This article, written by Mike Talbott was originally published in The Monticello Times (http://monticellotimes.com/), on December 19, 2013...
Riverside Church's "A Christmas Carol" Seen By More Than 2400 locally and in 6 Countries
Carolers are singing, brass bands are playing Christmas songs, and they're all dressed in Victorian garb. Suddenly, the room goes darker. Then, as the light comes up, 36 Victorian “townspeople” begin wishing members of the audience a "Merry Christmas" as they move to the stage. Soon after, without skipping a beat, the townspeople and band join to perform a new Christian radio song about the birth of the Christ Child. At the same time, the audience ("guests," as they are called at Riverside Church) are transported back to the Victorian era through costume, multimedia video, and on-stage scenes to hear the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” originally written by Charles Dickens, adapted as a musical and produced "Riverside Church-style."
Each year, the production process begins about four months before first performance. In order to keep the presentation fresh and relevant for guests each year, the staff goes through a rigorous process of choosing a production, reviewing the previous year’s performance notes, writing and editing script, creating videos, and choosing music for the production. Next, drama people, soloists, choir, instrumentalists, stage crew and tech team member selection begins.
Equally important, guest services teams are recruited, which include greeters & ushers, parking lot attendants, cookie bakers, and children’s program presenters (yes, there is even a "presentation" geared to the little people!) Once a performance is close to "sold out" Riverside's production is also webcast via the internet; because they strongly believe people should feel welcome and at home, Riverside uniquely recruits "chat hosts" who greet people as they join the webcast. Those same hosts stay with any who desire to communicate, ask questions, or comment during the performance, or until they leave the stream. In total, this year’s volunteer crew numbered almost 500 people from Riverside.
Of note is that Riverside has never charged a fee for any ticket in its 20 plus years of productions, nor do they receive an offering. Why? According to Skipp Machmer, Executive Pastor and Executive Producer of Riverside’s productions, "We do these productions to reach people living in an increasingly challenging world to deliver a message of hope and to provide an opportunity for them to trust their lives to Christ... not to showcase the talent of our people or to entertain our own regular attenders. We know that on any given Sunday, within a ten mile radius of Monticello, only about 12% of the people are in a church.
We want to find ways to tell the other 88% how much God loves them and offer them the opportunity to learn more about Him after the productions are over. We also want to invite our guests to “come and see” how they can know him better by attending services with us. Our productions are one way we believe we can reach some of this 88% with this message, and we continue to asses all of our plans and activities to make sure they are REAL AND RELEVANT to our culture, helping people experience LIFE CHANGE and giving them the opportunity to take OWNERSHIP of their faith.”
So, how have Riverside's productions delivered on this effort? The numbers are revealing in terms of assessing whether productions are well received; this year's attendance at the church for the five performances was approximately 2400 and online viewers numbered over 350 from 6 countries. Having offered both Christmas and Easter productions to the public over the past 20+ years, the attendance at Riverside church has risen from about 900 four years ago to an average of about 1250 thru last July and attendance has averaged about 1400 on Sundays this fall.
Skipp Machmer concluded, “Perry Noble may have said it best: ‘Every person has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God.’
For more information on Riverside Church visit their website myriversidechurch.com.