JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (BP) — Long before Thanksgiving, and even Halloween, Eastern Heights Baptist Church was getting ready for Christmas.
For the third consecutive year, the Southern Baptist church is participating in The Manger Build, a project to help men keep Christ in front of their families at Christmas.
It’s a day of excitement as fathers and children gather to build a life-sized wooden manger to take home or give to a neighbor as a reminder of the reason for the season, said Patrick Lynch, associate pastor at the Jeffersonville church in southern Indiana.
“When everyone gets together in the foyer area, it’s 30 hammers going at once,” said Lynch, who directs the event. “It’s overwhelmingly loud and kids and dads are getting together. The moment they grab their kits, that’s when the fun starts.”
The Manger Build was designed by Mike Young, founder of Noble Warriors (www.noblewarriors.org), a men’s ministry based in Midlothian, Va., near Richmond.
It started more than a decade ago as a hobby. Formerly employed in his family’s construction business, Young gathered his four children in their garage to look for materials they could use to build a manger.
After organizing Noble Warriors in 2005, Young said he wondered if other men would be interested in participating if he cut the wood.
“We came up with the design we use now,” said Young, a member of Parkway Baptist Church in Moseley, Va. “I put out an email to my network and 21 families showed up to build one at a United Methodist church in our community.
“The guys loved it. From the first experience until now, every church that does this says it’s loud and a little chaotic. But the photos are always the same — dads on the floor with hammer and nails, coaching kids, and the kids are excited.”
Noble Warriors didn’t move its Manger Build kit into the marketplace until 2013. Over the past two years 200 churches in 32 states have participated, including a number of Southern Baptist congregations.
The kit, priced at $74.99, includes a 50-page church resource manual, an instructional DVD, 10 participants’ guides with a week of devotionals for home use, and several promotional posters.
Young said churches still have to buy the lumber, nails and other materials to assemble the mangers, a cost that can be defrayed by each family providing a materials fee.
In early September, Noble Warriors released an additional resource, Dad’s Tools ($29.99), which fathers can use to build a small manger at home. That kit includes wood, nails, sandpaper and an instruction-activity booklet.
Beyond its Christmas focus, the overarching vision of The Manger Build is to help churches lead men toward long-term discipleship and spiritual leadership in their families throughout the year.
At Eastern Heights Baptist Church, 15 mangers were assembled last year. Attendees included a couple grandfathers and some men for children of single mothers, Lynch said.
“What we like about it is it’s such an easy set-up,” Lynch said. “The dads win out as a hero and it’s a quick clean-up afterwards. It’s the perfect project for dads. We usually have a sample made and it ends up in the children’s ministry department and on stage Christmas Eve.”
When Bethel Baptist Church in Yorktown, Va., organized its first build last year, project coordinator Joe Blanchard thought 30 families might show up. Instead, the church wound up with 77 fathers, 150 children and 22 coaches who helped where needed.
The sign-up proved so successful that Noble Warriors sent a video crew to record the festivities, which can be viewed at https://vimeopro.com/noblewarriors/the-bethel-story.
“I’m a detail person,” said Blanchard, a general contractor and longtime Bethel member. “I went by the book 95 percent of the time [to organize The Manger Build]. The day of the event I was sitting back, twiddling my thumbs because my work was done.”
Blanchard said he started two months ahead of time, first praying about who to include on the six-member team to implement the build.
The church learned about it through senior pastor Doug Echols, who had participated in The Manger Build while at another church.
Blanchard already had plenty of experience in hands-on missions. He served as World Changers’ construction coordinator in Norfolk, Va., from 2010-12 and leads a Bethel Baptist ministry that periodically fixes up homes in the Yorktown area.
Last summer, Blanchard led a 23-member crew to Vermont to help renovate dormitory rooms for Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington.
Not surprisingly, missions was uppermost in his mind when members discussed whether to extend invitations to people outside the church for The Manger Build.
“If we’re going to do a ministry thing, I want to do it outside the church,” Blanchard said. “We had guys signing up and telling guys at work about it. Thirty-three percent of the fathers who came weren’t part of our church.”
Bethel won’t be participating this year, however. With Easter falling on the last Sunday of March, the church backed up its Upward Basketball season. That meant the gym isn’t available, Blanchard said.
But he is looking forward to its return in 2016.
“I think the next time we do it, it will be even bigger,” Blanchard said. “I think the best part is seeing kids’ excitement after the mangers are built. In 20 to 30 minutes you turn this pile of wood into something. To see how proud they were and involvement between fathers and their kids is exciting.”