I’m a big fan of Christmas Eve. Attendance is generally up at all churches during the Christmas season as even the most unchurched have a little voice nagging them to go. We’ve decided at Brookwood Church to put all our musical eggs in the Christmas Eve basket because it’s THE service of the year (along with Easter Sunday), even beyond Christmas cantatas and December Sundays, when people are most likely to darken the door of a church.
Make an effort to create a special service on Christmas Eve. It’s hard enough to find musicians on Christmas Eve at a big church like Brookwood but it was even more difficult to find players at the 300 member church where I was a music director several years ago (that’s why I’ve created my Christmas Service Guides – you can pull off a beautiful service with only a capable pianist and worship leader, or just use tracks.)
In the smaller church we’d go acoustic (me on piano, acoustic guitar and bass) which was a nice vibe for the evening anyway. We rented a baby grand piano, set it in the center of the room and had the service “in the round” to change things up (I used a synth keyboard from a small stage otherwise.) Our tech guy hung a few extra, inexpensive lights to create a cozy mood and I downloaded the prettiest worship video backgrounds I could find.
At Brookwood I’ve discovered a few elements we do year after year that simply work:
Instrumental praise band piece: We always have an elaborate instrumental that allows our praise band to flex their musical muscles. In years past we’ve done the famous “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and last year we premiered my “Christmas Concerto.” With all my instrumental pieces I try to include some sparkly feature. With the Concerto it’s the Harry Potterish celeste opening with boy’s choir. For my “Resurrection Overture” at Easter I used bagpipe. This year I’m doing a crazy Phantom of the Opera-type organ opening. UPDATE 11-29-10 I’m calling this piece “Christmas Fantasia.” You can hear it and download it for your own church at this link.
Children: Kids involved in our Christmas Eve Service means parents and family attend. The kids sing along with the congregation and do a special with the choir. (Watch them sing “Go Tell It On the Mountain” from our Christmas Eve service last year.)
Choir: Believe or not I’ve received complaint emails that I talk about choirs too much lately. But I can’t help it – even though we have distorted guitars wailing that would cause most music directors to be fired, we still have a praise choir and the congregation LOVES it. Our terrific praise choir knows what a big deal Christmas Eve is and is willing to make the sacrifice of three services. Their added presence definitely adds life to the stage.
Carol singing: I like a mix of performance “wow” pieces as well as congregational involvement. Everyone likes singing carols, but too many can be wearing. This year we’re doing my arrangements of O Little Town of Bethlehem followed by Go Tell It On the Mountain. Then we’ll flow into the part of “Mighty to Save” that goes “Shine your light and let the whole word see…” which recaps the theme of “Go Tell It” perfectly.
Candle lighting: After our pastor’s message we sing “Silent Night” and everyone in the room lights a candle. By the time all the candles are lit we sing the last verse acapella – wow!
Familiar carols & new songs: Mixing old and new – that says it all for the 21st century worship leader, doesn’t it? Along with familiar carols we’ll do new Christmas songs, only in our case they’re songs we’ve written ourselves.
Snow: Everything I’ve mentioned so far is something a 300 member church can pull off, except maybe this one. A few years ago I was at Disney during the holidays and loved how they have snow falling on main street (in Florida!) It’s this soapy stuff that dissolves when it hits the ground. I was telling worship leader Steve Smith about it and he said “why not try it?” We rented a few snow blowers and let it snow during the big final song (the loud climax of the song covers the blower noise.)
Here’s a rundown of what we’re planning for this year’s Christmas Eve Service:
Organ / praise band opening instrumental
Congregational singing with kids/choir
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Go Tell It On the Mountain
Mighty to Save
(Special number written by Steve Smith, VeggieTales songwriter Tim Hardin and I featuring the kids & choir.)
O Holy Night
(Special with choir/soloist – kids leave the stage.)
Peace On Earth
(Acoustic version of the new song I wrote with Adam Fisher. Choir will join on the last chorus an on the final chord we’ll start singing “Silent Night” acapella as everyone lights their candles.)
Love Came Down
(A new song I’ve written with Adam Fisher. Big key change at the end with snow.)
What single, special thing can you do this year to spruce up your own Christmas Eve service?