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Refresh The Christmas Season!

Today, we’re excited to talk about a great way to refresh your Christmas season and services with some great products from the Skit guys over at WorshipHouse and SermonSpice!

Christmas, regrettably, can be a source of great stress for churches as they work hard every year to provide meaningful worship services for the holiday. The tension rests between making sure to hit all the traditional notes while creating a fresh experience each year.

One approach to add meaning to your Christmas worship services is to utilize visual media, specifically the First Christmas and Gifts of Christmas collections from The Skit Guys.

First Christmas is a 6-part video series that depicts biblical characters such as Joseph, Mary, and the Innkeeper telling the Christmas story from their own perspectives. Gifts of Christmas is a five-part series designed to “…help your congregation enter the Christmas season with hearts overflowing with the love of God.”

Utilize Gifts of Christmas during the Christmas season to help teach your congregation and to shepherd them through Advent. It’s also a great tool to promote your Christmas Eve services. Next, use First Christmas during your Christmas Eve Service.

Our friends at SermonSpice And WorshipHouse have created a sample order of service for Christmas Eve that can help you see how you could do this to create a different, but wonderful, service that truly celebrates Jesus entering our world.  Note that the service template does not include specific songs, but rather has a good suggestion of where you could place them in your service. 

Christmas Eve Service
“First Christmas”

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-17
First Christmas: Elizabeth
(Song #1)

Scripture Reading: Luke 1: 26-33
First Christmas: Mary
(Song #2)

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-22
First Christmas: Joseph
(Song #3)

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:1-7
First Christmas: Innkeeper
(Song #4)

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-14
First Christmas: Shepherd
(Song #5)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
First Christmas: Wise Man
(Song #6)

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6 New Church Resources for October

It’s free resource time again! And we at the Church Media Blog have rounded up some of our favorites! These include three inspirational videos, a countdown that will have you drowning in anticipation for your next service, a song chart from Worship Central, and a stock clip. Use these new resources for your ministry and share them with your media-loving acquaintances and friends!

An Act of Worship Intro by Freebridge Media – Mini-Movie

Download the free Mini-Movie at WorshipHouseMedia.com. (Available through October 31)

 

Fearless (Worship Intro) by Centerline New Media – Mini-MovieDownload the free Mini-Movie at Sermonspice.com. (Available through October 31)

 

Underwater Adventure Countdown by Animated Praise – CoundownsDownload the free Countdown at WorshipHouseKids.com. (Available through October 31)

 

Christian Atheist by Journey Box Media - Mini-MoviesDownload the free Mini-Movie at videosforyouth.com. (Available through October 31)

 

The Way by Worship Central – Song ChartDownload the free Song Chart at christiansongcharts.com. (Available through October 31)

 

Stock Video by Pearl – Video ClipDownload the free video clip at lightstock.com. (Available through October 31)

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10 Things You Should Do Right Now to Prepare for Your Christmas Services

now4cmasSome of you read this headline in October, and thought: “WHAT?!?! Is this really a post about Christmas? Before Halloween?” Yes. It really is.

I spoke with some excellent leaders in varying roles in some very different congregations to ask them what they’re doing RIGHT NOW to plan for their Christmas services. After listening to their responses, I’ve distilled 10 things that you should be doing, even a few months out, to prep for your services.

1. Plan What You Want to Say at Christmas (and Before)
The most important thing you can do to begin your service preparation now is to plan what the core message is going to be. How we communicate the Good News that God has come to Earth to dwell among us should be our primary concern – the lights and the media and the program will all serve that backbone. I love how Camron Ware puts it: “focus on the message, and not what we do to tell it.”

John Upchurch, Senior Editor at BibleStudyTools.com, says that we should “go ahead and choose a topic or passage and begin praying about creative ways to get the word out via social media and word of mouth. If you have a bit more flexibility, plan a whole 3- or 4-part series that leads up to Christmas and builds excitement.”

Knowing what you want to communicate at your Christmas service will not only help you plan THAT service, but the series of services leading up to Christmas. Adam Fry, Ministry Environments Pastor at Central, says that even if we don’t know what the whole sermon will be, we should at least nail down the “so what” factor of each week.

2. Think Through Your Set / Stage Design
It’s not only important to think through what you’re going to say, but also where you’re going to say it. Dennis Choy, Communications Pastor at North Coast Church, says, “One of the things I do is to start talking about a set change – will we be in the same sermon series? Will it be Christmas looking? Do we want to keep everything non-Xmas on camera so it can be archived for future use and not time stamped?”

