This past December our student ministry tried something new – a live nativity. I was excited about it for a couple reasons; I thought it would be a great way for our students to serve families, but I also thought it would be a great onsite Christmas event for students to be responsible for. In past years, the adults have had the Christmas concerts and children have had the Christmas Play, and while the students do host a Christmas party at a local homeless shelter, as well as a benefit for the homeless on December 30th called Brief Relief, they’re not too visible during the Christmas season to the rest of the church.
My experience with Live Nativities is pretty limited; I stood in one as a shepherd when I was thirteen. That’s it. And apparently 24 years can take a toll on the memory! Here’s what I learned this time around …
The good …
- Families like FREE holiday activities to take their children to, especially if it ties back to the actual message of Christmas.
- I didn’t think of it ahead of time, but of course people loved getting photos of their kids in the Nativity with the characters. Next time around I want to be more clear upfront that the Nativity is interactive and kids are welcome to hop in, talk to the students, etc.
- Animals are a hit. Any opportunity to get to pet animals normally not around is exciting for kids.
- Having music, hot chocolate, and candy canes with Christmas tracks on them were popular.
- I actually liked having the Nativity in the back of the church instead of the front; we were able to keep the kids safer from traffic, while still being in view of the YMCA and everyone there.
- While cold, the weather was okay. That day it looked like rain, and with it scheduled just a few days before Christmas, I realized we had never advertised an alternate date in case of poor weather. Thankfully it wasn’t an issue!
Could have been better …
- Too long. We scheduled it for three hours, which meant we had a rush at the beginning, and a rush at the end … but a dead hour in the middle when people were having dinner. This made keeping teens in the cold motivated a challenge.
- Too many events at the same time. Too make it easier on families, I had scheduled our middle school and high school Christmas parties for after the Nativity, thinking it would make it easier on parents of students. What I didn’t take into consideration was that the parties would attract around 80 students, many of whom showed up really early to see their friends in the nativity … and then managed to get into the building. This was an unnecessary distraction that ultimately meant we pulled the plug on the Nativity early so we could get control of too many students onsite who weren’t connected to the Nativity.
- A further complication; we pulled the plug on the Nativity early because of the complications above, not realizing that parents with kids in student ministry and children’s ministry age would time their arrival so their younger kids could catch the end of the Nativity while the older kids got dropped off for the parties. I felt REALLY bad about people showing up for the Nativity and missing it because we stopped sooner than we advertised.
- It was a little too free flowing. I should have had a tight schedule with specific time slots on costumed parts, singing, scripture reading, etc., with mandatory breaks mixed in for students to duck inside and warm up before returning to the Nativity.
- For some reason, our sound system just wasn’t producing the volume it should have. Even though teens were using the mics for the readings, it was challenging to hear them. Because we’ve never had a problem with the system before, I didn’t realize it was a problem until it was too late to do much about it.
- We ran out of hot chocolate!
- Of the nine animals that were supposed to show up, only one actually did. Thank goodness it was the donkey – he was the star of the night. Very easy going, he spent the whole three hours chewing on grass while child after child got to pet him and pose for pictures with him.
So all that to say, we learned a lot. Next year, we’ll follow the Fall Festival’s example in scheduling by having it for two hours, AFTER dinner, on a night with nothing else happening, and a tight schedule to keep the flow moving well and teen actors involved.