“Can Christmas Still Change the World?”
That’s the subtitle on the cover of the Advent Conspiracy book. The founders of the Advent Conspiracy (AC) movement believe it can, and in 2006 they decided to take a stand against the consumerism they felt was distracting people from celebrating the birth of Christ.
Pastors Rick McKinley (Imago Dei Community in Portland, Ore.), Greg Holder (Windsor Crossing in St. Louis, Mo.), and Chris Seay (Ecclesia in Houston, Texas) wanted to reclaim the story of Christmas and lead their congregations into that story as participants, not bystanders. The Advent Conspiracy movement invites people to practice four key concepts: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. Thousands of people from around the world have embraced these concepts in their churches and homes.
Broadway UMC’s (Bowling Green District) leadership heard about Advent Conspiracy from Internet articles and blogs. John David Ryan, Broadway’s Community Involvement Minister, says, “We were interested because it encouraged people to focus on the important aspects of Christmas—relationships, the gift of time, and a less-frenzied celebration of Christ’s birth—and to unplug from the negative aspects by spending less money, avoiding debt, making gifts, and ultimately giving more of themselves to our community, family and friends.”
To promote AC to the congregation in 2009, Broadway decorated its welcome center with displays on clean water projects and did a sermon series on AC’s four key concepts. Everyone at Broadway was involved with this project. The church found ways to integrate the Conspiracy into the children’s and youth curriculum and planned activities that would include all people—singles, families, young, and old.
Mr. Ryan says people were excited about AC and found many opportunities to participate.
“We held a do-it-yourself gift expo so people could see what others were doing to make their own gifts and to gather ideas,” he says. “We also coordinated in several local service opportunities for people to give of themselves.”
One opportunity was dinner on Thanksgiving Day at a local housing project. Church members also adopted children through the Angel Tree program to provide coats, clothing, and shoes to those families in need. In addition the children and youth ministries cooked a meal to serve to and share with the people staying at the Salvation Army. A Christmas Eve offering totaling around $10,000 was divided among four causes: 50% toward clean water projects through Living Water International, 20% to Broadway’s needs-assistance fund, 20% toward supporting Corazones Cristianos (a Hispanic United Methodist congregation in Bowling Green), and 10% to support Broadway’s Africa missionary partnership.
Jim Nichols, Associate Pastor at Christ Church United Methodist (Louisville District), heard Rick McKinley talking about Advent Conspiracy several years ago and began thinking of how he could put it into practice in his own family. He liked “the idea of actually celebrating Jesus’ birth and not getting lost in the busyness and utter commercial insanity of the ‘holiday season.’”
After discussing AC with a few people at Christ Church, he introduced the movement through a video and teaching series with the church’s Antioch Sunday evening community in 2008. Rev. Nichols says there was some hesitation the first year: “Were we taking away the very nature of Christmas and giving gifts?” Last year, though, the people of Antioch and the church’s young adults were more enthusiastic about AC. There is excitement around doing it again this year.
Brandon Aten, a member of Antioch’s worship team, is looking forward to Advent Conspiracy again. He likes the grassroots nature of the movement and how it “motivates people who participate to move away from the stress-filled, money pit experience that most Americans experience every year.”
Mr. Aten and his wife have participated in AC the past two years. Last year they commissioned a friend to create pieces of art for their family members. This allowed them to support their friend as an artist and give their family members a unique gift they will cherish for many years.
Rev. Nichols recalls that others at Christ Church spent less on gifts, but the presents they gave were more meaningful. Instead of a gift card, his accountability partner gave him a book he knew Rev. Nichols would treasure. In addition, he says, “I saw one young man decide to give time to a local ministry and he's still working and engaging a year later!”
Participating in Advent Conspiracy has helped change the mindsets of some people in the Broadway and Christ Church congregations. Rev. Nichols says he has seen the AC concepts being lived out throughout the year. Both Broadway and Antioch enthusiastically look forward to what Advent will bring this year. It takes time for attitudes and traditions associated with Christmas to change, so Mr. Ryan says, “We are in this for the long haul.”
Visit www.adventconspiracy.org for videos and other resources and to learn how other churches are taking part in the Conspiracy.
Brandon Aten reflects on the four Advent Conspiracy concepts (Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All).
Worship fully to join with your church to truly understand the meaning of the Advent story and what God has in store for you and your community.
Spend less by being intentional about what you buy or get for your loved ones. The AC isn't about not getting anything for people, just getting things that actually have meaning or importance for someone.
Give more by donating the remainder of what you would have spent to a good cause, or deliberately increasing your annual allocations to the church, community groups, or other services. You can obviously see how an entire church doing this could have a dramatic impact on their local community.
Love all gets back to the reason Christ came to Earth that first Christmas. He came because God so loved THE WORLD, and we are urged to do the same through our contributions and to widen our understanding of global issues. When you understand how the majority of people live on this planet and how easy it would be for us to help through a spirit of compassion, that is one step closer to loving the world like Christ.