The old joke says “How do you eat an elephant?” Of course, the answer is one bite at a time. For children’s pastors, that’s much the same way to plan a Christmas program. Christmas programs are massive undertakings that are better digested one bite at a time.
The first thing you should do is divide the program up in sections. Find workers to take on each of these sections. You don’t have to use people who normally work in children’s ministry. For instance, the person in charge of costumes doesn’t have to be called to minister to children, but she does have to know how to sew. Find somebody who can take care of each area.
Here’s some ways you might divide up your program into bite size pieces.
Choir Director: The choir director teaches the children the songs. You might contact your music director for an idea of who to use.
Drama Director: The drama director is in charge of teaching the children the speaking parts.
Media Technician: Don’t wait until the last minute to find someone to do the sound, power point, sound effects, and lighting. Have someone from the sound and media department of your church be in charge of this.
Costumes: Choose someone to make, buy, or design costumes for your play. Make sure this person knows exactly what you’re looking for.
Set Design: Look for a creative person who knows how to draw. This person will be in charge of the set design and decorations.
Props: Find a person whose only job is to find the props needed for the play and have them ready for rehearsals and performances. This will take a big load off of you.
Party: If you have a dress rehearsal party or cast party, assign someone else to make the plans and provide the refreshments.
Backstage Director: This person will be in charge of finding people to help the children in their costumes, get them where they need to be when they need to be there, feeding lines to children from the side stage, and keeping the children occupied while they are waiting for the program to begin. You could have more than one person in charge of these different areas.
Stage Director: The stage director is in charge of deciding where the children will stand while they’re doing their parts, where the choir will stand, and where and when everyone will come in. This person will also work with the media director to make sure the children have the right microphones at the right time.
For a Christmas program succeed, it needs to be a team effort.
A great way to teach over the holidays is to incorporate Christmas movies into your Children’s Church or mid-week program. Use movies that are around a half hour in length, and plan the rest of the service to go along with the theme of the movie.
One way to do this that’s very effective is to break up the movie into segments that end with cliff hangers. In between the segments, you can do you praise and worship, teach the memory verse, and have a short talk about what the movie is teaching.
Here’s some great movies you can use.
Charlie Brown Christmas: This movie is a classic that shows the real meaning of Christmas is not in the commercialism but to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Veggie Tales St. Nicholas – The Story of Joyful Giving: This new Veggie Tales movie teaches about the true spirit of giving.
Veggie Tales The Star of Christmas: The Veggie Tales classics teaches us to love each other.
Veggie Tales The Toy That Saved Christmas: This was the first Christmas Veggie Tales movie and teaches Christmas isn’t about getting; it’s about giving.
The Nativity – Greatest Heroes and Legends of the Bible: This video is an animated telling of the story of Christmas.
Read & Share Bible DVD The Jesus Series – Christmas: This is a great series to teach children Bible stories.
The Visual Bible For Kids – The Birth of Jesus: The DVD tells the Christmas story word for word according to Scripture and teaches a boy the importance of sharing his faith.
There are many others, but these are the best around.
This classic story is great to use in Children’s Church if you plan to teach children about the Christmas tree.
The Three Trees
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: ” I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!” The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it’s way to the ocean. ” I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world! The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.
Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. “Now I shall make a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.
The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It’s perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. ” I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”
The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and awed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. ” All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God…”
Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. “I wish I could make a cradle for him.” Her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. ” This manger is beautiful.” She said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
The next time you feel down because you didn’t get what you wanted, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you.
Having Children decorate a Christmas tree in Children’s Church is a great way to teach about the birth of Christ. First teach them why we use the Christmas tree, then use the ornaments as object lessons.
The History of the Christmas Tree
Some believe the Christmas tree started during the Winter Solstice when Druids worshipped trees. But from the beginning, Christmas trees have been used as Christian symbols to teach about Christ.
The Upside Down Fir Tree
During the 7th century, a monk from Devonshire spent time there preaching the word of God. He used the triangular shape of the Fir tree to teach about the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By the 12th century, the Fir tree was hung upside down from ceilings in Central Europe as a symbol of Christianity at Christmas time.
Boniface and Thor’s Oak
St. Boniface became a missionary to the Germans in the 700’s A.D where he encountered Druids who worshiped trees. To stop their sacrifices at their sacred Donar Oak near Geismar, St. Boniface chopped the tree down in 725 A.D. With one mighty blow, Saint Boniface felled the massive oak, and as the tree split, a beautiful young fir tree sprang from its center. Saint Boniface told the people that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was indeed a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, a symbol of His promise of eternal life. He instructed them to carry the evergreen from the wilderness into their homes and to surround it with gifts, symbols of love and kindness.
The Paradise Tree
From the eleventh Century, religious plays called “Mystery Plays” including the popular Paradise Play depicting the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and thier banishment from Eden. An evergreen tree was used for this winter festival and decorated with apples symbolizing the forbidden fruit. The play ended with the promise of the coming Savior. Wafers were also hung from the tree symbolizing the forgiveness of sins in communion making it now not just the tree of knowledge but also the tree of life. This resulted in a very old European custom of decorating a fir tree in the home with apples and small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist at Christmas time. These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells. In some areas the custom, was still to hang the tree upside down.
