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FIRST-PERSON: Stop traffic with a live nativity scene

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Picture this: a simple, well-lit stable stands visibly on your church lawn. A lighted sign says “Turn here for free live nativity.” Music is playing and costumed nativity characters create a captivating Christmas-card-like setting. People stop to observe, and church members welcome them with steaming cups of cocoa. The atmosphere is worshipful yet joyfully celebrative.

A live nativity can be an effective, unintimidating witness to your community and may attract hundreds — even thousands — to your church property. Add extra oomph to your church’s nativity with a few of these fresh ideas:


— A giant lighted star high above the church. A searchlight. Laser lights. A roped viewing area to increase street visibility.

— An invitation banner. Business card size invitations for church members to share. Hand-deliver invitations wrapped in small gift boxes to neighbors, media, businesses and city leaders.

— Your nativity float in the town’s parade has strolling shepherds distributing flyers about the live nativity scene.

— Stage the nativity on multiple evenings. How about a Christmas Eve date? A children’s nativity night?

— Nothing stops traffic like live animals — a camel, sheep, baby goat, donkey or chickens in a wooden cage. Take great safety precautions, of course, and remember that animals are merely props — not the focus.


— A stable built to hold angels on its roof. A few hay bales for seated viewing.

— A life-like doll (or baby) represents Jesus.

— Light the church steeple or stained glass and use luminaries or staked Christmas lights to mark a driving route.

— Add beards, wigs, shepherd staffs and creative headwear. Use interesting textured fabrics like fur, shiny lamé or sheepskin. Ask a ladies’ class to craft elegant kings’ gifts or crowns.


— Include many in preparation. Delegate costumes, props, music, construction, lighting, sound system, publicity, traffic plan, animals, literature, refreshments.

— Weeks ahead of time, church members sign up for shifts as a greeter, mingler, helper, traffic director or nativity character. Characters’ shifts are 30 minutes.

— Include singles, widows, teens, new and peripheral church members. Involve all ages — an elderly king, a child shepherd holding a stuffed lamb.

— Two sets of costumes allow smooth shift transitions. Belts, safety pins, vests and draped fabric help size costumes to fit. The dressing area has an atmosphere of joy. And snacks.


— Each shift of characters prays together before reverently taking their place.

— Spotlighting focuses on the Baby. Costumed characters don’t take their eyes off Jesus. Recorded or live music focuses on Christ. Singers sing to Him, not to onlookers.

— Add bits of video, drama, live music or reverent choreography, i.e. characters rotate kneeling beside the Baby; angels with outstretched arms.

— Costumed instrumentalists humbly serenade Jesus, i.e. flutist, guitarist.

— A trio of kings or angels sings to Jesus. A prearranged onlooker in the crowd sings “Silent Night” a cappella. The children’s, youth or adult choir wears biblical costumes, worshipfully sing to Him.


— Give guests a candy cane, Bible, handmade ornament or a well-worded bookmark about the nativity and God’s salvation plan. Every guest receives a verbal and printed invitation to Sunday worship.

— Allow individual children viewers to wear a robe and reverently join the nativity, standing near the manger for a minute or two. Snap a photo and invite parents to pick it up on Sunday.

— Assigned minglers chat with onlookers about the real meaning of Christmas.

Get the picture? A live nativity will stop traffic … and those cars are full of folks who need to meet the Christ of Christmas!
Diana Davis, on the Web at www.keeponshining.com, is the author of the “Fresh Ideas” series; her latest: “Deacon Wives” (B&H Publishing 2009). Her husband is executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.

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  • Diana Davis