3 Keys for a Peace-Filled Church Christmas Production

This article is an excerpt from CCS’s Christmas Idea Kit. Authors: Susan Fontaine Godwin, Ralph Gudeman and Jason Whatley.

It’s the time of year when all thoughts turn to church Christmas productions….a time to think of mangers, shepherds, angels, and baby Jesus. It’s the season to find the perfect production to help your congregation celebrate the holy days, and to embrace and invite your surrounding community to experience the true spirit of Christmas.

You know that time of year…July. If you’re a little past that, don’t worry; we want to  provide you with some practical tips to help you navigate last minute details for your Christmas production. Here are three guidelines that help you operate in a spirit of peace and joy as you work on your holiday program.

1. Leading

Preparation

Few things can build a team’s respect like being prepared through every step of your production organization. Likewise, there are few things that can be done to overcome a lack of preparation and planning. Walk through rehearsals in your mind before you meet and plan for “what if” scenarios. For example, “What do I do if the lead can’t hit the high parts of his or her song?” Plan your practices and rehearsals out to 5 minute increments, and stick to the schedule.

Expectations

Begin practice on time and end on time (this shows respect for those who are prepared and honors participants’ commitments by not running late). For the most part, people tend to do what’s expected of them. If you’re clear from the beginning what your expectations are, it can eliminate conflict later. Start strong; it’s difficult to play catch up late if you get off to a poor start. If you or one of your volunteers is having trouble with a part or you feel that there is a performance issue, be gentle but direct.

Remember, “praise in public, correct in private.” When utilizing young performers, it’s important to keep their parents involved throughout the entire process. Have parents attend the informational meetings and make sure they receive copies of rehearsal schedules and volunteer expectations. If there becomes an issue with a younger performer, it’s always best to include the parent in any discussion.

Difficult Topics

If one of your volunteers is having trouble with a part or you feel that there is a performance issue, be gentle but direct. Remember, “praise in public, correct in private.” When utilizing young performers, it’s important to keep their parents involved throughout the entire process. Have parents attend the informational meetings and make sure they receive copies of rehearsal schedules and volunteer expectations. If there becomes an issue with a younger performer, it’s always best to include the parent in any discussion.

“Always keep the pastor informed and seek their advice. In this way, no one can go around you and create a conflict between you and the pastor,” Ralph Gudeman says.

2. Matching Your Abilities in the Program Selection Criteria

It’s imperative to be honest with yourself regarding your abilities and experience in choosing the right Christmas production. If you have been a music director for all of six months and have a choir of five, this is not the year to perform Handel’s Messiah. This means that your team needs a realistic view of their skills and time to dedicate towards practice. As the director, it is your job to coach and encourage your team to perform at their best. Nothing kills the Christmas spirit quicker than realizing you have bitten off more than you can chew.

Enjoy the Christmas season by picking a production that is moving yet accessible. If you are a smaller congregation look for simpler productions, focus on the story from the perspective of a disciple or v character. These can be incredibly moving without requiring the high budget high commitment aspects of larger and more ornate productions. When selecting your program, congregational tastes and your experience isn’t your only limiting factor. It takes a cohesive team of passionate volunteers to pull off a successful Christmas program and all teams have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to step back and take an objective inventory of your team’s abilities. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

“A Christmas production is not an opportunity to sway the congregation’s tastes in theater or teach them ‘what good music is;’ that’s not our role as music directors. It’s an opportunity to complement the congregation’s tastes in a way that celebrates the birth of Christ. An opportunity to allow the people to dive deeper without necessarily changing directions,” says Gudeman.

3. Keeping It Legal

As a pastor, worship leaders or creative arts director, you probably remember scrambling last year at the 11th hour trying to obtain copyright clearances for rehearsal copies, CD, MP3s, DVD videos and custom arrangements. You may have found it very difficult, if not impossible, to get clearances prior to your production and may have even faced denials, extremely high royalty rates, or even infringement fines. It’s important to utilize the many church blanket licenses to simplify the licensing process. Download the Blanket License Fact Sheet to learn more details about what the various blanket licenses cover.

The more creative your program, the more complex copyright issues can surface.

The Key to a copyright compliant Christmas program is P.L.A.N.

Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work.

Learn the basics of the Copyright Law or let a copyright professional help you with research and licenses.

Allow enough time to research and obtain permission.

Never use copyright material without permission or exemption.

  • Planning your Christmas Project
    • Budgeting (including estimated license royalties)
    • Dates, Licensing Deadlines
    • Christian vs Secular Works
    • Many Types of Copyrighted Materials
      • Licensing Checklist: Song information Authors, Recordings, photos, scripts, etc. (Things you need chart)
  • Preparing your Musicians
    • Getting Enough Music
      • PraiseCharts
      • CCLI Rehearsal License
      • Retail Purchases (LIFEWAY, Word, Integrity, Brentwood-Benson)
      • Licensing New Products (Photocopies)
    • Custom Arrangements
      • Medleys
      • Public Domain vs Copyrighted Carols
    • Using Sound Recordings additional details
    • Preparing for the Production
    • Organizing your Volunteers and Creative Teams
    • Signed Releases by Musicians and performers featured Scripts and literary content
    • Publicity and Advertising
    • Projected Lyrics, Video Clips, Images, Trademarks,
  • Day of Performance (Live/Streamed)
  • Remembering your Event
    • CDs
    • DVDs
    • Digital Memories (Archived Streaming, Digital Downloads)

CCS greatly appreciates the contribution to this article made by Ralph Gudeman Worship Arts Minister Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, AL Full-time Ministry Experience: 38 years M.M., Vocal Performance, Boston University.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.