Rev up your Christmas program with The Great ADVENTure: 4 Weeks of Christmas Lessons. Because these four weeks of Christmas lessons go with any Christmas program you choose, you can add meaning to the program practice.
How many times have you walked into a Christmas program rehearsal to find kids sitting, eyes glazed over, while the director goes over staging or lines with one or two principal players? Or the kids run around rambunctiously while “Joseph” or “King Herod” is fitted in his costume? This was one pitfall we wanted to avoid with our Christmas program — getting the kids to participate just to bore them silly for an hour.
That’s why we came up with ADVENTure so kids can spend their rehearsals wrapped up in vacation Bible school-style activities and learning the program. In our ADVENTure, kids begin and end each session by singing songs from the musical, which they learn quickly. But it’s really the time between the songs that makes ADVENTure a success.
Because of this, we scrapped our typical Christmas program where kids stand onstage and merely perform for their parents and grandparents. ADVENTure — our four-week Christmas VBS-style program — gives kids a fresh understanding of Jesus’ birth and an opportunity to minister to their audience through their performance.
One of the best features of VBS is small groups of kids who meet with their own leader so the ADVENTure program is designed the same way. We form “flocks” with an adult “shepherd.” Mixing age groups eliminates many discipline issues and builds new friendships because kids who normally might not get the chance to interact are in the same group.
To do your own ADVENTure each week, first set up three learning stations based on the program concept. Rotate the flocks and their shepherds through each of the three stations in 15-minute intervals so each child has the opportunity to participate at each station every week.
7 Keys to a Great ADVENTure
Over time, we’ve learned a few Christmas lessons about what makes an ADVENTure program click with kids — and ultimately with the entire congregation. Here are the most valuable tips we’ve gathered over the years.
1. Share the lines.
Focus on a few narrators who can read their lines and feel comfortable, or recruit adults to narrate. We’ve had several senior congregation members narrate the program. This allows kids to focus on learning the songs, and it keeps just one child from being singled out as the star of the show.
2. Ditch the costumes.
Unless you have a very theatrical group, most kids are uncomfortable wearing a costume — especially preteens. Instead, create a special Christmas shirt each year for the kids to wear for the program.
3. Aim just above your kids.
We look for programs targeted toward teenagers and middle schoolers. The little ones will be there no matter what, but the older ones need something cool.
4. Make your program multigenerational.
Recruit teenagers and adult choir members to join in the program for a multigenerational backup. We have adults, teenagers, and children sing together. The solos and tougher parts can be handled by smaller groups of older children and adults, and the mix builds fabulous working relationships.
5. Make it important.
We insist that the program is held on a Sunday morning in Advent. We have the sound, special effects, and multimedia folks give it the full treatment. Then the kids realize how important their preparation has been.
6. Make it a worship service, not a photo-op.
Too many churches see children’s programs as a chance to be cute. We tell our kids they’re the ministers and the sermon; they believe it and treat it that way.
7. Make sure kids understand what they’re singing.
Too often we don’t help kids internalize difficult concepts such as eternity and forgiveness. Including reinforcement-activities help focus the children on the message, not the performance.
Build your ADVENTure program using the Christmas presentation you’ve selected as the foundation. All the stations included here work best with a re-enactment of the birth of Christ. For recommended nativity programs, check out the “Nativity Programs” box below.
Each week, you’ll focus kids’ attention on one of the four concepts in your program by using R.E.A.L. Learning — Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and Learner-based.
Make your ADVENTure program a memorable, fun experience for kids with the following interactive learning stations:
Retelling the events surrounding Christ’s birth not only helps kids honor this miraculous event, but it also reiterates the roles of everyone involved. Kids remember the wisdom the magi demonstrated when they didn’t return to King Herod. They realize the humble circumstances in which Jesus was born. Storytime stations are a powerful tool to help kids learn and understand the account they’re presenting.
Hands-On Learning Station
Hands-on learning allows you to access many different learning styles to reinforce a simple message for kids. These stations encourage play that lets kids experience the concepts.
Crafts are a great way to drive home the point of a lesson. Kids will create crafts that’ll make your ADVENTure a standout event.
