If you’re reading this, it’s a pretty safe guess that you agree Christmas is a great season to be inviting friends and family to hear about Jesus. While Christmas might still be a way off, most of us involved in churches and schools know that our events need careful planning, well in advance to make the most of the season.
The thing is, even with the best intentions, many Christmas outreach events to kids and families fail to reach their potential due to common mistakes. Ugh.
As both a trained Children’s pastor and itinerant performer, I’ve observed 11 big mistakes that if avoided, will help you to maximise your efforts to reach your community this Christmas:
The first mistake is quite foundational. Sometimes we just run events without really knowing why!
Whenever Anton’s Antics performs for a school or church, I always try and ask the person booking, ‘what would it be that makes you go on social media and share with your friends how happy you are with the event?’.
In other words, after all your planning and advertising, all the hard work on the day…what ticks your boxes? What will put a big smile on your face? Once you’ve identified this, you’ll realise what it is that you really want to achieve.
If you can go one step further and quantify some measurable outcomes for your efforts, even better.
Let’s say your agreed purpose is outreach. What are some tangible outcomes?
-Would it be that the brand-new event drew lots of new people in contact with your church and gave them the opportunity to hear the good news for the first time in a non-threatening, entertaining way?
-Would it be a 10% increase in non-church folk audience attendance on last year?
-Would it be a fresh list of families being contacted and showing interest in church playgroups or an after-school kids club as a result of the event?
TIP: Ask your team, ‘why are we running this event?’ and ‘what outcomes would make us celebrate its success?’
2. Competing Purposes
Setting an overall purpose with some targets to measure the event’s ‘success’ might seem straightforward enough. However, it might not take long for different characters with different agendas to appear on stage. Without being fully conscious of it, sometimes we run events with competing purposes.
If you’re a school, the principal might want to ‘connect’ with the parents. In which case, his or her to priority might not be sharing the good news, but more about public relations. How softly will they want you to tread with God’s message of salvation?
In a similar way, if it’s a combined church ‘carols in the park’ type event, you might start out with a purpose of outreach but when it comes to the script, different parties in the different churches may want to soften what is said so much, you barely say anything for fear of offending someone.
It’s fine to have a focus on public relations if that is your main goal, just be aware of what you are trying to achieve and go for it. At the same time, bear in mind the incredible amount of work and money that goes into public events, combined with the amazing opportunity there will be for people to hear the good news, perhaps for the first time. One of the reasons I started Anton’s Antics was to provide live shows for public events where the good news is unmistakably clear but also so much fun, people of all ages and backgrounds ‘go with it’ and listen. If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the trio of characters and some of the art forms I use in the shows,make sure you sign up for the FREE video below. You'll also get the free 11 point checklist to success at your next event!
Also, watch out for too many agendas. If you push too many things nothing gets heard. For example, if you want to raise money to help the fire-fighters or struggling farmers in drought conditions, highlight domestic violence and share the good news you may be trying to hit too many targets. Less is more.
TIP: Give thought to what might be the competing agendas at your event and kindly eliminate/reallocate any that will detract from your highest goal.
Let’s say you have now clarified with your team that you want to focus on outreach and you’ve set some concrete, measurable outcomes. Next, we need to watch out for mistakes that come in our execution of outreach events for Christmas.
3. Too afraid to change…’you can’t change that…there’ll be a riot!’
It may seem obvious but institutions like schools and churches often do the same things, year in year out. Not that a lack of variation is the main problem; Christmas is a tradition and we like how it has certain sounds, colours and things that happen. But when it comes to outreach, we can be caught going through the motions, maybe even forgetting why we started the event in the first place.
Sometimes there’s a lot of historical expectation that we will be running an event because ‘we’ve always done it…and people will be disappointed if we don’t…in fact they won’t come if we don’t…or there’ll be a riot!’
Hmmm. Do the research. If the numbers in the community attending is static or in decline we need to change it up. What worked 10 years ago, may need reinvention today.
So, don’t be afraid of change.
TIP: If you have an event that has been running for years and is not growing the reach you have into the community, but you can’t quite muster the consensus to close the old event and start fresh then here’s what I suggest:
Run the old event you wish you could bury, but also run a new type of event that you think will harness a new audience. Prove the new event is a worthy step forward, gaining the approval of the church or school community and next year close-down the old, tired event and expand the scale of your new event.