Thinking through these things now can set you up for success when that day arrives a few months from now. “Planning ahead for Christmas can be the difference between an amazing idea and a huge failure. Pyrotechnics? Waterworks? Complex lighting? Humorous play? Time ensures you can think through your creative ideas for Christmas and knock them out of the park—instead of accidentally setting the church on fire,” says Jonathan Malm of ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com.

3. Don’t Go Over the Top
Christmas services are a big opportunity for us to reach people who may only show up once or twice a year, so we want to put our best foot forward. In our pursuit of excellence, however, it’s important that we not go too far over the top. Why? Because, if we do our job and God stirs in folks’ hearts, some of them will come back the next week, and we want to make sure that the next week doesn’t feel like a bait and switch.

Chad Swanzy, Web and Social Media Director at Riverbend Church, says: “People rarely plan for the season after Christmas. They spend so much energy on the church’s ‘Super Bowl’ with the holidays that they have nothing compelling to offer that people want to be a part of the next weekend. ”

Bill Swaringim, Director of Technical Arts at The Crossing, agrees that this can be a pitfall: “While we do ramp up a bit of our programming and production we work hard to make sure they feel like our weekend worship service any other time of the year. We don’t want to welcome guests on these major holidays and pull all the stops out just for them to come back and the service look, sound, feel completely different.”

4. Listen to Christmas Music
Let’s face it. It’s really hard to get into the Christmas spirit this early in the year. I asked a good friend of mine at a smaller church what he’s doing right now, and he just laughed. They’re nowhere near planning three months out. I’m in Dallas and it’s still 95 degrees here.

Bill Swaringim said something that I think can help: “It is hard to think about Christmas at the end of summer and with all the details we carry as we step into a new ministry year. That is why Christmas music is often heard blaring from my office at church in the middle of August.”

I actually have been listening to Christmas music as I’ve worked on this post, and, believe it or not, it has helped a ton to transport my mind to December. It feels a little awkward at first, but try it.

5. Communicate Across Ministries
Donny Phillips, Executive Pastor at Gracepoint, told me that ministries need to be communicating with each other. You have to coordinate media and the choir and the teaching and communications and… you get the idea. Hopefully, you’re doing this all year long, but at Christmas so many moving pieces have to work together with precision, so make sure you’re communicating now.

Luke McElroy serves as a volunteer in the Youth Ministry at Fellowship Bible Church. His planning focus is making sure that calendars make sense for the whole family: “As someone who works with the Youth Ministry primarily, we have to be strategic on the DAY in which we celebrate Christmas. We can’t just do it on Christmas Eve and split the family up and we have to be careful to not promote a giant christmas event the night before finals or big end of year exams.”

6. Plan a Do-Able Theme and Start Working
Beyond planning what you want to say and where you want to say it, you’ll also want to start thinking about theme. This will affect everything you do leading up to Christmas. Elliott Moon, Service Programming Director at Browns Bridge Church, said his “goal is to hone in on what we would like to focus on, or a theme we would like to program around, and then to start chipping away at it each week in our planning meetings.”

Cody Bland, Creative Arts Pastor at Hillside Community Church agrees: “Keep it straight forward. Don’t bite off so much that you can’t chew, and don’t try to do too much with one service.” Figure out what you can do, and begin the work of making that happen.

7. Identify Your Constraints
Part of making sure your theme and plans are do-able is finding and naming your limitations. Kyle Kutter, Church to Church Pastor at LifeChurch.tv puts it this way: “Every church and ministry has constraints — in our budgets, service lengths, number of services, staff and volunteer needs, creative content. Sometimes we even feel constrained simply because we’re not the final decision maker. Whatever the constraint, you need to identify it. ‘Innovation happens where passion meets constraints’ is one of our axioms here at LifeChurch.tv; identifying your constraints is the first step toward innovating a way past them. And for truly ‘out of the box’ results, create your own constraints.”

8. Remember Those Who Struggle With the Holidays
For many of us, the season of Christmas is an incredibly joyous time. We walk around like Will Ferrell in Elf with visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads. For others, the holidays can be a really lonely, depressing season. Chad Swanzy diagnoses the problem this way: “The church has a tendency to forget that a ton of people struggle with the holidays. The consumeristic picture of the successful affluent nuclear family diving into gifts with joy hurts those who lost their job, will split time with their kids because of divorce, or maybe had someone pass away.”

While we’re planning our message and our services, we would do well to consider all the people who may be joining us, especially those who may be in need of a message of the Light that entered the world to be our Comforter.

9. Get Feedback from Everyone You Can
We’ve talked much about communication, and I think it’s important that we not limit that to the way WE communicate OUR vision and plans, but that we also elicit feedback from every part of our staff and congregation. David Gutekunst of WorshipTogether.com (and a worship leader at his church) recommends that we “Ask people in your church what their favorite Christmas carol is. More than any other time of year, people want to sing songs they know. Figure out what they want and give it to them.”

