Ask Rooted: How Do You Keep Jesus at the Center of Your Youth Group Christmas Party?

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An annual youth group Christmas party is a wonderful way to build warm community in our ministries. Ugly sweater contests, gift exchanges (Dirty Santa if you’re from the South or Yankee Swap for those in the northeast!), and outrageous portions of baked goods all have their place in fostering happy memories together. But often we walk away from these events sensing that the meaning of Christmas has been lost in the wrapping paper and accompanying sugar high. We asked our Rooted writers to tell us how they are seeking to keep Jesus at the center of their youth ministry Christmas parties this year. We hope their responses will inspire you to connect your fun celebrations to the gospel of grace!

Meredith Dixon, Assistant Director of Student Ministries at East Cobb Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA

Our youth group loves to go all out for our Christmas parties. We transform our church gym with strung up lights, a Christmas tree, a photo booth & Christmas blow-ups. We wear our best wacky Christmas pajamas and eat gobs of homemade goodies. We laugh over our white elephant Christmas game and are always expectant to see what ridiculous gifts make it under the tree (for example: a leaders facial hair or an entire stem of Brussels sprouts!)

Still, is so important that our students know that we can have a fun event and keep Jesus at the center of it still. We love to do this in a few different ways. First, we present a very simple Christmas message during our Christmas party, and we make sure to do this at the beginning to remind us why we have all gathered and set the tone for the night. Students love to bring friends to our Christmas events, so we do not want to miss the opportunity to present a clear gospel message to them! Second, we have started to add in singing a few simple Christmas hymns together before the more hectic part of the night starts. This sets our hearts in a place of worship and reminds us that more than gathering for fun, we gather as a family united in Christ.

Lastly, we love to have our adult leaders represent at our Christmas parties to foster further relationships with the students that come! This is a great way to make memories and it shows our visitors the gospel-centered community of all ages that the church is. These three aspects of our party are simple and not hard to accomplish. I pray that as you plan your youth Christmas parties, the Spirit illuminates your heart for ways you can keep Jesus at the center of it all!

Arek O’Connell High School and Young Adult Pastor at Hillside Community Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Gospel-centered teaching is our foundation for every Sunday night we gather. However, once a year during Christmas, we have a party and celebrate. I’m talking all of the over-the-top youth group games from the early 2000’s. We build marshmallow towers, we duct-tape kids to walls, we we turn them into Christmas tree toppers, and my all-time favorite, we do a Christmas carol battle. While this doesn’t necessarily scream “Gospel-centered” it’s an intentional decision on our part to forgo any kind of lesson. The “why” behind this decision is that Jesus and His grace is just as available to us in our silly fun and joyful celebration. I can’t think of a better season than Christmas, where we celebrate Immanuel, God with us, to celebrate the fact that God is with us even in our celebrations. We take Jesus very seriously (as we should), but sometimes we can just laugh and play and have as much confidence that God is with us even then.

Joey Turner, Pastor of Student Ministries at Patterson Park Church, Beavercreek, OH

The type of “Jesus-Centererd” youth activities and events we desire can only come from the moving and working of God. I cant even keep Jesus at the center of my family parties, what hope do I have at keeping him the center of a youth party? But, thanks be to God that our hope is not in “keeping him center,” but in Jesus himself. This example from Spurgeon helps me greatly, “Supposing you should say to me, you who keep a warehouse in the city, ‘Sir, call at my office, and use my name, and say that they are to give you such a thing.’ I should go in and use your name, and I should obtain my request as a matter of right and a matter of necessity. This is virtually what Jesus Christ says to us. ‘If you need anything of God, all that the Father has belongs to Me, go and use My name.’ (Spurgeon – Effective Prayer) So, let us go humbly before our God, yet boldly because of Christ, and ask him to give us the wisdom we need to make Jesus the center of our Christmas parties for His name sake. What I need, and what the youth events I plan need, I cannot supply—but my God can and will!

Rebecca Lankford, Youth Minister at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL

Admittedly, this is an area of youth ministry in which I have failed many a time. I have often driven home from a youth group Christmas party with the conviction that the fun, games, and sugar stole the spotlight that belongs only to Jesus and the good news of his birth. It is easy to become distracted this time of year! With this in mind, I wish I had kept Jesus at the center of my youth group Christmas parties in the past by capitalizing on the way the gospel speaks to students in the stress of exam season. We often host our Christmas party right as the semester is wrapping up and exams are on the horizon. The Christmas party presents a unique opportunity to meet students right before one of the most stressful times for a high schooler and invite them into the peace Jesus offers. To keep Jesus at the center, it would be wise for youth pastors to consider giving a short devotional message about Jesus and exam season to wrap up the evening. What does the arrival of the Savior of the world mean as we take our exams in 2021? How does Jesus’  coming to earth and living the perfect life for us change how we can relate to school and exams? How can we celebrate the arrival of King Jesus even in the midst of the stress of school? By presenting these questions to our students, we offer them an opportunity to lean more into Jesus and his Word as exams begin. Not only that, we ensure that they leave the evening with their eyes fixed not on  the sweets, gaudy sweaters, or the Dirty Santa drama, but on Jesus. 

Matt Brown, Student Pastor at The Gathering Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo

One of the things that Im always wary of is the “Jesus Juke.” It goes like this, “man, it sure is hot out today, you know what is hotter? Hell.” I never want teenagers to feel like I have an agenda. I simply want them to know that they are valued, loved and in every conversation or interaction, show them Christ. Im not much into the attractional ministry or the seeker-sensitive movement. I truly and firmly believe that the only hope in life and death is Jesus Christ and His gospel and we must preach this message to a dark and dying world. However, I think that we can fall into the trap of always having to have a message at every event. If this is done incorrectly, it can come across as a Jesus Juke thereby causing students to think we are simply using them as a means to an end. In my opinion, its okay to have an event where the gospel isnt preached through word. Our actions alone can point to Christ. Jesus can be made much of just by showing up, gathering together as brothers and sisters in Christ, having fun and enjoying each others company. Christ says that he came to give life and life abundantly. This includes playing silly games, laughing with each other, exchanging gifts, wearing ugly sweaters, and eating too many cookies.

Ben Birdsong Minister of Missions at Christ Church, Birmingham, AL

One of the greatest Christmas traditions for kids is story time where everyone gathers together to recount the story of Christmas. For your youth group Christmas party, what if you took advantage of the long-held tradition of Christmas stories and adapted it for teenagers. You could tell the Christmas story from a minor character’s (Joseph, Anna, Simeon, Elizabeth) perspective, read the Christmas story from Sally Lloyd-JonesJesus Storybook Bible, or share a childrens Advent Christmas book that points to the gospel story. The Christmas story could be a 5-10 minute “moment” in the middle of the crazy games, ugly sweaters, and poorly chosen gifts to reflect the true meaning of the season.

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