Church-sponsored holiday parties and events offer a safe place for children, build relationships with the community and promote the church’s name. However, in the midst of all the fun, a truly missional perspective is sometimes lost.
If you want to add a little more “holy” to your holiday parties, take a look at these ideas.
Have a hallelujah hoe-down
Whether you want to try an alternative to Halloween or keep your traditional get-togethers, here are some great ways to help youth take away important scriptural lessons.
Promote Bible verse contests or challenges. A month prior to the event, promote the contest with verse challenges for each age group. At your event, or on a designated Sunday, set up a booth where youth and children can earn a prize or treat if they meet the challenge.
Stage a biblical trunk-or-treat. Take a new spin on the traditional church Halloween activities. Ask volunteers to dress in costume and decorate their vehicles according to biblical themes. At each car, post a sign with the name and scripture reference of the Bible story or character represented. Be creative. One automobile could be decorated as a boat with stuffed animals to represent the story of Noah and the ark. Another might be decorated as a jail cell with Peter and Paul peeking through “bars” to hand out candy.
If you want to avoid weather issue complications, plan for indoor activities. You can take inspiration from the ever-popular haunted houses. Decorate Sunday school rooms according to various Bible stories. Incorporate a game/activity where children can earn candy or treats.
Set up a tent in a room with people in costume sitting around a small “fire.” One of the actors narrates the story, “When the Israelites wandered in the desert, God provided food for them. When they were hungry, God sent manna from heaven for them to eat.” Ask the children to close their eyes while a volunteer scatters candy on the floor. The children gather it before moving to the next room. After the guide has led the group through the tour, other volunteers greet them with hot cider, sodas or hotdogs — offering a great way to get to know visitors more personally.
Treat your group to a thankful Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is often a forgotten holiday or a day of indulgence in family dining rooms and restaurants. Without the commercialism of Halloween and Christmas, it’s often considered to be the “shoulder” holiday connecting one to the next. If you want to make Thanksgiving more meaningful this year, incorporate more thanks by offering your youth a way to share their gratitude.
Since children and teens are usually more interested in the fun factor, consider including hands-on activities like making cards or small gifts of gratitude. Adopt a service group, such as firefighters, nurses, the pastors in your church or the teachers in a neighborhood school. Find a special way to say “thank you” for the services they provide. Hands-on service projects are always a great option.
In lieu of hosting a holiday meal for these servants, ask your youth or congregation to take boxes of donuts to school for the teachers and staff or to their offices/places of work. Ask the children to decorate cards that say, “Thank you for helping make our day better” or “We’re thankful for you!”
Remember, you don’t have to do away with traditions. Sometimes a little addition can make a big difference. Try using paper tablecloths at the church holiday meal. Place markers or pens on the tables, and encourage guests to write down something for which they are thankful. Take pictures of the tables afterward to save as keepsakes.
Keep Christmas Christ-centered
As you begin preparing for Christmas, intentionally look for ways to incorporate Christ-centered activities. Christmas is a time to give, so consider a way to serve the underserved.
You may want to adopt a missionary family, special needs classroom or school with a tight budget. Find out what items are needed, purchase them and put the items in a mission “store.” (Tip: If you purchase packages of washcloths or hand sanitizer, separate items into individual containers.)
At the party, invite children to play games where they’ll earn both a small treat for themselves and play money that can be used in the shop. At the end of the event, have the children use their earnings to buy items from the event’s mission store to give to your adopted recipient. You can even let them wrap the items and put them in a larger box for shipping.
Christmas is a great time to teach children about giving opportunities within The United Methodist Church and how they can help others around the globe. Consider teaching them about UMCOR and compile hygiene kits or school kits together.
With a little tweaking, even an event like caroling can become an opportunity to bless someone else. Instead of a gift swap, ask teens to donate $5 gift cards for fast food establishments, gas stations or coffee shops. Ask them to write a simple Christmas note to go with each card. After singing a song, one of the teens can give the card to the persons visited and say, “Merry Christmas! Jesus loves you!”
Never neglect New Year’s
Without overt religious significance, New Year’s appears to be entirely a secular celebration. Highlighting scripture like 2 Corinthians 5:17, Isaiah 43:18-19 and Philippians 3:13-14 is a great way to include God’s concepts of forgiveness, restoration and new beginnings into New Year’s parties and gatherings.
If you want to include games and activities that focus on God’s plans for the new year, consider calendar and planner-making activities using free printables often found online or from software like Microsoft Word. Many stores also offer planner kits that can be assembled and decorated.
Ask participants to choose a word for the year: hope, love, peace, etc. Have them write the word on a smooth rock, bookmark or perhaps even a party hat and decorate it with permanent markers. Whether you choose to simply display Bible verses as part of your celebration decorations or host a Watch Night and pray in the New Year, keeping Christ in your celebration doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.
Engage in biblical Easter entertainment
It’s relatively easy to find Easter ideas that impart biblical lessons. Resurrection eggs, Easter Story cookies, Easter plays and other activities can make learning fun. However, outside of theatrical opportunities, teens and adults are often left out of the fun. By tweaking a few ordinary games, you can provide some cross-generation entertaining activities with a biblical theme.
Send teens on a scavenger hunt to find a collection of items. When they return, use the items as part of an object lesson. For instance, in a nature hunt, they might collect a large leaf, a thorn (or thorny plant), a lily or other items that can be used to illustrate or symbolize the Easter story. You can also host a teen or adult movie night and watch a retelling of the Resurrection story.
Just remember: Holidays don’t have to be boring to be meaningful. Take time to think through the focus of your message. Contemplate what types of things resonate with the people with which you intend to communicate. With a little forethought and creativity, you can incorporate important lessons to make your events “holyday” celebrations that are engaging and memorable.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.