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Members of The River Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Allegan, Mich., put together a different kind of Christmas pageant this year. It was a first for the re-emerging congregation that saw almost all its members welcoming the church’s neighbors to experience the story of Jesus’ birth in four walk-through scenes.

“The goal was to plan an open house event that would be a team effort by our congregation and church renewal team and that would be a gift to the Allegan community,” said Kathy Estelle, the church’s volunteer worship planner and main organizer of the event. For a number of weeks, the church invited people through its roadside sign and by invitations shared at preschool groups to friends and neighbors and to visitors of the monthly Feed America mobile food pantry supported by the church.

During the fourth week of Advent, visitors took “The Road to Bethlehem” laid out in the church’s classrooms. They were accompanied by narrator guides. The interactive performance was Estelle’s adaptation of “Christmas Crossroads,” a 1995 musical by Dennis and Nan Allen. “We had about 55 people attend, many from the community. We ran the tour six times and then let the actors join in the activities in the main room,” Estelle said. “The relaxed setting in the main room allowed the opportunity to get to know our guests. We are very pleased with the outcome.”

The Church Renewal Lab is a two-year training program run out of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., to help congregations become more mission minded. The River Church is in the second year of the process, begun in the summer of 2015. James Dykstra, who came to the church as pastor at that time, said this Christmas community event is one of the steps on the church’s journey. “We have started an adult discipleship plan on Wednesday nights this fall and will be adding a girls’ club after the first of the year. . . . God is doing great things in and through us, and we appreciate the support and prayers of many friends in the body of Christ,” Dykstra said.

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