Saturday, December 11, 2010

No More Christmas Programs

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:

  1. This was an intergenerational event that didn't feel forced or awkward.
  2. Children could learn about the Advent and Christmas stories without the pressure of a performance.
  3. There was no reinforcement of inaccurate aspects of the Biblical narrative that always seem to accompany Christmas programs.
  4. Families didn't have the stress of additional rehearsals, memorizing lines, costumes, etc. during an already chaotic season.
  5. 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.


  1. One of the congregations I worked for had a similar festival, but also did a trad. program. ugh. Anyway, another component that we did was have something called Grandma's Attic. In the fall months, congregation members were asked to bring in new or gently used gift items they had laying around their house. all of these items were organized garage sale style(but no cost) and the kids were able to "shop" in Grandma's Attic for gifts for their family. Then, the confirmation students helped them wrap their treasures. Conf. students also helped the kids shop and do crafts. It was a great way for the older kids to make relationships with the young ones. And, it takes pressure off of parents to do real shopping with their kids, because the kids loved Grandma's Attic so much that they didn't feel they needed to get "real" presents for their family. :)

  2. Erik,

    I can see where this was a great alternative for your congregation, and I also understand the point that some of what passes for gospel in Christmas programs is indeed not gospel - or at least not the way the story actually reads.

    However, I think you are overstating the situation to say that a Christmas program is not missional. Perhaps because I was trained in theatre arts with a specific theological emphasis I come from a different perspective, but I see a children's pageant as an evangelical opportunity wrapped in innocence.

    There are many family members who will only come to church to see their young ones perform, and if the script is good, they will get more scripture in one performance than in the rest of the year. Pageants like this are also the echoes of the Christian tradition of morality and mystery plays that were one of the few places lay people merged their vocations with telling the gospel. The guilds would each take a scene and build a float telling it. Some towns would host the plays in the cathedral. Some paraded the plays through the streets.

    In fact, while little of what is available through prominent publishing houses demonstrates excellence in theological education, allowing children to help depict the nativity from Luke and lighting the darkness with John's prologue through scripture reading, movement, and song can create a mimetic experience that incarnates Christ to them in a particular way.

    If you would like to dialogue more, I would be happy to discuss. I don't want to monopolize comment space by going any further.

    Again, I'm glad it worked for your congregation to go in this way.


  3. @Laura - I love the Grandma's Attic idea. Thanks for sharing it.

    @Mackenzie - I think if you're able to pull off a Christmas program/pageant that serves an evangelical purpose, the more power to you. My experience is that these productions actually turn more people off from church than draw people to church. For us, the Advent Celebration did more to infuse meaning and purpose into the season than a Christmas program. All the best.

  4. I think it's a great idea. I've been trying to talk congregations into an Advent "family night" with dinner and family activities for years (with little interest) but never thought about doing that INSTEAD of the program. Although I still love seeing the little kids in their bathrobe shepherd costumes and angel wings.


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