Reaching out to my neighbors has never been something that came easily for me. I feel like I’m always headed somewhere and I have to remind myself to make time to have conversations and build those relationships with people I may not have much in common with. HOWEVER, here are some ideas that are EASY to do that I stumbled upon when the girls were little. And God used them to do amazing things!!! I’ll make this short and sweet and give you 3 snapshots of things you can do to use the opportunities that the upcoming holidays provide to give Jesus a “front and center” spotlight in your neighborhood.
Carmel Apple Afternoon –
- This helped my kids to learn to think inclusively because everyone gets invited, pray for their neighbors, and create fun times for relationships to develop with the hope that someday we’d be able to share the hope of Jesus with them.
- We’d pick an afternoon and invite all of the neighborhood kids over (sometimes 12 would come). I’d just print up simple invites a week before and have our girls deliver them (good experience for them in praying first and then taking the initiative). Printed works best because the kids can see it on the frig (as opposed to an evite). When the day came, we’d set up two stations: one with the carmel/apples and one with the toppings. I did the carmel in the kitchen (easy access to the microwave) and the toppings outside (big mess). I always asked one teenager to help me by being outside to help with the toppings (it can get a little out of hand if left alone). Kids come in pairs to get carmel and then head outside for toppings. Sometimes I’d add in bobbing for apples and some other games, but really not needed. The kids LOVED it and always began asking about it when the leaves started turning.
- Individually wrapped Kraft carmels (2 bags with sticks)
- Apples (make sure to get fresh ones that are crispy – I suggest small ones or you’ll have a ton of waste)
- Toppings (think variety: rainbow sprinkles, choc sprinkles, Heath chunks, mini choc chips, mini marshmellows, coconut, mini white choc chips, nerds, choc drizzle/melt chips in Ziploc and cut the corner)
- Sectioned serving tray to put toppings in– Dollar Store
- Plastic spoons
- Small paper plates
New Twist on Trick-or-Treating
We’ve gone back and forth with the whole trick-or-treating thing. In the end, we’ve decided that God is always taking what the enemy intended for evil and using it for good. So we have looked for ways to bring God glory in the midst of a cultural practice that we really don’t like. This one is super simple – but requires being intentional. Every year in the beginning of October, our family looked around for someone to invite to go trick-or-treating. It’s easy to invite family friends and have a fun hangout time. But, we looked around church for a family that was new to our congregation with kids that were around our kids’ ages. We’d invite them and invite another family that was well-established at our church over to share dinner and trick-or-treat together.
- Inviting a new family is kind of a no-brainer. Getting connected in a church is often difficult and discouraging, so inviting them to do this fun activity with us went a long way to helping them call their new church “home”. But I really don’t want to just be about getting people connected to us. That’s why inviting another well-established family is so important. In fact, we try to do this most of the time we invite new families over. We don’t want things revolving around us! We serve to establish connections among others. Plus, it’s good modeling for the family that has been coming to church awhile and maybe needs to begin taking initiative in developing a stronger lifestyle of ministry.
- We leave either the moms or dads home to pass out candy and the others take the kids out. Some years, the ones who are home have also set up a thermos (the 5 gallon kind) with hot chocolate in the driveway. We pass it out to parents as they stop by. Great way to shock people with a simple act of kindness. Super-simple, just heat up hot chocolate in a pot and dump it in. Grab some hot cups and you’re all set!
- A crockpot of chili (maybe some toppings like cheese, onions, crackers?)
- Store-bought cookies
- Simple salad
- Hot chocolate (for when they return)
Old Fashioned Christmas Caroling
So this was a hold-over from our youth ministry days that our kids adopted and loved (but you have to do it before they turn into teenagers if you are doing it as a family). Those same kids that came over to make carmel apples in October, you now invite to come to a Christmas party.
- Have your kids deliver some simple printed invites with the date, time and place for the party, also telling them to dress warmly because we’ll be outside for a little bit. They’ve all been over before and even altogether as a group, so it’s not as weird second time around. I usually threw some hotdogs on the grill so that they all eat together and get used to being together so that when I introduce doing something new, they are more courageous about trying it. When it starts to get dark, I announce that we are going to go “Christmas Caroling” together. I have a few sets of sleigh bells that the kids love to ring (or grab some little bells from the Dollar Store). I found that 80% of the kids in our neighborhood didn’t know any of the “sacred” Christmas songs, like “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “Silent Night” – so we sang mostly secular ones that they knew. We rotated who gets to ring the bells, usually sang two songs at each house and came back to our house after about 30 minutes. Once everyone got inside, winter gear off, and settled down with a mug of hot chocolate, I took out a book with the simple story of Christmas. I’d ask why they think we celebrate Christmas (having coached my kids to hold back on the answers). Every year, I found that the kids were shocked that there was a baby that was born in a barn and when I asked if they could guess what his mamma named him, they made every guess in the book: “John… Joe….Carter….” and on and on. They had no idea who Jesus is – and this was the first time they got to hear about God coming to earth to show them how much He loves them. Pretty cool!
- Hot dogs/buns/condiments
- Bells of some kind
- Story of Christmas book (here are some suggestions if you don’t have one)
- The Beginner’s Bible The Very First Christmas by Zonderkidz (Click here for link)
- The Christmas Story for Children by Max Lucado (Click here for link)
So try one or all of these ideas – or let these jump start your creativity.
But find a way to use these opportunities already in our culture to point those around you to the hope of Jesus. It may prove to be the highlight of your season!