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Family-Centered Outreach through Christmas Eve Service

Over the past two decades, I have been on the hunt for a special Christmas gift to give! I happen to be a “gifts” person, and I love to receive incredible gifts just as much as I love to give them to others. I have also been blessed to serve God within a congregation as a paid vocation, and I have been the recipient of God’s incredible grace given to all of us through the gift of Jesus. 

The blog title gives away the object of my quest, so I will cut to the chase. I have been on the hunt for a beautiful expression of the Gospel within a Christmas Eve service that proclaims the saving Gospel message clearly to congregation members and first-time church attenders alike. I have been searching for a meaningful way to incorporate children into the service without the disruption a normal children’s message can sometimes cause. One option would be a formal Christmas program, but in the communities where I have served, there isn’t space in the family calendar for the practices and memorizing. Such a quandary!

A few years ago, I posed the question on the NADCE (National Association of Directors of Christian Education) Facebook page. Collectively, the DCEs, pastors, volunteer youth workers, teachers, and Sunday School directors have amassed thousands of hours of experience and talent! Many people offered up their ideas and highlighted what works in their setting. (This is such a rich place for resourcing—check it out if you need some inspiration!) I read many ideas, but I hadn’t landed on the perfect one yet.

Intentionally Geared for Age and Stage

Sitting with our leadership, I posed the question to them. Our congregation holds services at 2:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. We wanted to curate two different environments in these services so that we were most effective in our mission, as well as our use of our resources and volunteers. We decided that the first two services would be geared toward families of all ages and that the message of the services would essentially be a Christmas story children’s message. We would sing Christmas hymns that children love, and we would offer some fun extras to help capture the children’s imaginations and tell them all God has done for us in sending His Son. The other two services would be classical, rich in musical and liturgical gravitas, and the sermon, hymns, and environment geared more toward families from middle school upward. Both service styles would be intentionally geared as much to the community as to the lifelong member.

The 2:30 service begins with tables set up just outside the narthex. As a young family comes toward the narthex, children rush to the table to be greeted by a volunteer who asks whether they would like to be an angel, a shepherd, or a king. The children choose their character, and the family sits in church together. The service begins with a few well-loved hymns, and then the pastor prays over the congregation. Then the pastor welcomes all in attendance to participate in the greatest story ever told—and as the service unfolds, he “interviews” volunteers cast as Wise Men and shepherds, while inviting the children who have chosen that character to stand during their part in the story. Even “Joseph” and “Mary” attend, making their way to the city of David. The service ends with an invitation to gather outside, where a life-size crèche and small petting zoo are waiting for them, along with all of the volunteer characters for the story (including baby Jesus). The service concludes with “Silent Night” and Christmas hugs on the patio before families head home.

Community Impact

This service is simple and easy to be a part of for people of all ages. The children are experiencing the wonder of our incredible God who sent His Son for them because He loves them so! Parents are excited that their kids are able to take part in the story because it is more interesting for them and because of the memories their family will share in the coming weeks and months. My absolute favorite thing about this Christmas Eve service is the impact is has had in our community! The local newspaper has covered the service twice in the last few years, which has brought more people to our church. Last Christmas a car full of young adults came into the service, and they participated as shepherds, angels, and Wise Men! Seeing the community begin to take notice of God’s lavish love for them through a Christmas Eve service was the perfect gift I had been looking to find! All along, God provided His grace and creativity in allowing more people to see, hear, and experience His beautiful gift for us!


Center your Advent-Christmas worship on the holy Child.

Worship with Behold the Child

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.

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