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Christmas Outreach in a John-Lewis Age

Tim Thornborough | 10 Nov 2017


Get your hankies out, the John Lewis Christmas Ad has landed.

Over the years we’ve come to expect big things from the store that never knowingly undersells. And everyone has followed in their wake with a style of advertising that is perfectly tuned to the spirit of our age.

Gone are the ads that “tell and sell” — with their focus on benefits, features and price. That approach to mass advertising is reserved for cleaning products. Barry Scott. Cillit Bang! I rest my case.

Now all the money and energy is in ads at “feel and reveal”. They make us feel an emotion, whether that is the joy, sadness or aspiration. And they reveal a hunger, a lack or a hope that lies deep within us. Agencies know that if they can connect a deep feeling to a brand, it will influence our buying decisions far more than any starbursts shouting, “half price”.

It’s something we need to learn for our approach to outreach this Christmas time. Of course, the Gospel is fundamentally about “Tell”. Jesus came into our world to save us from our sins. His birth is an act of extraordinary commitment from a loving God who wants to rescue his people from their greatest need.

But how do you get people to acknowledge that need? How do we draw them and lead them to the place where this gospel of redemption makes sense to them? One of the most powerfully effective things that sin does to us is it numbs our understanding of our real needs; it makes us insensitive to God; it sears our consciences, so that we do not see sin as in any way dangerous or damaging.

Tell stories, use illustrations and personal testimony that show people how they have eternity in their hearts, how they hunger for intimacy, community, security and significance.

Nathan the prophet understood this approach only too well. When David sinned with Bathsheba, and then murdered Uriah, the prophet did not Tell and Sell, “David you have sinned against God, and will fall under judgement”. Instead he adopted the Feel and Reveal approach. Let me tell you a story about man and a lamb. The story engaged David's feelings, invoked his anger, and then, at the big reveal, gave him nowhere to turn except to fall on his face before God as his hypocrisy was made plain.

This is the art we need to learn as witnesses and preachers this Christmas, and for life in general. There is a time for “tell and sell” — but we need to help them get to that point by “feel and reveal”. At its heart is telling stories, using illustrations and personal testimony that draw people into revealing that they have eternity in their hearts, that they hunger for intimacy, community, security and significance, that their hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

It’s what we have tried to embody in Life Explored (Feel) and Christianity Explored (Tell). It’s what we have tried to do in Rescuing Christmas, where the focus is on the fleeting joy we associate with Christmas, and our hunger for it to last. We even have Waddle the Penguin on the cover who features in some free downloads, to go head to head with Moz the Monster.

Whatever you recommend, read or give this Christmas, let’s learn this vital art in gospel communication. If you cry, you buy.


For Christmas Outreach ideas and free resources, see this blog post and for a month-by-month run-down of how to plan Christmas Outreach see this blog post 


Tim Thornborough

Tim Thornborough is the founder and Publishing Director of The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes and the author of The Very Best Bible Stories series, and has contributed to many books published by The Good Book Company and others. Tim is married to Kathy, and they have three adult daughters.