In addition to the paradise tree, many German Christians set up a Christmas Pyramid called a Lichstock – a open wooden frame with shelves for figurines of the Nativity covered with evergreen branches and decorated with candy, pastry, candles, and a star. The star represented the star of Bethlehem, the candles represented the light of Christ coming into the world, the evergreens were the symbol of eternal life, and the candy, fruits, and pastries, the goodness of our life in Christ, the fruits of the spirit, etc. By the seventeenth century the Lichstock and the “Paradise Tree” became merged into the modern Christmas tree.
Luther’s Christmas Tree
There is a popular tradition that Martin Luther was walking on a bright snow-covered, star-lit night pondering the birth of Christ. Enthralled by the evergreen trees, the stars and the landscape, he took a tree inside and put candles on it to represent the majesty he felt about Christ’s birth as Jesus came down from the stars to bring us eternal life.
One important aspect of planning an effective Children’s Ministry Christmas Program is having a good rehearsal schedule. A good rehearsal schedule won’t tire the kids and parents but will have enough practices to make sure the children are comfortable with their parts.
Weekly Practices: These practices are for every child in the program. They should start no later than the beginning of October. Some churches start practices in September. During most of the practices, the choir director should teach the songs everyone sings. If there are any lines that everyone shouts out, the drama director should teach these. The last four to six weekly practices should run through the entire program so the children have a feel for what to expect and when they sing each song. Depending on what’s best for your church, you could have these practices during Children’s Church, midweek class, after church or one evening a week. These practices should be an hour long.
Soloist Practices: Every child who sings a solo or duet should get together at least two or three times with someone who knows music (doesn’t have to be the choir director, but it can) to go over his or her solo. These practices don’t have to be long. They can be for fifteen minutes before or after church.
Drama Practices: These practices are for children who have speaking parts in the program. The children should have a deadline when they have their parts memorized. After they’ve memorized their parts, they should practice at least once a week. The practices should only last a half hour to an hour. If they’re any longer, the children will become bored.
Dress Rehearsal: There should be two dress rehearsals, one a week before the program, and one the day before. The rehearsal on the day before should be mandatory for everyone and should include scenery and props. It is important to have sound and light technicians at these practices.
Cast Party: The final countdown for the Christmas program has begun. How will you get the parents to bring the children to the final dress rehearsal? Have a party for the children after dress rehearsal. You could take them skating, sled riding, or Christmas Caroling. Have pizza or Christmas cookies and hot chocolate for snacks. Remind the parents and children that only those attending dress rehearsal can go to the party. Children are as stressed as children’s workers during rehearsals. A party will allow the children to let out some of that stress before the play. It will also give them the opportunity to bond with their Christian friends.
Written Schedule: Make sure each parent gets a copy of the schedule of practices in writing. You also might want to send home reminders or call the parents to remind them of special practices and dress rehearsals. Let each parent know what you expect from them. Also, if you have a date children need to learn their parts by, let the parents know this. Be flexible, but have guidelines in place for missed practices. The more you communicate with the parents, the easier it will be to get the children to practices.
Rehearsal Supplies: Each parent (not child) should receive supplies to help the child practice at home including a script, songs, CD or DVD with the play, and costume and prop requirements. The sooner the parent receives these supplies the better.
Organization is the key to an effective Children’s Ministry Christmas Program.
As a children’s pastor, you may have been so busy preparing for the Christmas program, Christmas parties, and Christmas lessons that you haven’t had time to get ready for your own family’s Christmas. Don’t worry. Here’s a guide on how to get ready for Christmas in only one week.
Wednesday: In the morning, clean the house and get it ready to decorate. In the evening, order all presents online. You may not be able to get the latest gadget that everybody is running out of by shopping online, but the peace of mind is worth it.
Thursday: Decorate the house. This is more fun if you play Christmas carols and involve the whole family. Or if you’re not married, invite some friends over for a decorating party.
Friday: Now that the house is decorated, spend the day doing Christmas cards, planning menus, and making grocery lists. Use email cards if most of your list is online. Then finish any last minute preparations for your children’s program or children’s church on Sunday. If you prepared anything at all yet, choose from a list of Christmas lessons at this link. Or you could show a Christmas movie. This link has some of my favorites.
Saturday: This is your shopping day. Place something in the crock pot before you go, or plan to meet the family at a restaurant at the end of the day. Since you’ve bought all your presents online, use this day to go to the grocery store and buy the things you need for baking and for Christmas dinner. You can also get any stocking stuffers you need like batteries, candy canes, and chocolate. If you enjoy holiday decorations at the mall, this is the time to go. You’ll be able to enjoy it without having to stand in line for hours because your shopping is done.
Sunday: You should have all your children’s ministry obligations done after this Sunday service. After church, watch a Christmas movie, go to a Christmas musical or play, or go to dinner at a restaurant with friends or family. Then in the evening, drive around to see all the Christmas decorations. This should put you in the mood.
Monday: This is your baking day. Have the family help and spend the day baking cookies, deserts, and holiday dishes you can prepare ahead of time.
Tuesday (Christmas Eve): Spend the morning wrapping the presents that should have arrived by now. Hide them or place them under the tree. Buy some donuts or pastry for everyone to eat while they’re opening up gifts. In the evening do something special. If your church is one of the many that plan Christmas Eve Services, enjoy the special service. Or you might visit family on Christmas Eve. Before you go to bed, set the table with your best linens and china.
Christmas Day: Get up early before the kids and fix a pot of hot chocolate and place the pastries on a Christmas tray in the livingroom. Get your roast, ham or turkey in the oven on low. After opening gifts and eating breakfast, enjoy the rest of the day knowing you have everything under control.