Storytime Station: Weekly Visitor
Have an adult volunteer dress as someone involved in the first Christmas or as a character from your program who has a unique perspective on what happened Christmas night. For example, invite an angel to tell the kids about God — that he’s always existed and loved them forever. Or invite the innkeeper’s wife to talk about the light that Jesus brought into the world. Or maybe invite a servant of the wise men to discuss the way their caravan followed the star even though none of them knew where they’d end up.
Hands-On Learning Station: Who’s Afraid?
For this station, you’ll need:
- a darkened room,
- taper candles,
- paper drip protectors,
- and a lighter.
Have kids sit in a circle, and then give each child a candle and paper drip protector.
- Do you like the dark? Why or why not?
- Have you ever been afraid of the dark? Explain.
- Imagine if the whole world was filled with darkness. What would our lives be like?
- What if our hearts were filled with darkness? How would that change us?
- How does light affect our lives?
- When we think of light in our hearts, what does that mean?
Read aloud John 8:12. Say: With the birth of Jesus, the world knew a different kind of light.
- How is Jesus the light in our lives? in our hearts?
- What difference does Jesus make in our world?
Say: Look around you. It’s dark in this room. Let’s see what happens when we share Jesus’ love with others. When it’s your turn to light your neighbor’s candle, say something you like or appreciate about that person.
Light your candle and say something about the person sitting next to you as you light his or her candle. Have kids take turns lighting each other’s candle until everyone’s is lit.
Say: Look around. There’s a lot more light in this room now, isn’t there?
- How does Jesus’ love and light change the world?
- How can we spread more of God’s love?
Close in a prayer of thanks for Jesus’ light. As an “amen,” have the children blow out their candles at the same time.
Craft Station: Light the Night
- mini flashlight necklaces,
- batteries for the flashlights,
- 1-inch cardstock circles,
- star hole punches,
- and a Bible.
Read aloud Matthew 2:1-12. Ask:
- What do you think it was like for the Magi the night they followed the star?
- Can you imagine walking through the night through an unknown land in search of an unknown destination? Explain.
- How would you have felt if you’d been with the Magi that night?
First, have kids punch a 1-inch cardstock circle with the hole punches. Then give each child a mini flashlight necklace and have them each use tape to attach a cardstock circle to the end of their flashlights. Turn off the lights so kids can shine their “star lights” at the ceiling.
Storytime Station: Unexpected Blessings
Mary was blessed by God in an unexpected way. Help kids explore ways they’ve been unexpectedly blessed by God that they may’ve overlooked or taken for granted.
Read aloud Luke 1:26-33, 38. Then ask:
- When the angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus, how do you think she felt?
- Do you think she was afraid? Why or why not?
- What would you have done if you had been in Mary’s position?
Talk about a time God blessed you when you least expected it or you didn’t recognize it as a blessing at the time. Then ask:
- How has God blessed you unexpectedly?
- How did it feel when you realized God had blessed you?
- Do you think Mary was glad God chose her to be Jesus’ mother? Why or why not?
Hands-On Learning Station: Aftershock
Help kids understand how Joseph probably felt when he found out Mary was going to give birth to baby Jesus.
Before the session, you’ll need:
- a chocolate-covered beetle for each child. (Try looking on Amazon.)
- chocolate-covered raisins
Keep the chocolate-covered beetles out of sight. Munch on a handful of chocolate-covered raisins conspicuously. Then ask:
- Have any of you ever considered eating insects? Why or why not?
Don’t offer any of the chocolate-covered raisins to your group, but continue eating them. Say: These are good! I know it seems strange, but I just can’t stop eating them.
When kids ask what you’re eating, say: If I tell you, you have to promise not to think I’m strange. I’m eating chocolate-covered beetles. Beetles are high in protein, and they’re expensive. People around the world eat bugs, some as a delicacy and some because they rely on them as a food source.
- How many of you have ever eaten a bug?
- Did you know that in our lifetimes, we’ll accidentally eat about 1 pound of insects? So why not try them with chocolate?
