The best gifts this Christmas weren’t found in Santa’s bag or under a tree—they were distributed by Foursquare churches across the country to scores of people in both physical and spiritual need.

Take, for example, NorthRock Church (Thornton Foursquare Church) in Thornton, Colo., pastored by Jeremy Pummel. The congregation took what they would normally have spent on Christmas decorations and programs, and did something dramatically different from past years—they hosted an evening of dinner and entertainment for those experiencing homelessness. Church members turned their auditorium into a fancy restaurant, hired a band to play holiday tunes, booked a well-known comedian and served a nice meal. Then they gave out $5,000 in Walmart gift cards to their guests.

“There are so many in our Denver area who are on the streets and have nothing and no one during the holidays,” says Pastor Jeremy. “We decided as a church to do something for them. The place was packed, and at the end of the night, person after person thanked us for giving them a Christmas.”

Similar scenes of giving played out in communities across the U.S. where Foursquare churches reached out to those around them through special events and church gatherings. In an exclusive post-holiday survey of 30 churches, a total of 12,941 people attended Christmas weekend services—a 32 percent increase over normal weekend attendance. An additional 8,891 joined Christmas Eve services in these churches. Most important, 568 individuals made first-time decisions for Christ, and another 332 rededicated their lives to Christ.

The Highlands (Antelope Valley Foursquare Church) in Palmdale, Calif., pastored by Ken Hart, fed a Christmas meal to more that 2,000 people, gave 1,200 toys to needy children, and distributed sleeping bags, coats and gloves to those experiencing homelessness. In a service held in a park, 77 people received Christ.

Senior Pastor Chad Schilperoort and his congregation, Life Center (Clarkston Foursquare Church) in Clarkston, Wash., did something really different this Christmas, with great results. They hosted a “Christmas camp” for 130 kids grades K–6th, which took place for three hours on three nights. Then they invited the children who attended to sing to their parents at the church’s Christmas Eve service. The result—20 families attended who normally would not have, and approximately 60 kids gave their lives to Christ during the camp.

Residents of Salem, Ore., were given a special holiday surprise when they woke up Christmas morning. At 3:30 a.m. that morning, members of Salem West Foursquare Church, pastored by John Fehlen, hung 600 bags containing a total of 7,200 Christmas cookies on people’s doors. The congregation also gave away 2,642 gifts and delivered 240 boxes of food.

Churches also took time to honor the diverse cultures represented in their congregations and communities. New Life Community Church (Manchester Foursquare Church) in Manchester, N.H., held a special “Christmas around the world” service.

“Our church has a lot of people from different cultures, so we had members from the Congo, Ukraine, Canada and Puerto Rico show us how they celebrate Christmas in their cultures,” shares Senior Pastor Robert Haynes. “They sang songs in their native languages and explained customs that they did in their home countries. It was one of the best services we have had!”

When all was said and done, Foursquare Christmas outreaches were about loving and serving the communities in which God has placed our churches.

In Terre Haute, Ind., for example, members of Terre Haute Foursquare Church, pastored by Merrillyn Smith, gave out 86 Christmas baskets. They also provided clothing for and gave gifts to several families and children. The church held a community breakfast and lunch, during which they served around 225 meals and prayed with many people.

“I am always amazed at the grace of God,” shares Pastor Merrillyn. “I saw Jesus in so many ways this Christmas. Our church is considered inner-city. There is lots of drugs and crime in our area. The Lord told us to stay here and share Jesus, so we do. This year more than ever I watched our church family share themselves with this community, love one another, and genuinely care about others.”

By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer living in Sacramento, Calif.