It is around this time of year that many of us are hosting Christmas parties. They may be for students, your volunteers, or just a personal one at home. But if you are like many churches, your budget probably has taken a hit over the last couple of years and your parties are probably looking or going to look a little different as a result. Now it could be easy to lament and throw out all the reasons this affords us problems and more difficulties, but that would be neither helpful nor encouraging. I would like to suggest a different option: be creative with what you do have and focus on making the party meaningful and intentional.

This may sound like a pass when it comes this time of year because we think about all that we have done in the past and what we could do with a proper budget. But it benefits no one to bemoan what cannot be changed. Instead, seeking to do what you can with what you have and focusing on the people you are blessing will help make these moments a success.

Today, I want to offer you three party ideas that you can host on little to no budget, but before I do, I want to highlight a few areas where we as leaders must lead out in these moments.

  • Have a positive attitude. Your attitude will set the tone of the party. If you are upset, frustrated, or bitter going into it, others will pick up on it and respond in kind. So be positive and excited about what you have planned.
  • Utilize décor where you can. Even on a minimal or empty budget, there are ways to get creative with decoration and ambiance. You could utilize someone’s fake Christmas tree, you could bring in flowers or greenery from outdoors, you could put out tablecloths, you could play music, or you could utilize items from your home or homes of other people you know. All of these help to make the atmosphere feel special and intentional.
  • Always have music. Using music to break up the silence is an easy way to make the environment feel intentional. You can leverage any number of free services like Pandora or Spotify to play music, lighten the mood, and encourage fellowship.
  • If possible, have food. This is tough when you don’t have a budget, but think about different options. Maybe a local supermarket would be willing to donate. Perhaps there is a local family who butchers their own animals and could donate some food. Or maybe someone in your church would be willing to donate hotdogs for a grill out. Or maybe you just bake a bunch of the snap-and-bake cookies. Any of these options could work, and will help you generate the atmosphere you are looking for.
  • Be creative and have fun. If you have to come up with new and unique ways to have a party or gathering because the budget has been cut, it is easy to focus on the negatives or what we don’t have. But when we do that, it keeps us from utilizing our talents and creativity to have a unique and different party. So think outside the box, build a fun gathering, cast vision well, laugh a lot, and look to have a unique party that people will enjoy.

1. A breakfast or dessert party.

This is a fun and relatively easy one to host and it can be done in a couple different ways. One way to pull this off is to ask the parents of students to provide the food for the party. We did this for our leader Christmas party and it was fantastic. We did a dessert and hot coffee/cocoa bar, and the amount of desserts that came was overwhelming. Parents went above and beyond in what they provided and were completely behind an opportunity to encourage and bless our leaders.

The second option would be to do a potluck with those who are coming. At first glance, this feels like a tacky way to have food at your party, but it is all in how you cast the vision. If you simply drop this on your people right before the party, then it will feel tacky. But if you cast the vision and the intention of doing so, it will bring people in even more. To say the week of “bring a dish to share” versus telling your people a month before to “bring your favorite Christmas dish and we will share our food, recipes, and stories of how we got them,” will generate very different responses and outcomes. So think about how and why you will cast this vision and party, and then implement it.

2. A White Elephant or Secret Santa party.

This is something we often associate with student Christmas parties, but maybe not so much with our adult volunteers. However, these could be fun parties to have throughout the year and with a multitude of different settings and groups. How fun would a White Elephant Gift Exchange be to celebrate the end of the year or to kick off the start of a new semester? You could even theme the gift exchange to bring another unique element to it. You could do an “upcycled gift exchange,” “a re-gifted exchange,” or one that has a dollar amount attached to the exchange (i.e. $5 or less).

Bringing in Secret Santa throughout the year would also allow for your leaders to bless one another and to help foster the culture and community you desire. It will generate ways to care for and love others in your group while having fun doing so. If you choose to incorporate these ideas throughout the year, I would recommend thinking about changing the names to something that highlights it isn’t just part of the Christmas season (i.e. change Secret Santa to Secret Leader or Anonymous Leader Blessing). As you bring these ideas into your parties, they can help you leverage these moments to greatly encourage, bless, and care for your people in a unique and creative way.

3. A game party.

This is one that should be fairly easy for youth workers to host. Challenge your volunteers to bring their favorite games from home to play with each other, and then utilize other games that you have on hand as well. Our volunteers love to compete, but often tone it back when doing so with students. You are now giving them the opportunity to have fun and go all out while playing together.

I would also encourage you to put out some active games too. I know for our ministry we have leaders who love bag toss/cornhole, GaGaBall, and 9 Square. We have these and it is so much fun watching my leaders play together. They laugh with one another, they have friendly banter, and they ultimately just fellowship with each other. You may not have those activities, but put out a frisbee or play kickball together. Doing these types of activities and just having fun is huge as it helps to foster an environment and culture that you need.

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