My favorite holiday event, believe it or not, was the one we didn’t have.

Along the way as a children’s pastor, I learned that a volunteer’s time should be protected. As paid staff, I always got a day off. The day off for my volunteers (from their workaday jobs) is Saturday. I came to realize that if I fill that day with ministry, it’s like me losing my day off. Sometimes it has to be done, but do make an effort to guard your volunteers’ time.

So it was time for the fall harvest carnival. You know, when huge numbers of kids come to the church to have fun with booths, prizes, candy, costumes, and fun. How does that happen? With huge numbers of volunteer hours—building booths, manning booths, collecting props, collecting candy and prizes, running the big event, and of course, cleanup.

There had to be a better way. We found it. We rented the roller-skating rink and invited kids to come to a night of free skating. They could come in costume, and there were bags of candies to give away, but, amazingly, we needed almost no staff. There was no prep time and no cleanup. The roller-skating rink provided all the needed staff. We brought our own music and had our own schedule. Every hour we had a 12-minute break where the kids came to the middle of the rink, sat down, and heard about Jesus. (After all, we had rented the whole place.) Kids got saved and families got touched.

We, as workers, had time to skate with kids. We got to sit around and talk with parents. We got to do lots of things that helped us build friendships with the visitors who came.

We soon found that we had 90 percent less work and nearly all of the value. We blessed our church folks with a great alternative. We reached lots and lots of families. And we protected the time and energy of our volunteers.

Note: Other people have found that a “trunk or treat” works well as another alternative. Parents park their cars in the church parking lot, open their trunks, and have some sort of fun booth type game right in their trunk.

Our favorite holiday event was the “Fall Harvest Party” we didn’t have. We replaced it with our annual tradition of a roller-skating party. By the way, renting the rink cost less than constructing all the booths and handing out all the prizes!