Joy to the World!
The Christmas season is one of those times of the year when families head along to church either for the first time or as part of a yearly tradition. Some come to sing carols, others see it as important for their children to know the Christmas story, and others come because it’s what their family has done every year for as long as they can remember. These families may not attend church at any other time.
There are a growing number of people in our communities who know very little about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. While we may have heard the story over and over to the point of complacency, for them it is new and fresh and intriguing.
As we plan for the variety of services and activities that run during Advent, it is good to make sure that we take these things into consideration. For that new family who has walked through the door for the first time:
· Will they feel welcome in our church?
· Will they be able to celebrate together as a family?
· And most importantly, will they find that the event of Jesus’ birth really is ‘Joy to the World’?
Imagine a family. They manage to bundle all their kids out the door with promises of ice cream afterwards. The church down the road has a carol service for the community happening that afternoon. The parents in this family used to go to church as kids, and they still think the Christmas story is an important one for their own children to know. So, off they go.
As this family walk through the church door, the whole experience is new for them.
- The welcome at the door is very important, with ‘just the right amount of friendly’. They should feel welcomed, but not bombarded. Why not have a family rostered on as door greeters?
- Guide people through the process so they know where to sit, what to do if their baby needs a nappy change, and reassure them that their children are welcome in the church, even when they make noise.
- As a church, do some prep work before-hand. Talk about the fact that this is an opportunity to share with others the story of the good news of Jesus. Pray together as a church for opportunities to welcome and share with those in the community.
It is much more welcoming for new families to stay together. They may not feel comfortable sending their children off with strangers to a separate space.
- Plan for intergenerational services. We have some great resources and service ideas to help you.
- Have activities on hand, such as a book box, colouring sheets (on the theme), and toys that don’t make noise. Have these set out at the front or to the side of the church. You could have a low-lying table and some cushions.
- Prep your service leader and speakers to use language from the front that includes everyone, and avoids too much ‘Christian jargon’. Use illustrations or examples that will be understood by all.
We can tie ourselves in knots coming up with the latest and greatest take on the Christmas story. Remember that newcomers will be experiencing the story with fresh eyes, so think about keeping it simple and straightforward.
- Read the story from the Bible.
- Keep your dramas simple, with a simple script that includes words taken directly from the Bible. Use short lines and don’t make the children memorise them. Consider having participants act out the scenes while a narrator reads the script.
- Consider a no-rehearsal approach where people are given simple props and small non-speaking roles as they arrive at the service.
It can be tempting to treat the Christmas story like a fairy-tale, about a lovely baby and bright sparkly angels. But, the event of Jesus’ birth is one of the greatest moments in human history, so make sure you balance the ‘fluff’ with depth of content.
- An increasing number of people are not that familiar with the Christmas story, so don’t be afraid to allow the story to speak for itself.
- Consider the challenge of Christmas. We often look to Easter as our defining story, but at Christmas, God entered into our human experience as a vulnerable baby.
- Cast a critical eye over the way the Christmas story is told. Consider how you can stay true to the facts of the Christmas story in how you present it. One example of this is the reference to an ‘inn’, which was actually referring to a guestroom in a house. See our blog for more on this.
In the past, carols were well known. That is not as much the case these days. However, singing carols is still a tradition that people value.
- Take time to explain some of the language used in the carols, as the words or concepts might be unfamiliar.
- Talk about the carols. I heard a great sermon once, based on the preacher’s favourite carol. Explore the history of a carol. Who wrote it and why?
- For less well-known carols, sing them first as an item to familiarise people with them.