Last year our congregation didn't do a children's Christmas program.
In September I realized that our upper-elementary grades were thin in numbers. It was going to be difficult to do a "traditional" Christmas program with fewer kids. Additionally, we had seen audience attendance wane at the program among non-family members. So I thought we could try a different approach to doing something special for children and families at church in mid-December.
We called it "The Advent Celebration".
(catchy name, right?)
This event incorporated annual congregational activities such as the Caroling & Chili Supper and decorating the sanctuary. We added crafts, games, and activities for little ones...and even a few "visitors" (Mary, the innkeeper, and a shepherd) that told us what happened - and what didn't happen - on that night in Bethlehem.
Here's what the schedule looked like:
4:00 Caroling groups visit homebound
Decorate the sanctuary
5:30 Chili Supper
6:00 Singing songs (led by children)
Visits from storytellers
6:30 Crafts, activities, and games for children and families
More decorating the sanctuary
This event was met with much enthusiasm and support among those who attended. These five themes emerged in the feedback I received:
- This was an intergenerational event that didn't feel forced or awkward.
- Children could learn about the Advent and Christmas stories without the pressure of a performance.
- There was no reinforcement of inaccurate aspects of the Biblical narrative that always seem to accompany Christmas programs.
- Families didn't have the stress of additional rehearsals, memorizing lines, costumes, etc. during an already chaotic season.
- The focus of the Advent Celebration is Advent; not Christmas.
I would add a sixth comment -- I appreciated not spending all of the time and money on a 30-45 minute production. Maybe next year we can take the resources (man-hours and dollars) of a Christmas program and do something more "missional". Perhaps the Chili Supper could be a community-wide meal for people who are going without food...or something like that.
The Advent Celebration worked for us. I won't be so cavalier as to assume it would work for every church...but I highly recommend it if you're looking to shake things up a little.