10. Get Inspired
As the leader – or a leader – of your church, you can’t take anyone farther than you have been yourself. For this reason, it’s vitally important that you feel inspired… and in some cases, do the hard work of finding inspiration. Justin Jackson, Creative Director at Central Christian Church, hits the nail on the head: “As the time gets closer, I find the most important thing is to be personally moved by some aspect of Christmas. Until it moves me (as an artist) I can’t move others… I start to read the stories, watch the movies and visit all the Christmas sections that pop up in stores. I make time to reflect so I can share whatever God shares with me. I think this is essential for all creative leaders. Otherwise, all I have to go in is my talent and cleverness—which is far more exhausting than simply being inspired.”

What are you doing? Share your Christmas prep secrets in the comments below.

*Special thanks to the guys who took the time to share their wisdom. You can follow them here: John Upchurch, Dennis Choy, Bill Swaringim, Camron Ware, Donny Phillips, Cody Bland, Kyle Kutter, Elliott Moon, Adam Fry, Chad Swanzy, Jonathan Malm, Luke McElroy, David Gutekunst, and Justin Jackson.

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Getting Ready to Lead

Craig Dunnagan has written an excellent post over at WeAreWorship.com about preparing ourselves, and our fellow church folks, for worship each Sunday Morning. We offer far greater gifts than just our ability to play or sing well, and we would do well to be mindful of these – in fact, this make us better leaders. Loved this quote:

For worship leaders, it is the balance between Pastor and Performer that we often struggle with. We like the fact that people want to hear our excellent musical offerings but we can easily forget that they also want to know that we understand where they have been.

Read the whole article here.

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Smooth Seas Never Made a Skilled Sailor

porthole_blog

Image from Lightstock.com

My church recently held a Worship Night, and I was asked to run the graphics in ProPresenter. I’ve been on the graphics team for about two years and am scheduled one or two times a month to run graphics for our three Sunday services. This was my first time running graphics for one of our events.

A few days before the event we had the rehearsal, and we had twelve songs scheduled. The rehearsal was running pretty late on a weeknight, so we stopped before running through the last two songs. I was pretty okay with that; I already knew one of them and could figure out the other in time. So I had every intention of running graphics for twelve songs. I had all the backgrounds and fonts updated to match our current sermon series, and I was mentally prepared and felt pretty good. Does anyone else get really nervous running graphics? I got butterflies when I first started, but have gotten pretty confident on Sundays. But I had butterflies again this night. Maybe because I’ve never done twelve songs in a row, or because it was more of a special event. I felt good though, I knew most of the songs pretty well.

So we get through the twelve songs and the last song chosen feels very much like a “last song,” so I’m ready for our worship leader to start praying, I even saw a few people were already leaving. Maybe they felt like that song felt like a “last song” too. But our worship leader doesn’t start praying. He starts singing something else. I quickly (and maybe a little bit frantically) searched for it in ProPresenter’s song database by typing in the title, really quickly hit “Apply All” to the current font so it would match everything else we’d done all night and found whatever slide they were on. So the worshipers missed a couple slides but now they were on track, and I think it was a song most people probably knew anyway. Whew, I was in the clear.

Not so fast. The band ended up doing about five or six extra songs on the fly. One of them, Bless The Lord (10,000 Reasons), for the life of me I could not remember the name of the song to search for it because it’s not the words in the first verse and I was a bit frazzled, but the director in the back helped me out and I got the lyrics going. All the extra songs were pretty popular and I think most people probably knew most of the words, and that’s probably why they chose those, but I still felt super unprepared, and guilty that the worshipers didn’t get to have all the lyrics on display, and every extra song had the lyrics come in two to three verses late.

I got faster each time though. Once I realized what was happening, I knew to search for the song as fast as I could and disregard changing the background in the middle of the song because that’s just a little too distracting. I tried not to beat myself up about worshipers not having all the lyrics and hope they all had their eyes closed anyway and probably didn’t even notice. And then I remembered this quote I stumbled across once: “Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.”

I have a history of taking experiences like this and thinking I failed. And then seeing that failure and being really hard on myself about it, and in some cases I’ve refused to try that thing again. This is something I’ve learned though, that failure isn’t bad. It’s not toxic, it won’t kill me. Doing something difficult doesn’t mean you’re bad at it and shouldn’t do it again. It can actually be really helpful. When things don’t go the way you planned, when things aren’t “smooth”,  you adjust, you figure it out. I actually think I’m better at my role now on the graphics team. I know what to do in that situation now, and I can use that next time. Every time I’ve made a mistake since I’ve been running graphics for my church, I’ve learned from it and done better each time after.

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