**This is a guest post by Glenys Nellist from Kids Ministry Matters
Imagine this… you are a young mom with three little kids. It is Christmas Eve. Your kids are in a state of high excitement. The kitchen counter top is strewn with multi colored sprinkles and blobs of red frosting… tell tale signs that you have just finished decorating the last of the Christmas cookies together. You still have to call Grandma to wish her Merry Christmas; the turkey is waiting patiently to be stuffed; a few presents still need to be wrapped; the kids are getting hungry—and then there’s church. You really want your kids to remember the true meaning of Christmas… but there’s just too much to do. What do you choose?
Now imagine this… you are a children’s ministry leader who has been praying about how your church might be able to provide a family friendly Christmas Eve service. In your conversations, some folks thought that it wasn’t necessary to change anything… after all, your church already provides two great services on Christmas Eve… one for families at 6pm, only one hour long, where the kids can sing along to the traditional carols, and listen to a five minute rendition of the Christmas story by the pastor; and then a quieter, candlelit, more reflective worship experience at 11pm—what else is needed, they argue? But you are persistent. You know about that busy young mom who has those multi-colored sprinkles scattered all over her kitchen counter top. You know that at around 4pm, her kids are hungry and that by 6pm, they’ll be ready for their bath. What do you choose?
You choose to offer a ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ service (which actually sounds more like a party) at 4:30pm—with food for those kids. And because of the choice you made, you just helped that young mom with hers.
So how can you offer a truly family friendly Christmas Eve ‘service’ at your church? Begin by exploring some of the 10 ideas offered here, and then adapt them to your own particular situation. Whether your service is elaborate, or simple, families will appreciate that you have taken the time to try to accommodate their needs.
1. Pray About It
Pray for guidance. Meet with your pastor and children’s ministry team to brainstorm possibilities. Pray together.
2. Plan the Details
Work out what time would suit you best. Around 4 or 4.30 is a really family friendly time, and probably 30 minutes is long enough. Once you have decided the basics, such as time, location, and you have an idea of what you will offer, advertise it! Challenge your young families to bring another family along with them. Use our printable invitation cards to get kids involved.
3. Decide the Location
Your ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ service does not need to be held in the sanctuary. In fact, if you have a separate room to use, it might help you to think out of the box, be more creative, and give you the freedom to organize your space in a kid-friendly way. Is it possible to have a large size nativity set on display? (Or maybe even a living nativity?) Do you have access to a screen or large TV? Can you decorate the doors and windows in a festive theme? Can you hang ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons? What about arranging the chairs in a circular design, or leaving a central space for rugs, blankets and cuddly toys such as sheep, where the children can gather?
4. Recruit Help!
This part may be your biggest challenge, but if you personally approach parents and grandparents, and help them catch the vision of what you are trying to do, they are sure to help. Focus on peoples’ gifts and talents. Is there someone with a passion for interior design? Ask them to help with the room décor. Do you have a baker at your church? (Every church has one!) Ask them to bake a large birthday cake. Who has kids that would be good at greeting other kids? Who has a teenager that is a computer wizard and would love to put together a PowerPoint nativity show? The possibilities are endless… Here are gift ideas for kids. Working as a team will build excitement and energy.
5. As Families Arrive…
Have them greeted at the door by older children. Bulletins are not necessary but you might think about handing out a Christmas card that includes an invitation to your great Sunday school program. Give each child a Glow Bracelet. You can also use these free “Jesus Birthday Card” coloring sheets.
6. Set The Atmosphere
It’s important to create a worshipful yet fun, relaxed atmosphere right from the beginning. As people enter, have either Christmas carols playing on a CD (sung by kids would be best), or if you have access to the Internet, have a Veggie Tales Christmas playing from YouTube.
7. If you have a screen or TV…
If your church had a children’s Nativity program earlier in the month and you videoed it, show a portion of this. Kids LOVE to see themselves on screen and so do their parents!
Create a PowerPoint nativity show and play ‘Feliz Navidad’ in the background. There are so many creative nativity sets that you can show images of—from Veggie Tales and Beanie Babies, to balloons, Legos, Peanuts, cats, dogs, and even Duck Nativities Kids love to see these!
Show a DVD/video clip from any of these 3 great sources:
- Jesus Storybook Bible: He’s Here!
- The Read & Share DVD Bible: Jesus is Born
- Bed Bug Bible Gang Christmas Show
8. If you don’t have a screen or TV…
Have a nativity puppet show.
Have an unrehearsed Nativity play, inviting the children to participate as the pastor retells the story. Use simple props and animal masks.
Have the pastor or children’s ministry leader engage the kids in an interactive nativity story by using What God Wants for Christmas Interactive Nativity Set
Read the Christmas story from a children’s Bible, such as the large size edition of The Jesus Storybook Bible
Include a simple prayer, read by a child.
9. Sing Happy Birthday!
Finish your service by turning the lights down and have a big cake brought in with a single candle. (Re-lighting candles that cannot be blown out are a great illustration). Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and then close with ‘Silent Night’. Keep the lights low so that everyone can see their glow bracelets as a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.
Now you can eat cake together (and maybe a little cheese, fruit and crackers!)
Whatever services you decide to offer on Christmas Eve, remember that this time of year is a huge opportunity for us to proclaim the gospel. And maybe if we get it right, that young mom we talked about earlier might just decide to bring her kids back to your church—not just for next years’ Christmas Eve service, but also for your children’s Sunday school the first week of January. They might even bring their friends. Imagine that.