Who says that the birth of Jesus can only be celebrated in December?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church organized a version of the popular “Road to Bethlehem” Christmas program in Melbourne, Australia, in July, allowing 2,250 people to discover the Bible prophecies about Jesus through a first-of-its-kind evangelism program.
Kerina-Lee Joy, Global Mission pioneer and evangelism facilitator for the Victorian Conference, said she decided to try a new approach to traditional evangelistic campaigns after seeing that a “Road to Bethlehem” program organized by the Nunawading Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria for the past two decades had attracted more than 16,000 people annually but was not leading to church growth.
“As a result, I felt extremely saddened and also challenged by this situation,” Joy said. “I spent several weeks agonizing in prayer, wrestling with what we could do as a church to follow-up the thousands of community contacts. Then very early one morning the Lord gave me the idea of running a Christmas in July program based on the Messianic prophecies from Scripture.”
Her vision caught the imagination of Australian evangelist Geoff Youlden, who wrote the script for the program and played a key role in bringing the program together.
“We do need to be using different approaches because we are fishing in different pools all the time,” Youlden said. “I think the good thing about this is that everyone loves Christmas, and we are trying something that is secularly accepted and using it as a means of leading people into the center part of Christmas, which is Christ.”
The family-friendly program explained the true meaning of Christmas, based on the Messianic prophecies, and included a Christmas dinner, choir, orchestra, carols, actors playing Mary and Joseph, and children’s activities.
The response was extraordinary, with 2,250 bookings taken across three sites in Melbourne, Joy said. The event was completely booked out within hours, she said.
“It has shown that people will come out to programs like this,” Youlden said. “I think what we are doing is unique. I don’t know of any other group doing what we are doing. Christmas in July is not original — what is original is how we are doing it.”
At the end of the programs many people signed up for prophecy seminars and requested DVD copies of “Beyond: The Search,” an Adventist-produced documentary series that explores some of life’s biggest questions, including why do people have pain and suffering and what happens when people die.
Several other churches in southeast Australia followed the lead of the Melbourne sites and ran versions of the Christmas program as well, said Victorian Conference president Graeme Christian.
“We are continually looking for new ways of connecting with people in the community,” he said.
After the success of the program, planning is under way to run Christmas in July again next year.