Planning a Christmas carol service
A Christmas carol service is a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel in song to visitors who may only come to church at that time of year.
I imagine that most churches have a carol service each year, but every church will have its own traditions or style. Perhaps you favour a ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ type service, or something more informal. For our first carol service in Sydney, I asked a soloist to sing the first verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, only to find that no-one was familiar with that carol over here and, being mid-summer, some people came to the carol service straight from the beach, in board shorts and bare feet! Talk about culture shock!
At our church here in Sydney, our annual carol service is usually about an hour long. We don’t have a choir every week, but we do put a choir together for this service, which is always a lot of fun. (As someone whose journey of faith began in a gospel choir, I have a lot of faith for this ministry!) Our service usually includes around half a dozen well-known traditional carols that the congregation will join in singing, some Bible readings, two or three performance items for soloists and the choir, and a gospel message that is no more than ten minutes long. We try to bring some variation from year to year with the traditional carols, though there are some ‘non-negotiables’ such as ‘O come, all ye faithful’. And ‘O holy night’ is ever-popular here.
In putting the service together, we sometimes start with a performance item and welcome, or we may open with a couple of congregational carols. I tend to put the carols together in twos so that people are not doing too much standing up and sitting down. I will usually put a performance item that tells the Christmas story just before or just after the Christmas message is preached and, if we have a printed programme, I will include the lyrics of the performance items as well as those of the congregational carols. For me, the ‘grand finale’ of the service is always ‘Hark the herald angels sing’, which brilliantly communicates the entire Christmas story to the visitor, as well as being a glorious moment of worship for the believer.
I’m familiar with looking high and low for content-rich, musically-interesting performance songs so, for the last few years, I’ve taken to writing some and, more recently, have co-written several with my friends Geraldine Latty and Carey Luce. We have written these songs specifically with your Christmas services in mind.
For an upbeat, joyful gospel song for your choir, you could try ‘Joy (Your Light has come)’ or ‘Come, this holy night’. If you’re looking for songs that tell the whole Christmas story, ‘Jesus our Saviour’, ‘To us He came’ and ‘Long ago’ are effective in doing that. All could be presented with just a soloist, or just a choir, or a combination of the two. ‘Tis the season’ has an evangelistic message and, with its jazz influences, not every church will have musicians who would attempt it, but I’m sure some would be up to the task and enjoy giving it a go. All these songs are on Geraldine’s and my YouTube channels, and on all major streaming platforms as a new album release, simply entitled ‘Christmas’. All chord charts and lead sheets can be found on our websites and at www.songsolutions.org.
If any of these songs are useful to you, I’d love to hear from you and pray your Christmas services will be both worshipful and fruitful. Happy planning!