- How many of you think bugs sound gross?
- Do you think I’m strange for eating them? Why or why not?
Tying Beetles to the Bible
Say: Our impressions and reactions to things aren’t always right, are they? Joseph learned this when he was about to marry Mary.
Read aloud Matthew 1:18-24. Ask:
- What do you think Joseph thought when he found out Mary would give birth to baby Jesus?
- Why did the angel appear to him and urge him to take Mary home as his wife, even though Joseph was uncertain about what to do?
- How did Joseph show his faithfulness?
- Would any of you like to try a chocolate-covered beetle? It might not sound very good, and it might seem strange, but I think you’ll be glad you ate one if you try it.
Urge kids to try a beetle. If none will, say: I can’t blame you. I bet Joseph felt the same way when he found out he’d be raising the Son of God. Joseph probably thought he wouldn’t be able to do it. What a tough job! But he did as God told him to.
If kids are willing to try a beetle, pass out the chocolate-covered beetles you bought before class. Ask:
- How did you feel before I gave you a beetle? Were you afraid? Why or why not?
- How did you feel when you tried them?
- How do you think Joseph felt when he was faithful to God and took on a responsibility he felt afraid or nervous about? Why?
- How can we be faithful to God when we’re afraid or nervous?
Craft Station: Blessed Adoration
- frankincense and myrrh essential oils (available from www.aromaland.com),
- gold jewelry,
- the Bible,
- small gift boxes,
- glitter pens,
- wrapping paper,
- construction paper hearts,
- and gift tags.
Read aloud Matthew 2:9-11. Then say: The Magi expressed their adoration for the Savior with precious gifts. Say the name of each gift and pass it around the group. Let kids smell the oils and touch the gold.
Say: These were such precious gifts to give.
- If you had been with the Magi that night, what would you have given to Jesus?
- Do you have anything that’s precious to you, such as a favorite toy or candy, that you’d be willing to give to Jesus? Explain.
Say: It’s hard to think of a toy or item we could give that’s really important enough to give to Jesus. What Jesus really wants from us is our love and friendship. So that’s what we’ll pledge to him for Christmas this year.
Then have kids each decorate a small gift box with wrapping paper. Wrap the lids separately.
On heart-shaped construction paper, have kids write their Christmas pledges in glitter pens. Lastly, have them attach a gift tag addressed to Jesus to each box. Kids can take home their gifts to Jesus to share with their families.
Storytime Station: Missing Link
Long before Jesus was born, God’s people saw into the future with God’s help and said that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Caesar Augustus’ census helped fulfill that prophecy of Jesus’ birth location because Joseph and Mary had to return to Joseph’s homeland. Help kids understand the importance of this event with this activity.
- a floor puzzle with no more than 20 pieces
- and a Bible.
Before the session, remove a puzzle piece and hide it.
Hand each child one or two puzzle pieces, and give the group time to work together to assemble the puzzle. Once they have it put together, they’ll realize a piece is missing.
- How did you feel when you realized that part of this puzzle was missing? Were you frustrated? Explain.
- What does the puzzle look like with a piece missing? Is it complete? Why or why not?
Read aloud Luke 2:1-7.
Say: We only hear Caesar Augustus’ name mentioned once in the Bible. But his role was very important because he called for the census that led Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. And that fulfilled a promise that God made years earlier that our Savior would be born in Bethlehem. Like the missing puzzle piece, Caesar Augustus played a small but significant role in Jesus’ birth.
Hands-On Learning Station: Bait and Switch
King Herod tried to deceive the Magi because he found out they were going to worship the newborn king.
For this activity, you’ll need:
- a large trophy,
- two identical nontransparent containers,
- a bag of candy,
- and a bag of pebbles about the same weight as the candy.
First, place the bag of candy in one container and the bag of pebbles in the other container. Then hide the container with pebbles, and hide the trophy in another room.
Say: I have a deal for you. I’d like you to find my missing trophy. If you find the trophy and bring it to me, I’ll give you this container. Describe the trophy and give hints as to where it is.