4.Too much content – ‘But we can’t just talk about baby Jesus, can we?’
Remember the cute Sunday School plays where children got to play different characters from the Bible and re-enacted the narratives of Jesus’ birth? Five stars for involving the kids, but you’ll recall that rarely did we re-enact all the narratives in order to ‘do Christmas’. Similarly, we don’t have to cover Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit and return, in order to make the significance of Christmas clear. Remember, if we try and teach everything, people remember nothing. Like a room stuffed with too many books, we overwhelm them. Less is more.
If you look carefully, the birth of Jesus is made up of a series of mini-stories or narratives: angelic announcements to both Mary and Joseph; Caesar’s edict and travel to Bethlehem, Shepherds in the field, Wise men from the east, blessings by wise folk at the temple. Once I recognized this, I decided to base Anton’s Antics’ Christmas shows and sticker stories on only one of these narratives. What a relief and a joy Christmas becomes when we stop trying to do everything! Rather than try and tell everything and risk people glazing over what we need to do is take them into the heart of just a few verses and offer something very specific and memorable.
TIP: Since the birth of Jesus is quite familiar with many people (though this is on the decline, so watch this space!) why not focus on one of the stories and how it contributes to the significance of Jesus arrival?
5.Too little content
You look so good, but under the hood…the engine is missing. I’ve seen some wonderfully funny and talented performances. Some people have got it in spades. Except one thing, they are careless with the Scriptures or their message is skin deep. One of the greatest complements I received one day about Anton’s Antics’ shows came from a Scripture teacher in a primary school. She couldn’t believe how closely the show had stuck to the Bible, ‘just like we taught in Scripture’, while being really entertaining. Using a diverse range of art forms, allows me to weave the message in multiple ways across the performance.
TIP: Find Christian performing artists that combine exceptional entertainment with uncompromising, clear, Bible focused teaching.
6. Wonky Budget Priorities
This one is pretty straight forward but you would be surprised how many Christian organisations don’t prioritise their budgets accordingly. It goes like this: your church agrees on a goal, a style of event, a date, a theme and set a budget; you book and pay for stages, PA systems, venues, jumping castles, animal petting farms, fireworks and allow for the church congregation to donate food and manpower. Oh, and then you ring around for a Christian performer…hoping they’ll squeeze into whatever remains of your budget. Can anyone see the irony of this? If you’re goal is to reach the community with the good news, then you need to book and pay for your speakers, your performers first and then fit all the other items into what remains of your budget. Why would you compromise on the quality of your performer instead of the size of your jumping castle?
TIP: Decide on what kind of speakers and performances you need for your event and factor them into your budget before you commit to all the other stuff that is fun, but does little to reach the community with the good news.
7. You involve the kids too little or too much
Sometimes in the pursuit of slick elegance and professionalism we toss out our biggest draw card: kids on stage. Parents, extended family, neighbours will all come to see a child they know who is up on stage, especially at Christmas. So, don’t waste a powerful draw card. At the same time we need to avoid the pitfalls of indulging too much into sentimentality or pragmatism.
The converse of this mistake is of course involving the kids too much, so that it becomes a ‘kid-performing art -fest’, akin to one of those regional school dance routine nights. We need to get the balance right and it’s not a bad idea to look at something like the annual Melbourne Myer Music Bowl’s Carol’s night to see how they move back and forth from kiddy numbers and entertainment to more reflective, adult song performances.
TIP: Make sure the kids contribute in meaningful ways to the overall theme or message and don’t just ‘use’ them as draw cards. Remember, ‘out of the mouth of babes, I have ordained my praise’.
8. You hold a wake instead of a celebration
Sometimes in our eagerness to reach out to our communities with the good news we get the ‘timing’ wrong. We turn the celebration and joy of Jesus’ birth into a wake. Instead of focusing on what Jesus’ birth stories can tell us, we make the jump to his death and spend too much time dwelling on our guilt, sin and shame and need for forgiveness. Mums, dads and neighbours start looking at their phones, kids switch off. Of-course we don’t want to be timid with the truth but remember there is a ‘time for everything’. Preaching Easter, when It’s Christmas is just off-key. I’ve seen many Christmas events where all the carols were hitting the right note but the kid’s presentation or speaker sounded like they were at the wrong event. Don’t get me wrong, Anton’s Antics’ shows pull no punches. I still tie the end result for for Jesus coming to his birth; I just don’t labor the work of Jesus on the cross at Christmas but keep the accent on what his birth means for us.
