PORT CHARLOTTE–Year after year, Murdock Baptist Church looks for ways to share the message of Christ with their community of Port Charlotte, located one hour south of Sarasota. With a desire to provide a safe, socially distanced option for their community this Christmas, the church tapped into their creativity to continue to offer a festive, gospel-centered experience.
For years, the church shared Christ with its community through a Living Christmas Tree and other large-scale musicals and dramatic presentations. However, with this year bringing a new set of challenges, Murdock church leaders knew they had to offer something outside their four walls.
“In 2020, we recognized the hindrance that COVID would put on people coming to an indoor Christmas event, and we knew we needed to come up with a new plan,” said Ron Tipton, pastor of Murdock church. “We chose to move out of the box and out of our four walls, in order to reach people with the hope of Jesus Christ.”
That is where a “Journey to Bethlehem” comes onto the scene. The “Journey to Bethlehem,” held Dec. 10-14 on church property, saw over 800 attendees take part in the four-night, drive-thru Christmas event.
“This Christmas celebration experience was tailored for our guests to remain in the comfort of their own vehicle for both a safe and intimate experience,” he said.
Vehicles were welcomed onto the church property with hot cocoa, iced coffee, chocolate-dipped peppermint sticks, homemade cookies, and an optional picture booth. The fun, family-friendly drive-thru experience included Christmas music by a hand-bell ringer, 40-plus caroling group, and an “awe-inspiring light display.” Shortly after exiting the light display, vehicles were directed to the begin the main attraction, the “Journey to Bethlehem” presentation.
Upon entrance, each vehicle received a CD or QR code that enabled passengers to listen to a narration and stories told by biblical characters as guests made their own personal journey to Bethlehem. The pre-recording acted as a prompt to guide each vehicle through the entire Christmas story presentation.
“These fully dramatized audio recordings were supported by some amazing artwork,” Tipton said. “These were all written, performed, and created by members in our own church family.”
With nearly 100 volunteers registering guests and setting up points of contact throughout the experience, the event enabled Murdock to follow up and pray with more than 100 in attendance. In looking over their registration information, the church also recognized that 49 percent in attendance were non-church members.
“We value connecting with our community so that we may share Christ with them,” Tipton said.
Church leaders did not want the excitement and anticipation the Christmas season brings to end at a four-night experience. A 12 Days of Advent video campaign was launched on their social media platforms to provide encouragement and continued discipleship leading up to Christmas Day.
“In addition to serving as an encouragement to our people, this is another way for us to continue to provide discipleship opportunities throughout the Christmas season,” Tipton said.
“Matt is a friend from when we both served at Lifeway,” he said. “Matt has an excellent way of speaking into the emotions that so many face during this Advent season.”
For Murdock, the hope of the gospel doesn’t end at Christmas. The church is looking forward to continuing to bridge the gap between the gospel and those who desperately need it. Using the imagery of building a bridge, Tipton said he desires to provide planks for his members to build relationships and opportunities for daily gospel conversations.
“Day-to-day our goal is to encourage our people to share the gospel. Whether it’s bags of food, an encouragement card, or an invitation to an event, we are willing to do whatever allows us to build a bridge to those who need Jesus,” he said.
“The world isn’t knocking on our door anymore. We have to go knock on theirs.”