An Advent devotional booklet can encourage families and individuals to take time at home to remember what Christ's birth means. What we believe and what we do can come together in a special way at this time of year. An Advent booklet is one way to remind us of this connection and give those in the congregation a common experience between Sundays.
There are plenty of Advent devotionals on the market, many priced for bulk purchase by congregations to give out before the start of the season. (The Calendar of Devotions by Robert V. Dodd, for example, is only 75¢!) Some churches, however, choose to write their own devotions—not an inconsiderable undertaking in terms of time, effort, and money, but you get something more personal to the congregation that can coordinate with a sermon series, mission focus, or other emphasis you are leading.
If you're considering writing your own, read on for ideas and advice:
Choose a Theme
Themes for Advent devotionals, if not planned around a sermon series or other larger initiative, are often organized by the ''names'' for the candles to be lit both at home and during Sunday worship services: Hope, Joy, Love, Peace. Each week would include seven devotions pertaining to the week's candle.
Other theme ideas could be:
- Characters in the Christmas story: Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, Elizabeth, etc.
- Conditions Christ came to rid the world of: hunger, homelessness, prejudice, injustice, etc.
- Gifts for the Christ Child: our hearts, souls, minds, and strength
Choose a Format
Advent devotionals have only one truly essential element: Scripture. Most also include written meditations, reflections, or short stories. Add other elements if you wish, but keep the format the same each week. Having a format creates a sense of rhythm and helps non-readers to anticipate what will happen next. You can also include a short note or letter in the front, explaining how to use each devotional and why it matters.
In addition to the aforementioned elements, you could incorporate any of the following:
- words for the lighting and extinguishing of the candles, if you encourage families to have their own Advent wreath at home.
- favorite songs, hymns, carols, or canticles
- illustrations (either original drawings or reprints that you have permission to use)
- questions/discussion guides for the Scripture passage
- activities and/or games
Ask several questions about your devotionals to make sure they fit your setting and needs. Can they be done by families with preschoolers? Can they be done by persons living alone? Are they written so that third graders can read them and participate easily? Do they need to be large print or loaded on your church website in audio to meet impaired individuals' needs? Could they be sent out in daily emails? Do we need to ask for copyright releases for some materials used? And most importantly, who will write the devotionals?
Try to involve as many people as possible in the process, but have one person to edit the entire booklet to catch errors and ensure stylistic consistency. You have several possibilities for getting the devotionals written.
- Ask four families or individuals to each write a week of devotions.
- Ask small groups to contribute various elements pertaining to the theme. For example, the children could work on original art for illustrations. The youth group could design all the activities or games. Another group could choose favorite songs, carols, or hymns. You might even have some people (other than your pastor) who enjoy writing short prayers that everyone can learn.
- Ask experienced teachers to write some discussion questions for each devotional that appeal to a broad age span and people's Christian walk.
- Invite the whole congregation to submit devotions on the chosen theme for consideration.
Designing and Printing
Having a professional or amateur graphic designer on your staff or among your members is a big plus when it comes to creating a visually appealing and user-friendly booklet. Coordinate the cover image with other Advent visuals like your bulletin, series theme, or altar display. If you have a good color printer, you can print it yourself and call together a team of volunteers to assemble them. Local printing companies can deliver your finished product quickly as well.
If you don't have anyone able and willing to produce the booklet, and you don't want to worry about formatting it yourself or getting the file types right for the printer, there are also online services you can use that will take your written content and do the rest. Parthenon Press is one that specializes in church publications like devotionals, sermon collections, and cookbooks.
No matter which options you choose, get people of all ages involved, and have fun!