A s with many things in our current society, the cultural impacts upon church holidays like Easter and Christmas can often give children mixed messages of the true reason we as Christians celebrate. Our church, The Bridge, in Johnston, Iowa, has had a strong commitment to build bridges to the next generation, both inside and outside the walls of the church. Part of this vision has included thoughtful work to provide family-friendly outreach events at Easter and Christmas that are both Christ-centered and appealing for today’s young families to participate in together.
The Bridge used to host an annual children’s Christmas program for children and families in the church. While those programs were wonderful and heartfelt, we started asking how we might shift our Children’s Ministry Christmas and Easter events to bless the community as well. It’s been an evolving process and game plan from year to year that has included live nativities, gingerbread nativity building, and, most recently, a Christmas carnival, which we called, “The Reason for the Season Christmas Carnival.” All of our events are free, which gives families an affordable outing to spend time together in an environment crafted especially for them with the message of Jesus at the center.
The carnival involved sharing the story of Jesus’s birth, carnival games for kids, and a free meal of carnival themed foods. It was a “come and go” event where families were welcome to roam from booth to booth. The creativity and ingenuity of our staff and volunteer team was incredible. From the initial brainstorming to the actual execution of the event, we worked to craft an atmosphere that could cultivate and provide easy on-ramps for children and families in our community to experience “church” as a safe and non-intimidating space.
We understand not every family desires to walk into a church for the typical Sunday morning experience, but they are often more open to attend a fun, family event geared for their kids. We had an estimated 1,500 people attend this year’s carnival—and a vast majority of them were guests from the community. Our goal in this kind of ministry work is not to ensure more people join our church, but rather to be a presence and blessing in our community. It’s a planting of seeds, if you will.
At events of this nature, some attendees already have a church, some attendees will be looking for a church to call home, some attendees might be stepping foot into a church for the first time, or have perhaps had negative experiences with “church” in the past. In all of these, our belief is that the Holy Spirit is at work in different but perfect ways as people experience the love of Christ and fellowship in community—sometimes through corndogs and carnival games.
*Photo courtesy Bep Reeves
Rev. Bep Reeves
Rev. Bep Reeves serves as family ministries coordinator at The Bridge, a church in Johnston, Iowa. She is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.