Changing family structures: how they affect your church’s Christmas celebrations


upset girl without present

♫♫ “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,

If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you” ♫♫

This was once a popular Christmas song. It was comprised in the nineteenth century by an unknown author. It was a song that used to be sung by many people. Our Christmas music has changed a lot in the last few years. Songs that many of us sang so boastfully don’t seem to make much sense any more.

I mean who even eats a goose for Christmas dinner? And why would we care if the goose is getting fat? Giving an old man a penny in today’s world sure wouldn’t mean much. What exactly is a “ha’penny”? And why would God bless us if we don’t have a “ha’penny”?

Just like our old Christmas music has changed, family structures have changed dramatically in the past few years. Even since the first of this century family structure has made significant changes.

  • This year 35% of children in our country live in single parent homes.
  • Approximately 4% live with grandparents.
  • Statistics now show that 8% of kids live in cohabiting domestic partner situations.
  • There are many children who live in a two-parent family but these families have a different structure than what used to be the normal two-parent home with the original birth parents. These two-parent homes are the blended family homes. That means the children in these homes may be involved in joint custody so they actually live in two homes.

If churches want to impact the community where the church is, church leaders and particular children’s ministers and volunteers will need to think through how to do Christmas celebrations.

The new family structures dictate that years-old church traditions may need to be modified or changed in order to accommodate the children from fractured homes in your congregations this Christmas season.

For example perhaps the “Hanging of the Green” that has taken place on Sunday morning could be moved to a Sunday evening service so the child returning from their visitation Sunday afternoon could attend this special event.

If you have family events at Christmas, remember to include the single parent family. For example, if your church lights the advent candles each Sunday leading up to Christmas and you’ve always had the typical two-parent family involved where the father of the family reads one part of a script and the mother reads the other and they both light a candle, think about allowing a single mom with a teen son to be responsible for one Sunday.

Tips to accommodate the single parent families

  • God’s promises through the prophets about the birth of our Savior may get lost on the child who has repeatedly experienced broken promises by a parent. You may need to stop and explain in detail about the prophets foretelling the birth of our Savior.
  • If children are involved in special Christmas programs, cantatas or concerts, find out in advance which child may be visiting the other parent’s home and when that visit will take place. Allow the child to still take part in the event but on a different level, perhaps a behind the scenes role that would be appropriate.
  • If Christmas parties are planned, even if the child of divorce can’t be at the party, make sure to save some cookies and candies for the child who might be visiting the other home.
  • Take a chance and invite the other parent to attend various church events. Depending on the situation, you might check with the parent that brings the child to church to make sure it is okay to do this.
  • One church I know of always has families decorate the Christmas tree. Each family picks out a special Christmas ornament and as a family they come forward and hang their decoration. For the child from a single parent home whose parent doesn’t attend church, the church leaders could find an older couple or a younger couple without children and those adults could accompany the child to the Christmas tree to hang their decoration. Church family can fill the void in the child’s life.

Other suggestions to help the single parent family at Christmas

  • Support programs like “Surviving the Holidays” for the widowed or divorced single parent. If your church doesn’t host “Surviving the Holidays” you can find a church in your area by using the search engine on GriefShare or DivorceCare.
  • Pray collectively as a church for the children of divorce in your community. If your church runs a DivorceCare for Kids program during the year, take time this Christmas season to educate your church about the child of divorce by asking your DC4K leaders to give testimonies about some of the things children of divorce experience and the stress in their young lives.

Take time this year to pray through how God would have you minister to the children in the many changing family structures in our world today. Think through how you might make some small changes in your church’s Christmas traditions to accommodate the children and single parents in your community.

Please share your strategies for Christmas ministry in a world of changing family structures.


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training your children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here

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