The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and many churches have adapted holiday events to provide the hope of the gospel amid social distancing, masks, meeting restrictions and the fear of in-person gathering.
Bethel Baptist Church, Dora, for example, historically offers a fall festival, hayride and community supper.
But this year they hosted a drive-thru harvest festival Oct. 31, complete with a car-side “cake walk,” treat bags and Bible scenes narrated on 87.9 FM radio.
“We decided to do a journey through the Bible,” said Bethel Pastor John Foles. “It started with Adam and Eve and went all the way to the cross, with John the Baptist sharing the gospel.
“We came to the conclusion that this may be a better, different way to do it,” said Foles, who noted more than 1,000 participated.
“This was a way that people who were nervous [about COVID-19 exposure] could still participate and feel safe.”
Seeing good results
Despite pandemic challenges, churches like Bethel are seeing good results through modified events. And as the Christmas season approaches, churches continue to find creative adaptations of traditional celebrations.
Scott Underwood, worship pastor at First Baptist Church, Florence, shared on the TAB Talks podcast that his church has changed its Christmas plans a few times since the pandemic began.
“It seems like every time we come up with something, then there’s some hiccup or there’s some issue that we haven’t thought about,” Underwood said. “The biggest thing for us was what we could realistically accomplish with our folks, with our finances and with the time.”
First, Florence, usually engages a professional artist to present a concert alongside the church choir and band. Uncertainty over the feasibility of holding a concert led to making Christmas a “destination” rather than an “event.”
This year the church will decorate its entire city block, and on Dec. 4–6 guests can enjoy live music, carolers and a living nativity, along with the sites and decorations of downtown Florence.
Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Birmingham, switched gears early in the pandemic to offer a unique, in-home worship experience.
By August, it seemed clear that audiences couldn’t come inside the church for the annual production of “Christmas by Candlelight.”
So Michael Adler, Shades’ worship arts pastor, shared on the TAB Talks podcast how he found a way to bring the Christmas story to life inside living rooms instead.
The Shades worship team created “Hope is Alive,” a one-hour televised Christmas special designed to help viewers feel “known, heard and understood” through the gospel story, said visual arts director Ethan Milner, also part of the TAB Talks interview.
Filmed at the historic Alabama Theatre and on nostalgic, custom-built living room sets, the video special features Nashville artists Drew and Ellie Holcomb, as well as artists and actors from Birmingham.
A variety of familiar and adapted Christmas songs, coupled with carolers and storytelling, encourage viewers to remember the hope of the season.
“We looked at how to make it really dramatically different and not just film what we would normally do,” Adler said. “Everything we did with Drew and Ellie affirmed that we were united in that one thing: don’t despair. Hope is alive, and hope has come in the form of Jesus Christ.”
Airing live on Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. on WBRC FOX6, the performance will be available afterward for streaming on LifeWay’s Digital Plus platform.
The broadcast also will offer viewers the opportunity to support local children in need by giving to Christian Service Missions’ Christmas for Kids project, Adler said.
And at First Baptist Church, Birmingham, a contemporary band will introduce the sounds and themes of Christmas during a drive-thru outreach event called “First Light,” on Dec. 10–12 starting at 6:30 p.m.
Story of God’s love
Joe Hopkins, minister of music, said guests will observe prophets proclaiming the coming of Christ, choirs singing praises, actors in the nativity and the story of God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ, portrayed in a projection on the side of the church.
Counselors will be ready to explain how to receive Christ and to pray with guests, he noted.
Larry Byrd, marketing committee member at First, Birmingham, said, “People need to be uplifted, and we hope to offer something a little different and to try and offset the depression and discouragement people are feeling.”
Tips for how to ‘do Christmas’
After nearly a year of waiting to see what will happen with COVID-19, churches may want to hold on to what feels normal when it comes to planning Christmas programs.
For those still working through how to “do Christmas,” here are some tips to help meet needs during this unique season:
- Don’t be afraid to let the past go and try something new. Ask, “If we didn’t have Christmas traditions, what would we do?”
- Know when it’s okay to rest and focus on family. Build opportunities for families to worship together — as small experiences or supporting livestream offerings from other churches.
- Leverage where you are and engage the community. Consider making the town square the gathering place for Christmas events.
- Reach outside the church to engage volunteers. Invite nonbelievers to help and pour into them while working together. In this season of “isolation fatigue,” many are eager to share their gifts.
- Learn from what other churches are doing and ask for tips on using technology.
- Look to the art department of local schools.
- Search for ideas online. YouTube has video tutorials for utilizing technology.
(Tips shared on TAB Talks podcast on Church Christmas Music)