Churches often want to “go big” at Christmas. And why shouldn’t they? Christmas is a beautiful celebration of our Savior’s birth and a time that draws many visitors. It’s only natural that you may want to create powerful experiences during this holy season. Thankfully, celebrating with simplicity doesn’t have to mean cutting out everything you love about Christmas. Many of the following suggestions can help churches cut back while still keeping treasured traditions.
Here are several ways to help your congregation focus and enjoy the beauty and peace of the season.
Prune the performances
Most people don’t want to be Scrooge and say “no,” but three practices a week for a Christmas music production is simply too much for families to manage during the month of December.
Help simplify Christmas by scaling back the organized production in favor of an informal service where volunteers can read Christmas passages and the congregation can sing their favorite Christmas hymns.
Instead of having a children’s Nativity play with full costumes and rehearsed lines, ask children to draw illustrations of the Christmas story during Sunday school. At the Christmas service, have them display their pictures to the audience as someone reads the Christmas story or as the children sing their songs.
Plan family-friendly services
Families want to spend time together during the holidays, but sometimes the very events that should draw us together actually separate us.
While you should always have a child-friendly church, you may want to host a special family service during the month of December. Take into consideration special accommodations that might be needed when including children in worship, and be sure to extend worship to shut-ins or disabled members.
On the flip side, sometimes worship services are the only time that harried parents and caregivers can take a break. So, you also may want to offer a service especially designed to give caregivers some much needed quiet time. Provide nursery and assisted care for those who need those services.
Forgo the festivities
Sunday school parties and church celebrations can clog up an already full calendar — especially when every group hosts a separate event. Ask your small groups to skip the parties in order to allow families more time to simply enjoy the season without the stress.
If some groups are reluctant, try setting a date for one large church celebration or allotting a routine time (such as the Sunday school hour) for everyone to host their individual gatherings. Or encourage them to postpone their holiday parties until late January or February, when most families can benefit from a mid-winter pick-me-up.
Check your charitable activities
While it may seem taboo to say it, charitable activities can be a major source of stress during the holidays. Although people tend to feel especially generous at this time of year, having numerous projects, collections and activities can tax even the most giving spirit.
Reconsider charities that are promoted during the month of December. Instead of having multiple small-group projects and goals, choose one churchwide project or collection in which everyone can participate. If it’s a monetary collection or something where items need to be purchased, consider making the request in October with a deadline before the first of December.
To really help reduce the December drain, you may even want to initiate a yearlong effort. Launch the financial goal or project idea in December and give volunteers an entire year to complete it.
Get rid of the gift-giving
Families often have great intentions of cutting back on gifts, but once the cycle begins, it’s hard to end. Gift-giving during the Christmas season often results from guilt instead of a sincere expression of love and generosity. If a teacher gives students gifts, parents may feel obligated to buy the teacher a gift and vice versa.
Make it easy on your church by giving them permission not to give Christmas gifts. Ask leaders not to host gift exchanges or to encourage giving gently used items instead of new. Encourage teachers who want to give to do so during the month of February in celebration of Valentine’s Day or to simply provide an in-class treat instead of formal gifts.
Urge congregants to write letters of appreciation in lieu of gifts to staff
Of course, gift-giving is the love language of some; so, there will always be people who still want to give gifts, and that’s OK. Just let everyone know that it is not expected at any given time and that no one should feel obligated.
Gift-giving can be done as a random act of kindness throughout the year simply because you love people, not because of holiday guilt trips. Plus, when you’re rushed and trying to to get everything crossed off the to-do list, you often buy unnecessary stuff, so your gift ends up not being as thoughtful as a gift given during other times of the year.
Extend the Christmas spirit throughout the year
Christmas caroling, Christmas baking, Christmas charity … the month of December seems to have become a “catch all” for all good things. But most of the activities that are crammed into Christmas celebrations can actually be spread out and enjoyed throughout the year.
Does your Sunday school class like to go caroling? Plan a summer visit to a nursery home or hospice facility. Instead of Christmas carols, sing well-loved hymns. As an alternative to giving Christmas goodies (during a time when most families are overrun with treats), consider baking spring goodies to share. Instead of binge volunteering or giving for only four weeks of the year, encourage your congregation to make charity a regular part of their daily lives.
Another way to help simplify Christmas is to actually to extend it. Since the days following Dec. 25 are often less busy, consider delaying your church celebrations until the Christmastide (the traditional 12 days of Christmas).
Advocate for Advent
While most suggestions about simplifying Christmas involve reductions or deductions, this is one area where the church needs to encourage families to do more. In order to fully appreciate the reason for the season, families have to spend time contemplating the Christ in Christmas.
One great way to do that is to spend a few minutes each day during the month of December reading scripture aloud, singing hymns and praying. While many families love the concept, they often feel ill-equipped to manage this on their own. Your church can help by promoting and providing resources for family Advent.
Let’s face it. The world isn’t worried about making the holidays more holy. The commercial aspect of the holiday promotes “bigger, better and more.” If you want the church to be different, then you have to start by making changes. Think simple. When you begin planning, ask your congregants for Christmas ideas, but think about what can be cut out instead of what can be added. Rethink traditions, prune programs that aren’t working and make a concerted effort to help the families in your church enjoy the holiday season more.