Do you remember a time when January quickly came upon you and you wondered where December went? The month of December can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season.
In Michael Mack’s article, 12 Ideas for a Life-Changing Small Group Christmas, from Small Group Leadership, he shares 12 ideas for Life Groups to get and give the most during the Christmas season.
1. Start New Traditions. For most of us, the holidays are about traditions: eating huge meals together, taking a drive to see the lights, decorating the house, going to local events, and, of course, going to church services. Why not invite those from your group or others who are lonely to join you in some of your traditions? Start new traditions with your small group. Each year several groups at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, help provide holiday meals for families who would otherwise not have a nice meal. They not only buy it, but they deliver it and pray for the families. Your small group tradition can be little or big; what matters is to do something together for the least of these.
2. Study the Gospels (All of Them) Christmas lessons tend to rely on the narratives from Matthew and Luke, but there are many other alternatives, of course. Peter Mead (www.biblicalpreaching.net), a missionary and writer, suggests studying all four Gospel introductions, for instance. Introduce group members to Matthew’s introduction and then Mark’s. Discuss why Mark didn’t use the birth narrative, but jumped directly to the days leading up to the start of Jesus’ ministry. Then summarize the visitations, prophecies, and narrative of Luke 1 and 2. Wrap it up by studying and discussing John 1:1-18, which portrays beautifully the why behind it all.
3. Experience Christmas Anew. This is one of the most wonderful times of the year to grow together in your understanding of the gospel story.
Kyle Idleman has a Christmas video called The Christmas Experience that tells the story of Jesus’ birth. He begins and ends the video with a devotion that could be used for family and friends. Another way to shine the spotlight on the gospel story with your families is through the tradition of Advent. Embrace it for what it was intended and put the real meaning of Christmas back in the season. Advent can be a great time of personal retrospect and growth for your Life Group members and their families.
4. Celebrate Immanuel. This Christmas, move past the historical Jesus who was born and lived 2,000 years ago. Consider the living Christ who is still Immanuel, God with us … the One who is with us whenever we gather together in his name. As a group, discuss and prepare to celebrate the Event of events when the Creator of the universe made himself nothing and took the form of human flesh, a baby, a humble servant, a sacrifice for our sins. Don’t reserve worship for your Christmas-eve services at the church building. Build up to that celebration by singing worshipful hymns together as a group and finding other ways to praise God for what he did by lovingly sending his only Son into the world.
5. Invite Friends to Christmas Services. According to a recent LifeWay Research study, 61 percent of Americans attend church services at Christmastime. Which means, of course, that 4 out of 10 people do not attend. Yet, among those who don’t attend church at Christmas, 57 percent said that if someone they knew invited them to church at Christmastime, they would go. Commit as a group to invite your neighbors, friends, and co-workers to Christmas services. Encourage and spur one another on along the way.
At Gateway, our goal is to make sure there is always room for others. Don’t forget to sign up for your Christmas Eve service ticket, so we know how many to expect at each service in order for us to make room. Knowing that 57 percent said they would come to a Christmas service if invited, then WE MUST take advantage of this Christmas and invest in and invite others to church!
6. Love Those Who Are Struggling. Remember the folks in your circles who struggle this time of year. Many people—inside your group and among your group members’ friends—are vulnerable during the holidays. Many hurting people come into the Christmas season feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to know Immanuel—God with them—but he seems more like Emmanuel: God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me … or, I feel like he is so external to my current experience.
This is one of the best times of year for a small group to reach out to these folks and love them, invite them into your celebrations, and invite them to know more than the “baby Jesus”—to develop a relationship with him who died for them and lives today. People are not only vulnerable, they are open to an invitation to connect during the holidays.
7. Give Gifts to the Least of These. Years ago, I read Pastor Dick Alexander’s sage advice about gift giving that I’ve never forgotten. “Gifts are an integral part of Christmas,” he said, “but they can either express or distort its meaning.” He suggested limiting our gift giving to one another (in the family or small group). Your family or group may usually exchange gifts with one another (even though is Jesus’ birth we’re celebrating!). Instead, give gifts to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45).
At Gateway, there are always opportunities to give. Salvation Army seeks volunteers to ring the bells so they may provide for families in the community. Open Arms has many families that need to be adopted for Christmas and provide gifts for mothers who may have suffered abuse and gifts for their children. Angel Tree has volunteers help to provide gifts to children with a parent who is in prison. Gateway hosts a party for these children. Contact the church office to see how you can help a family or child this Christmas.
8. Throw a Party. The holidays are an excellent time for a party with a purpose. Be creative: make it a story party, where each person comes prepared to share a short story about a Christmas past; or have a birthday party of Jesus with the kids. Or make it a Christmas-movie party. The main thing is to make this a party to which everyone can invite friends, especially those who don’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas. As Jesus did with Matthew’s friends in Matthew 9, simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with one another, and see what God will do.
9. Serve Together. Most churches need lots of volunteers during Christmas services. Plan to serve together, if possible at one service in a specific ministry or area. Just ask church leaders what is needed and how you can serve together.
At Gateway, Family Go & Serve Night is not just for the children. It is a great way to bring all generations together. We saw many generations gather to pack shoeboxes in November. Two of our Life groups helped check and label the boxes that the families packed. This month everyone has an opportunity to go Christmas carolling together through Family Go & Serve Night in December.
10. Build Deeper Community. Spend an entire day together as a group. A Sunday may be best. (If you can’t do this in December, move it to January.) Go to church services together in the morning and then go out to eat. Go Christmas shopping together at the mall. Plan a party for the evening; ask folks to bring food to munch on throughout the evening, and watch family-friendly Christmas movies together or play games. Or go to a Christmas pageant together. Invite spouses, family, and friends of members.
At Gateway, we see many Life Groups come up with creative ways to connect not only with those in their own group, but with other groups so that they can get to know more people. For example, two Life Groups hosted three young adult groups, providing a meal for them at someone’s home. The evening ended with all 53 people singing worship songs.
11. Adopt a Family. Ask your church or a community organization for the contact information for a local family in need. Find out what the family needs and then shop together for gifts. Schedule a time to greet the family and drop off the gifts. If possible, keep in touch after the holiday season and continue to serve. (Imagine the impact if every group, class, and team in your church did this!)
At Gateway, we have Life Groups who have adopted a family or couple within the church. They make visits and help meet needs that the couple may be unable to do, such as mow the lawn, rake leaves, wash windows, clean the home or organize the garage, get groceries, etc. You may know someone who would benefit from your group walking alongside them in their journey.
12. Plan for a New Year. Sometime in December or early January, gather group members for a fun gathering that you use to plan for next year. Start thinking and preparing for this planning party now. For many of us, the holidays are the biz, biz, busiest time of the year. Talk to your group members now to discuss some of the things you won’t do this year so that you can experience Immanuel—God with us—and be an Incarnational small group by taking the message of Jesus into the world around you.