You've seen it: when school starts, stores start rolling out their fall and Christmas decor. During September, everything begins to switch to the reds, greens, silvers, and blues, and you know Christmas is coming. By Thanksgiving, Christmas plans should be in place; otherwise, it is too late to find resources and other items you need. Do not let that scare you, though! There are great ways to get ahead when planning for Christmas, so you, the children's minister, are not rushing to all the stores to round up supplies. As you encourage families to take time to celebrate the gift of Jesus, you also need to organize your planning to take part in that celebration. 

First, look at your curriculum. Is there anything lined out for theme planning (i.e., Sunday School room or worship room decor)? If the theme of lessons involves snow, going with white and blue would be best. If the theme of lessons involves traditional colors, reds and greens are what you will look for. And finally, if it goes off the path and involves bright and vibrant lights, you can mix and match all sorts of colors in your area. The curriculum may even link to places to purchase items or give specific color schemes to keep everything unified. 

Next, look at your timeline of events. Does your church have special events around Christmas that would mean decorations need to be in place prior to December? Start with the end in mind, Christmas or Christmas Eve services, and move to the present to set up a timeline of events and details you need to have in place. Knowing your deadlines will help you plan more effectively and efficiently. 

Take another look at the lessons outlined in your curriculum and begin creating supply lists. This list can also include what needs to be printed or copied and the paper you may need to purchase for those items. Will your children's ministry have a special family experience or other events throughout the Christmas season? If so, begin creating lists of supplies needed for those special moments. Think through every detail, including the number of potential participants, giveaways, rooms to decorate, any snacks you plan to serve, and copies to make. If the curriculum does not outline any special experiences, plan for some time to create your own! To do so, research and/or purchase other Christmas programs, family events, or short series of lessons that would work perfectly in your setting. Ask questions like: What is the end goal we want kids to walk away knowing? What hands-on activities do we need to prepare to engage kids in a new way? What technology is required? Do we need to adjust the Sunday School schedule to fit new activities? What supplies are essential, and with what ones can I be creative or not worry?

Once you have supply lists, examine your current resources. It is a great time to use things that haven't been used in a long time. Begin pulling all that you may need to the side so it can be saved for the Christmas events. Next, look at bulk purchasing on Oriental Trading, Walmart, or Amazon. Saving money is essential when you may have the highest numbers of the year attending weekend events. Think through the amount and add 10 to everything, so you are sure to have enough supplies. 

Now, enlist some help! Always be looking to what can be delegated to a team of volunteers. You may have volunteers who love decorating, filling giveaway bags, preparing activities, or making copies. Now is the time to begin asking for anything you can think of to delegate. If you have an eager volunteer, invite them to loop in some of their family members or friends to assist you in preparations. Think about those that may be free during the day or could take copies home to sort. Getting creative with volunteer teams will save time when you get closer to Christmas. 

Do not forget to get volunteer gifts prepped and ready. Christmas is a great time to thank the volunteers who have served throughout the fall. Anything from an ornament to a gift card would be an impactful, extra mile step. Especially if you have volunteers carrying some of the preparation weight, any way you can show them their value would be so appreciated. If you have gathered your volunteers' "favorites" on lists, Christmas is a great time to gift them a few items that will be extra meaningful. Depending on your number of volunteers, planning extra time to put these items together will benefit you in the long run. 

As you continue to work through the lists you've created, look at discount stores for Christmas trees on sale. Depending on the size of your area, you may need to add some or even get some to start. Christmas trees with simple lights make for an easy photo area, worship background, or setting to host groups coming through your Christmas experience. If you have the budget, offering Sunday School teachers an opportunity to decorate with their classes can add a fun competition and team-building activity to the holiday season. 

Finally, if you already know the curriculum, supply lists, volunteer teams, parts to delegate, and things to purchase online, begin creating examples. This will help with any activities you may do during Sunday School or worship time. It would be wise to create one example per Sunday School group so volunteers and substitutes can easily see what the finished product should be. Depending on the difficulty, creating a video to send to volunteers is extremely helpful. This video could walk them through the family experience, their requirements, or how to do the activities you have planned. 

Sidenote: take a moment to remind yourself to jot down what worked and what did not as you continue to prepare. If you know you will need double the trees, garlands, or other supplies next year, set a reminder to look at the Christmas clearance and stock up for the following year. Purchasing and putting together those small items might save you even more time researching and purchasing the following year. 

There is no time like the present to get ahead on planning for the Christmas season for your Sunday School groups. Always begin with the end in mind and work backwards to avoid missing a deadline or thinking about how long planning may take. Engaging your volunteer team early will build excitement and allow time for buy-in, especially if there is a special event taking place. Last but not least, do not compare or think you have to have the biggest and best that money can buy. Remember, Christmas is all about celebrating the Savior. If that is all kids hear and you have done your best to ensure they leave knowing Jesus is the best gift we could ever receive, then you have done the best job. Remember to keep the main thing the main thing, and every moment spent planning early will pay off in a less stressed, more present, Children's Minister and team. 

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