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The Great ADVENTure

Peggy Emerson

Rev up your Christmas program with the best principles from vacation Bible school.

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 -- where kids 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.

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 --  not just perform for them.

One of the best features of VBS is small groups of kids who meet with their own leader. An ADVENTure program is designed the same way. We form "flocks" with an adult "shepherd." Mixing age groups eliminates many discipline issues and builds relationships between kids who normally might not get the chance to interact.

To do your own ADVENTure each week, 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. Each child should get the opportunity to participate at each station every week.

Of course, creating an ADVENTure program means there'll be a lot more work than dusting off shepherd costumes, but reaching out to the kids in your community with an event that's educational and fun -- rather than boring old rehearsals -- is well worth the effort.

KEYS TO A GREAT ADVENTURE
Over time, we've learned a few 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.

• 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.

• 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.

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.

• 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.

• Make it important. We insist that the program be 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.

• 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.

• 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 helps focus the children on the message, not the performance.

THE STATIONS
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.

Storytime Station -- Retelling the events surrounding Christ's birth not only helps kids honor this miraculous event, 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.

Craft Station -- 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.

WEEK ONE
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 perhaps 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, and paper drip protectors (available at www.genwax-candles.com), and a lighter. Have kids sit in a circle, and give each child a candle and paper drip protector.

Ask, "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 thanksgiving for Jesus' light. As an "amen," have the children blow out their candles at the same time.

Craft Station: Light the Night -- You'll need mini flashlight necklaces (available at www.orientaltrading.com), batteries for the flashlights, 1-inch card stock circles, tape, star hole punches, and a Bible for this craft.

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?"

Have kids punch a 1-inch card stock circle with the hole punches. Give each child a mini flashlight necklace and have them each use tape to attach a card stock circle to the end of their flashlights. Turn off the lights and have kids shine their "star lights" at the ceiling.

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