TIP: Test your emphasis by asking: ‘What does the birth of Jesus means for us?’, rather than ‘What does the death of Jesus mean for us?’
9. Mutton dressed as lamb: Adults sermon wrapped up in kiddy Christmas wrap
Just because we dress up as a clown or stick a puppet up on stage does not mean we are automatically serving our kids well. If the script is still choked full of concepts that requires the kids to be age of 12 or above to understand it, then it’s a fail. It doesn’t matter how much you polish it or wrap it up in kiddy clothing; kids need to be taught in simple ways they can understand. Performances need to carry their imaginations away, but they also need to be intelligible to their target age, not stodgy. By using a trio of characters and a range of artforms including drama, drawings, storytelling and music, Anton’s Antics appeals to a wide age range while also speaking more directly at different times to different ages. Show your kids the free video available in this article and see what they think!
TIP: Run your script past a small group of kids and parents before you impose yourself on the community. Get some feedback. Break the language and concepts down into stuff that is meaningful to kids, then package it so that your ‘kiddy wrap’ serves the message and the age of hearers you are trying to reach.
10. Santa steals the stage
Now some parents don’t like to see Santa at all…remember what I said about competing agendas?
Well let’s assume Santa wins out…what kind of Santa will be at your event? I’ve seen Santa trash the event and lift it, so what makes Santa Bad or Good for your event?
Bad Santa vs Good Santa
I remember performing an Anton’s Antics’ Christmas show at an end of year event; the kids were totally engaged for the 30-minute show. However, straight after the show, out came a man dressed as Santa to hand out prizes to the kids for their year in Church. So far, no big deal. But then we followed this up with not one but three or four secular Christmas carols, that bore no reference to Jesus and everything about Santa. ‘Dancing through the snow…’. You get the picture. Then the event ended. You might think this was harmless, but was it helpful or necessary? We need to guide our events so we stay on track, focusing on why we are doing them in the first place. Kids can get Santa and Rudolf anywhere, but they can’t get Jesus anywhere. Let’s not steal the precious word of God from their minds with secular brick-a-brac.
At another event, Santa was slated on the run-sheet to run in the middle of Anton’s show. The church agreed to move him to before the main teaching slot (Anton’s show) and to my surprise, they did a great job. How? It was good Santa. Santa actually reinforced the gospel, the precious gift of Jesus.
When I’m invited to perform Anton’s Antics I always try to get a few ‘soundings’ from the organizing church or school about what concerns they might have about the content in the shows. I know some will be really concerned not so much about whether I’ll speak the truth, but whether I’ll denigrate Santa too much. No-one wants a Santa spoiler. I reassure them that Santa will only feature in a small, positive way, if at all and that I certainly won’t be questioning his existence.
TIP: If you’re going to have Santa, work together to ensure the Bible’s message remains the highlight.
11. Too long – set a run-sheet, do a rehearsal and watch the timing to keep it on course
I remember one Christmas a friend told me about a play that was shown at their church on Christmas Eve. A story teller would come out and narrate in between different segments of the play. Unfortunately, the story-teller came out one too many times as my friend’s little boy called out ‘no, not him again!’
Kids are kids…and not always as polite as adults. We will put up with the long-winded preacher as we swelter facing into the hot summer sun at the local Christmas carols in the park. But we may not come back next year!
TIP: Work with your pastor, team, performer so they understand the importance of adhering to strict guidelines on time slots. We want to leave people with the feeling they want more.
Has this been helpful?
Avoid these 11 Mistakes and your Christmas events are going to be off to a flyer…better still…
Get in touch with me about Anton’s Antics’ shows for your next outreach event and be sure to grab the free video [LIMITED TIME] by clicking on the picture below so you can start sharing the magic of Anton’s shows with the kids and families in your ministry today!
Credits for Images from Unsplash:
'Too much' darwin-vegher-638514-unsplash
'Mutton Dressed as Lamb' Alex Hay
'Wonky Budget' Rawpixel
'Ughh' Nathan Dumlao