A growing number of United Methodist churches, outreach ministries and other non-profits are using Reverse Advent calendars to encourage Christians to give love and charity throughout the season leading to Christmas.
Many people are familiar with traditional Advent calendars and use them at home to guide their devotional time in the days before Christmas. Parents may use interactive Advent calendars with their children, opening a different box or door each day to reveal a tiny present.
A Reverse Advent Calendar works the opposite way. Instead of unveiling a new gift each day, the calendar asks participants to "give" a different item beginning the first Sunday of Advent. For instance, on the first day, the calendar might say to give a new pair of socks and ask for a can of tomato soup on the second day. Most of the requested daily donations are small, simple and relatively inexpensive. At the same time, the calendar can also designate one or more days to give monetary donations for charities that prefer to assist with operational expenses or purchase certain items. For instance, many food banks need funds available to purchase fresh, healthy produce.
Reverse Advent calendars are a wonderful tool for supporting local ministries and charitable non-profits. They are easy to customize for a specific program or cause such as food banks, homeless shelters or children's charities. Think carefully about the needs of the ministry and what gift items will be most useful. For example, in 2018, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Tustin California, collected gifts for youth who are in a transitional housing placement program. Among the items were writing pens, fuzzy socks, bus and movie passes and motivational quote cards.
Severna Park United Methodist Church in Maryland gave out bags and calendars, asked congregants to return them on Christmas Eve or the Sunday after and then distributed the food through its food pantry. The Imperial Beach Neighborhood Center in California - a continuing ministry of the now-closed Imperial Beach United Methodist Church - has a shower ministry and year-round toy distribution among its services. This year it is asking for towels, soap and other personal hygiene items as well as food and one toy each for a boy and a girl under 6.
Churches distribute the calendars near the beginning of Advent and post them online. Some send daily email or text reminders. Most churches encourage collecting the items throughout the season and then delivering them to the church or the benefiting charity in the days after Christmas. Some supply bags or baskets to hold the collection.
Find more examples of Reverse Advent calendars on Pinterest.
Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee