It is only October but all of us in church ministry know that we need to be thinking about Christmas by now or we’re in big trouble. One of the specific things in my job description is that I am in charge of the yearly Sunday School Christmas Program. Lots of other things are left vague but this one is spelled out. Why? Because no one else wanted to be responsible for it every year so they made sure it was built in. The good news is that I actually enjoy doing it at our church - the congregation is really supportive of our ideas and the kids always do a great job.
I also realized that the program is a real opportunity for ministry. There are some kids involved in the program who are on the periphery of our church programs for the rest of the year. This gives us a chance to have them fully involved. Even when it doesn’t go perfectly I know that we have had a great time of children leading the congregation in a retelling of the Christmas Story. And, in truth, I haven’t had any real disasters yet (but I still talk fondly about the time the pianist had to crawl behind the piano to get some naughty boys to settle down.) So how can you plan for programs that accomplish what you want while minimizing the headaches? Here is our quick list of top things to remember when doing Christmas programs in church.
- Know your culture. One year our church had a new pastor and a new person in charge of worship. Neither of them knew the traditions our church had developed around the Sunday services during advent. After they planned a really nice set of services they heard from a lot of people that, what they had planned was nice but it wasn’t what WE did! So remember that you are part of a long line of past Christmas programs in your church - what happened before is important. You need to find out what traditions are “sacred.”
- Make it kid friendly. Make the program so that the kids can’t help but succeed. Ask the kids to read their parts rather than memorize them. I also ask the kids to read their parts outloud once a day for the week before the program.
- Get support from other adults. If you are not going to stress out the kids then you have to have adults around them who know what is going on and are ready to guide the kids. Kids who are sitting and bored during rehearsals are going to start acting up - make sure you don’t have to spend part of your rehearsal time talking with other adults about the details - do that ahead of time. Maybe you have to have an adult-only meeting to go over those things so that when the kids get there it goes smoothly.
- No stars (except for the one over Bethlehem). In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson gives us insight into the inner life of the narrator, a girl who fully expected to have the part of Mary in the Church Christmas pageant. This was a big deal for her because being Mary was a big deal for all the kids. That means that the kids who didn’t get the part of Mary were disappointed. This shouldn’t be a time to hurt the feelings of the kids in your church. Avoid having “stars” in the program. Since my husband and I write our own programs we can make sure the lines are spread out pretty evenly and every year the oldest kids (in our case, 6th graders) get the most lines. Because we’ve been doing it this way for a while all the kids know that their turn for the bigger part will come. There are no tryouts and everyone is invited to participate. We have a small enough church that we can do that but we think it is important enough that we adjust the script to keep things as even as possible.
- It won't be perfect. We do our program with one rehearsal. We’ve learned the songs over the five or so weeks before the program so we add no additional rehearsal into the kids or their parents’ schedules. Do we get a perfect program in one rehearsal? Not even close - but it’s pretty good and the parents would rather see a pretty good progam that didn’t make their lives more difficult than one that took weeks of preparation on their part. Our kids have also gotten used to that and, because they trust us to have things in hand when they get there, they are usually pretty calm about the whole thing.
The Christmas program doesn’t have to be something that the leaders and kids dread. With some organization, some thoughtful planning and reasonable expectations it can be fun for everyone.