By David Dawson
PARIS — Traffic jams generally aren’t something to smile about.
But Chris Downing, pastor of New Harmony Baptist Church, Paris, truly enjoys the gridlock that he sees in front of his church each December when New Harmony presents its annual drive-thru nativity scene.
This year’s event drew more than 3,000 people, and once again created quite a bit of congestion on the road in front of the church.
“It’s awesome to see people excited to come to church,” said Downing. “The community really gets excited about this. And it doesn’t matter (to the attendees) if they have to wait 20 minutes to get to the presentation. As a pastor, that’s thrilling.”
This year’s production was held on the nights of Dec. 3-5. It featured a cast of 100 and included 11 scenes depicting the story of Jesus’ birth.
New Harmony has been hosting the production for 21 years. Downing has been the pastor at the church for the last five years, and said the event has drawn at least 2,800 people in each of the years since his arrival.
“My wife and I, along with another couple, always stand at the front and hand out flyers and brochures of the program,” said Downing. “And it’s just a joy to see folks ready to pull up.”
With concerns about COVID remaining prevalent, many pastors are having to make difficult decisions regarding their church’s holiday activities.
Downing, however, doesn’t have to worry about that. The way the production at New Harmony is structured essentially eliminates any concerns about COVID.
“We were the ultimate COVID Christmas celebration last year,” Downing said with a little laugh, noting that last year’s presentation drew more than 3,600. “Folks who were nervous about getting out to other Christmas activities could come through here and not even roll a window down if they didn’t want to.”
The church primarily promotes the production through social media and word of mouth, along with posting flyers around the community. Based on the popularity of the event, the marketing strategy seems to be working well.
Downing noted that many people say coming to the nativity is the official start of their holiday season. “We love hearing those things,” he said.
Downing said one of his favorite aspects of the production is that people from every age demographic in the church can participate, playing various roles or holding down other responsibilities.
This year, New Harmony partnered with Calvary Mennonite Church, which supplied additional volunteers (and other needs) for the production.
Attendees to the event are given a candy cane and a gospel tract as they exit the campus.
Downing said the event serves as an outreach project for the church. He noted that, through the years, several families have joined the church after participating in or attending the live nativity.
Downing said the most important aspect of the production at New Harmony is that it creates evangelistic opportunities.
“I don’t know how many times after the live nativity that people have told me (things like) ‘the nativity has caused my eight year old to ask questions about the Lord,’ ” said Downing.
“I’m a big believer that discipleship starts in the home. So, if our church is doing something that allows families to have gospel conversations in their homes, that is an amazing thing. That’s some great gospel work.” B&R