A “Happy Birthday, Jesus” Party for Fourth and Fifth Graders

This Advent season is a good time to engage your upper elementary students. Here is a fun idea for them to go on an adventure exploring the Scriptures to discover more about the newborn King!

The Beginning 

On a Saturday evening before Christmas, my church holds a “half” lock-in called the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” Party. This event takes fourth and fifth graders on an adventure, and the kids come dressed and prepared for the night. As we gather at church, we start with a short devotion. This devotion is a scavenger hunt to discover Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus’ birth. The first kid to find the words to the verse gets to choose his or her seat in the car for the next leg of the night.

The Next Leg

The students then head to a local rock-climbing place. The idea for this part of the night is to host what the children would expect at a birthday party for one of their peers. The twist is that it’s for Jesus! Doing this in between talking about the  biblical prophecies and their fulfillment in Christ helps to keep the kids active and engaged during those parts as well. There are often different courses at climbing facilities. We encourage each student to try every different one. Pizza and sodas are delivered, and we enjoy a meal, our memorable climbs, and some laughs at the climbing facility. (If you do this same event, don’t forget to take a group photo!)

When we leave the rock-climbing facility, we all head back to church, stopping to view Christmas light displays along the way. (We prearrange this part, figuring out ahead of time where the best Christmas lights are in the area.) Armed with a thermos of hot chocolate and mini marshmallows, we visit our favorite displays, such as lights that coordinate with music or are unique in some way.

The Return

After we return to church, we take fifteen to thirty minutes to process the experience we had together. We ask the kids how Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. During this time, we allow openness in the questions and some deeper discussion. This helps to wrap up the night and bring it all back to Jesus’ birth.

The Questions

At this time in a child’s development, students are experiencing a time of questioning that will make a huge impact on their faith development in later years. While this may make you nervous in the moment, keep in mind that it will be highly valuable in the long run. Students might ask questions that give way to a sense of disbelief or skepticism. You might be tempted to squash their musings, but please don’t. If you suppress a student’s skeptical question with a “should” answer, they might be quiet in that moment, but they will likely write the church off very soon afterward. An important part of having this type of event for this age of student is to allow space for them to be skeptical and ask questions—especially if the questions seem kind of irreverent. This part of their development is crucial to their understanding of God during times when the easy answer isn’t enough or when life seems far too complicated for a simple response. They need to struggle with their faith a bit, and they need to know that when they have questions or are doubtful, the church and key adult leaders are safe and good places to go for processing the answers together.

This event presents as a simple, fun night for older elementary kids, but it might actually be a key moment of faith processing.

Looking for a way to engage your youth in a Christmas service?

Check out Behold the Child: Children's Christmas Service

Picture of Shelli Haynes
Written by

Shelli Haynes

Shelli serves as assistant youth and family minister at Red Hill Lutheran in Tustin, California. She has been a DCE in Southern California churches for twenty-one years! Shelli holds a BA from Concordia University in Irvine and a MA in family ministry from Concordia University in Seward. Shelli is wife to Travis and mama to two daughters, Megan and Mandy. She and her family love the beach, backyard badminton, and Giants baseball.

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)