Prestonwood Baptist Church is one of several mega-churches here in the Metroplex. Yesterday my bestie took me to their Christmas Extravaganza. I’m still trying to process my impressions of the experience.
The Prestonwood Phenomena
Though Prestonwood was never “my” church, there was a time I popped in and out with great frequency. I tagged along with member-friends to concerts, cantatas and other events. Back in those days, the church occupied a much smaller space at the corner of Hillcrest and Arapaho, but it was still a lot bigger than any church I’d ever been in. (Well, that’s not exactly true. I’d been to some huge cathedrals in Europe, but they didn’t have stadium seating, which is a whole ‘nother thing.)
My friends and I would attend The Gift of Christmas year-after-year and it was spectacular. I confess, it ranked among the most extraordinary shows I’d ever seen and I’d seen a lot – from Broadway Musicals to Barry Manilow to the Ice Capades. The final scene with live animals and hovering angels was magnificent. Nowadays Christmas pageants with live animals are almost di rigueur, but it hasn’t always been that way.
It’s been a long time since I was a regular visitor to Prestonwood events. My member-friends have spread out over the nation and I’ve been otherwise occupied. I thought it would be fun to revisit such a pleasant memory. I figured they’d made some changes over the years and I wondered what they would be.
Their new campus covers 140 acres and the worship center holds 7000 people according to Wikipedia. They’ve got crowd control down to a fine art. The atrium vestibule was full of friendly guys in bright red sports coats helping out the uninitiated. We easily found our seats and sat back to enjoy the show. They should have provided seat belts.
The Christmas pageant is an opportunity for outreach. There were 13 sold-out performances this year. In case you’re counting, that’s 91,000 tickets! My ticket was $28, but they range from $16 – $80 dollars and you do get your money’s worth. The secular side of Christmas dominates most of the show which means they draw in a lot of people who would not otherwise darken a church’s door.
The first act opens with Santa landing his sleigh at “Prestonwood Toy Warehouse”thanks to multimedia and special effects. First you’re watching animation of Santa circling downtown Dallas and then a real Santa in an actual sleigh descends from the ceiling. In other words, the Prestonwood show starts with everybody else’s Grand Finale. With that kind of an opener you might think they’d have a hard time maintaining the WOW factor, but you’d be wrong. Santa continued to zoom through the room, as well as a troop of special ops combatants in camo gear, drummers, singers, angels and other members of the cast.
Which brings me to my first complaint. Exactly what was I supposed to be paying attention to? There were moving graphics. There were laser lights. There were things flying in the air, coming down the aisle and multiple activities on the stage – not to mention the apron. Did I mention pyrotechnics? A three-ring circus would be a relief to the senses.
For the most part, the cast did a great job – especially considering they were a bunch of volunteers. Some of the voices were a little weak or off-key and I’ve seen better high-kicks, but for $28 it was a pretty good show. (Had we sat in the $80 section, I might have been a little more critical.)
My favorite scene was the dancing ragdolls. Their costumes were beyond cute and their routine was the tightest and most precise. My least favorite was the aerial acrobats during “Oh Holy Night“. The choir sang beautifully and the acrobats were amazing. I just had a hard time making the two components fit together in my brain. Oh Holy Aerial Acrobats at Night, Batman!
I had difficulty with some of the transitions, too. The program lists the segments of the show and the songs included, but it’s hard to tell if there is supposed to be any connection between them. During the “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” scene, Santa left his bag of toys behind as he headed out for his night of deliveries. The toys escaped and frolicked on the stage, but I was left worrying about all the kids whose toys had been left behind. The next thing I know I’m drinking hot chocolate on the Polar Express. Santa returned, but not a word was said about the forgotten bag.
After the Polar Express we moved on to the “Reindeer Medley”, but it would have been more aptly titled “The Rudolf the Reindeer Fan Club Show”. The medley featured Reindeer-ettes in
poodle reindeer skirts swooning over their idol. Things settled down a little bit during “The Beauty of Christmas” segment, but I felt some disconnect between the waltzers and the music-box ballerina with her disco-arm action. The penultimate act was “The Worship of Christmas” which had some wonderful solos, but it also included the “Oh Holy Night” debacle.
The ninety-minute show was almost over and the “Symphony of Christmas, featuring the Living Nativity“ began. This was it. The moment I’d been waiting for! However, my senses were still reeling from the previous spectacles. The angels careening in the heavens were using the same guy-wires as Santa. Camels and zebras were anti-climatic after Rocking Out with flying drummers. The Grand Finale seemed to fizzle after all the sizzle. But that’s just me. Other folks thought it was the best show they’d ever seen.
Then there was the “Christmas Challenge“. Having already collected the price of a ticket they didn’t take up a collection, but they did offer an invitation. In truth, I sincerely hope there were people throughout the auditorium who were moved by the final scenes of the pageant and open to the invitation, but I almost started laughing when it included a number to which you could text news of your decision. I do church a little differently, but God moves in mysterious ways. I’m sure He’ll honor a text just as he would the raising of a hand or walking down the aisle. He’s not he problem, I am.
So should you put The Gift of Christmas at Prestonwood on your must-do list for the next holiday season? We’d have to chat about that. If you’re looking for a rollicking good time, go for it, just don’t be surprised if they offer you a Bible on the way out. If you’re looking for a spiritual experience for yourself or someone else, I’d have to suggest checking out another church’s Christmas pageant. I may just have to go next year so Bill can experience it, but for myself, probably not. I sort of liked the show better back in the days when the Grand Finale was the highlight of the show.