how He can speak into their lives, even while enjoying the task at hand. Conversations will naturally flow, especially when it comes to being thankful or finding joy in the season or the reason for the season.
- Don’t get caught up in the numbers.
When planning an event or activity, we want a good turnout to make the most of all the preparations. But as Jesus would go look for that one lost sheep, if we prepared for thirty and only ten showed up, it still would all be worth it. Make the most of who God has placed in your life—who shows up. Those people are there for a reason. And you are there in their lives for a reason as well. Show up for the one, even if it’s just one.
- Have fun.
In the grind of preparing for a party or activity, sometimes it can get frustrating or stressful. Why am I doing this? you might ask yourself. Turn on some of your favorite music. Dance and sing as you prepare for having people over. Enjoy God and His work in your life in the moment. Yes, prepping can be tiring and can cost money and time, but know that it is all purposeful. God sees your heart. Enjoy Him, enjoy His people, and enjoy serving, especially in such a season of gratefulness and joy.
Y Bonesteele is a former missionary to Spain and has served also in China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Sometimes she finds the hardest soils to be in the United States but is hopeful and excited about how God is stirring. She has her MDiv from Biola University and loves the Thanksgiving and Christmas season for all the opportunities to share the gospel that it has to offer.