Start Planning Your Nativity Play

Christmas is coming! And for those of us lucky enough to be involved in children’s ministry, that means it’s Nativity time!

Paula's Christmas tree.

Last week on the blog we talked about praying over our marriages. You can find that post here.

It’s time to start thinking about this year’s nativity plays. They always seem to sneak up on you! I think it’s because “rehearsals” are only usually one hour a week at most during Sunday School and then it’s time to show the entire congregation what you’ve all been working on. That’s a lot of pressure!

I thought for today’s blog, I’d look at some of the ways you can approach a nativity play.

First, think about who you’re working with. Do you have half a dozen kids, or 40+ spread over several classes? Are there good readers in your group? Confident singers and speakers? Do they come to church regularly so you can count on them being there for the show? Can you encourage them and speak to their parents about coming every week until Christmas?

And in this day and age, are there Covid restrictions in place that you’ll need to consider, such as masks, social distancing, keeping groups apart, etc.? Last year many churches asked parents to film their kids reading their lines at home in costume and then shared a compilation video with the congregation. If you have multiple classes, each class might have their own section to perform on the day to maintain class bubbles. Can children sing in the sanctuary? You may need to find recordings of the music you want to include.

Typically, a nativity should have all the kids on stage at some point. There is usually one or more narrators who are strong readers and confident speakers. While it’s great when these are the kids themselves, a Sunday School leader can also take this role on to keep the play moving. There’s a storyline that comes back to Jesus’ birth. There are costumes. And there is music.

You can stick to the traditional story of Jesus’ birth, share that story from different perspectives (maybe the innkeeper’s, or the wise men), or come up with a totally new take on the Christmas story. It’s up to you. You can find nativity plays online, in Christian bookstores, or just speaking with fellow kidmin leaders.

Don’t feel like you have to use someone else’s play. If you’re thinking about coming up with your own this year, one place to start is music. What songs do you want to include? Start singing those with your kids every week. Think about how to connect the songs up with a little story that relates to Christmas, and write out the basics of the story. That will become the basis for the narrator’s lines. 

Who needs to speak in your story? Write out what they’ll say. Send home one copy and then paste the lines onto the back of a prop that they can hold during the play (such as a staff, rock, doll etc.). For large groups, have lots of background characters with one or two lines to get more kids involved. For preschoolers and early readers, go over their lines with them several times each week, but also be prepared to whisper the lines to them during the show.

And through all the craziness and stress that preparing for a nativity can be, let’s stay focused on what’s important. We are sharing the story of Jesus’ birth, and the children we work with are having fun and connecting with the wider church family. Encourage the children to volunteer for the roles rather than assigning them, as some might not be comfortable on stage while others will jump at the chance. Nobody wants a child crying on stage. 

One final note: go with the flow. When my oldest daughter was 3, she was the angel in our church nativity play. She flat out refused to wear the beautiful white children’s choir gown the ladies had found for her, and instead insisted on wearing her Olaf costume (from the movie Frozen). It was fine, and also very memorable.

Best of luck with your play this year. Getting an early start will help a lot, trust me. And be sure to let us know what play you or your church is doing this year!