Show kids the candy inside the container. Then give them three minutes to search for the trophy. Switch the pebble container with the candy container while the kids are out of the room searching for the trophy so they don’t see the switch happen.
When they bring the trophy to you, make a fuss over the trophy. Polish it and admire it. Then absently hand the kids the pebble container and say: There’s your reward. When kids open the container, you’ll hear their dismay because they got rocks intstead of candy. Ask:
- What’s wrong? I told you I’d give you the container.
Read aloud Matthew 2:7-12. Then ask:
- How is what happened with the trophy like or unlike what Herod was trying to do?
- Did he really want to worship the baby Jesus? Why or why not?
- What did he plan to do?
Hold up your end of the bargain by sharing the candy.
Craft Station: The Tree
- red or green sweatshirts or T-shirts for all the children,
- masking tape,
- white fabric paint,
- silver or gold fabric paint,
- and sponges.
First, create an outline of a Christmas tree using the masking tape for each child. Then place the tree outline in the center of a sweatshirt or T-shirt.
Have kids use a small sponge and white fabric paint to dab over and around the tree outline. Remove the masking tape before the paint dries so it peels off cleanly.
Then, decorate the tree by sponging a large silver or gold star on its top. You can cut the stars from sponges, or purchase precut star sponges at a craft store.
Storytime Station: History Worth Repeating
Kids love to gather ’round and listen to the first Christmas retold in books so this is the perfect time to share your favorite book.
Hands-On Learning Station: What’s In a Name?
Names become our identity because they are the way we think of ourselves. Help kids discover how powerful names are with this giggle-inducing activity.
- self-adhesive name tags,
- and a Bible.
Have kids sit in a circle. Say: We’re going to try an experiment.
- How important is your name to you?
- Can you imagine what it would be like if you had another name? Explain.
- Do you know why or how you got your name? Explain.
Write each child’s name on a name tag. Give the name tags to the wrong children and have them stick the tags to their shirts where they’re visible. Say: We’re going to play Pass the Bible. Whenever you get the Bible, you have to pass it to the person sitting next to you.
Demonstrate by passing the Bible to your neighbor. Say: Hi, (person’s new name), I’m (new name). Here’s a gift from me to you. You’ll use the name on your name tag and the name on your neighbor’s name tag, not your correct names. Pass the Bible around the circle. Then have kids take off their name tags. The object is for everyone to remember the new wrong names. Play again, speeding up each round.
- How easy or difficult was it to remember the wrong name?
- How did it feel to be called by the wrong name?
- Why are names so important to us?
Read aloud Matthew 1:23. Ask:
- Why do you think God chose for his son to be named Jesus?
- How did Jesus’ name represent him?
- What does Jesus’ name mean to you?
Craft Station: Eternal Experience
Decorate your church with these simple wreaths. You’ll need:
- premade grapevine wreaths,
- gold ribbon,
- white cardstock strips,
- a hole punch, pencils,
- a thesaurus,
- and gold glitter pens.
First form groups of three. Then have each group decorate its grapevine wreath with words that mean eternal. Have each group look up “eternal” in a thesaurus and then write the synonyms they find on cardstock strips. Next, kids can curl the strips by wrapping them around a pencil. Punch holes in ends of the strips and attach them to the wreaths with gold ribbon.
Have kids select the locations where they’d like to hang their wreaths in the church. As a closing for the weekly program, go in groups or all together to hang the wreaths. Then pray for the entire church to experience eternity in their hearts this season.
Make the final week of your ADVENTure program a dress rehearsal — complete with all adult singers, narrators, and extras. Wrap up this week with a big birthday party for Jesus, complete with pizza, cake, and games.
End your ADVENTure program with the presentation to the congregation. The fruit of your efforts won’t end in the stage presentation, though. Just think of how children now understand the concepts they’re singing about or acting out because of these four ADVENTure weeks. Above all else, the kids will know they’ve ministered, not just performed!
By tossing out the boring old rehearsal routine and Christmas lessons, you’ve created a new tradition — one that has the flexibility to change with the times and the children in your ministry!
Peggy Emerson is a children’s minister in Hamilton, Ohio.