The barn, with its burgundy exterior and white-trimmed panes, stands contrasted against the Nebraska sky. Light radiates from within as the sweet melody of a cappella Christmas carols drifts out into the night. Greeters await the guests soon to arrive.
Meanwhile, inside the barn, a small choir sings. Children dressed as shepherds and angels help set the scene, and servers arrange a spread of hot chocolate and cookies. Upstairs, the hayloft is aglow with candles and strands of Christmas lights.
The stage has been set for Henderson (Neb.) MB Church’s Christmas in the Barn service, where the ambiance welcomes people into a time of worship on Christmas Eve.
Henderson MB Church has held its Christmas Eve service in a barn at Mennonite Heritage Park, a historical site north of town, the past three years.
Pastor Luke Haidle says inspiration for the event came from his father, who did something similar while pastoring a church in South Dakota.
“At the heart of it is really this desire to help people to have a worshipful evening but also create a space where people without a church home can encounter God, be reminded of the big picture and hopefully find a church home, whether it’s ours or another one,” Haidle says. “We’ve got a whole host of volunteers that generously give of their Christmas Eve to help pull this off.”
The church holds two, 45-minute services in the barn’s hayloft, giving free tickets to ensure the number of guests stays within the barn’s capacity of about 100 people per service. In addition to the choir music and food, the evening includes singing, led by the church’s worship leader, and a brief devotional by Haidle. At the end of the service, guests receive a gift bag.
The event involves as many as 20 volunteers—including greeters, choir members, servers, worship team members and kids dressed as shepherds and angels—with even more people involved in setup and pre-event preparations. The first two years, the church recruited a couple with a newborn to dress as Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.
Each year, attendance has been maxed out, and in 2018, 30 to 40 people were put on a waiting list. Haidle says the church plans to continue the event and will consider adding a third service as it continues to grow in popularity.
“To hold it in the barn is just such a fun, unique kind of experiential component that doesn’t happen otherwise,” Haidle says. “The atmosphere does provide so much, and then combine that with the classic and beloved Christmas carols being sung well and a simple gospel-centered devotional and some fun treats—it’s a neat evening.”