Our "Planning Christmas" Process
I’ll be honest, every year we resolve to get an early jump on planning our Christmas service, and every year we wind up planning it right up until the last minute. This year is no exception. We had a meeting or two about Christmas in July but we didn’t really get anywhere. Maybe it’s just me but I struggle to “feel” Christmas in the middle of July.
Quantity, Not Quality
Usually, we start planning Christmas in earnest around the middle of November and that’s usually because someone reminds us that Christmas is only 7 weeks away at which point we all freak out. The first step in the process is what we call a brain dump. Basically, we gather all the creative teams from around the church (Kids on the Move, Oneighty) and we start throwing out anything and everything that might work. The idea isn’t to “solve” the service, it’s more about stirring the creative pot.
So many times the best ideas come when you’re not actively engaged in brainstorming, but to get your mind working on a subconscious level you have to first exercise it on a conscious level. Most of my best ideas come in the shower because in the shower I let my mind drift and wander and that’s when I find solutions. So, don’t feel like you have to solve every problem and develop every idea each time you and your team sit down to brainstorm.
Find the Feeling
Once we have a few ideas on the board we start to think about the feelings that each song/sketch will evoke. This is HUGE! We want our Christmas service to be an emotional journey, but that doesn’t just happen by chance, you have to carefully craft that experience. Here are the feelings that we aim to evoke each Christmas in no particular order:
- Beauty — Christmas is a beautiful time of year so we definitely want our service to reflect that beauty.
- Humor — Laughter is such an essential part of any gathering because there’s no better way to gain your audience than to make them laugh.
- Family — For most of us, Christmastime is family time. We always try to include songs that make the audience feel warm towards those they care about most.
- Wow / Awe — You gotta make people say “Wow!” at least one time! This could be accomplished in a million different ways, but I think it’s important for people to experience something bigger than themselves.
- Worship — This is obviously the most important part. Our whole goal is to lead people toward worship - that’s why the reading of the Christmas story is always the pinnacle of our Christmas weekend.
What Is Necessary?
After we write these feelings on our board we try and assign them to each song/sketch in the service. The reason that we do that is to make sure we’re not repeating ourselves. An example would be “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Both are gorgeous songs but they evoke the same feelings — beauty & family — so it would be redundant to include them both. The goal is not to try and cram everything we can into the service, but rather to include only what is necessary.
Refine, Refine, Refine
From here we refine, refine, refine. We’ll talk through our service hundreds of times before it ever comes time to rehearse. Every song, every costume, every joke, it all gets talked through over and over and over again. It’s repititive and it’s exhausting, but it’s necessary because it’s through this process that you remove the parts of the service that aren’t working.
Remember this, the people who do the best work make it look easy, but it NEVER is! You and I see the finished product and it looks effortless but we don’t see the countless hours spent practicing in the gym/studio/office. Sometimes I think that because the work we do is primarily mental, we think we don’t have to practice in the same way we would if our jobs were physical. We all expect athletes to practice, and your mind works the same way as the rest of your body. It needs practice and refinement. These are the building blocks of a great creative work and without them, you’re toast. It would be arrogant to think that your first plan will be a home run. Don’t trust it, refine.