#nextchurch Farmer’s Market: building local ministry

Sadly I recently looked thru my posts and found that my original farmer’s market post has disappeared (oh no!) So I will have to rewrite it with a broader perspective.

The church was called to local mission: most of the 40-odd faithful adults had volunteered regularly at homeless centers, hospitals and to knit/sew for the needy. The question was, how to do it? As an elder said “I don’t even think people know we are here” so we brainstormed…..

The church did a lot of events. A lot of, traditional events. Things like a Strawberry Festival and Choir Concerts. Things like Clothing Exchanges and Playgroups. None of them seemed to really take off…people came to these events, but not as many as the church hoped. See, the church had discerned that their call was for local mission, but we were having trouble connecting to the neighborhood. Our best moniker was “the church with all those AAs” our worst was “the one with the chain up” So the church tried all these events, and immediately named them to be failures.

The church was wrong though, these events weren’t failures, they were successes–if you looked at them the right way.

The Ice Cream Social  didn’t get a lot of people coming, but we served ice cream, showed the Nursery School’s artwork, plus got a couple of homeless people off the street for a few hours.

The Praise Inc Revival Concert was difficult I had to go to some kind of meeting (I forget what) and arrived late, when I walked in I was told “no one came” <–people did come, about 45, and what was really cool was that about 1/3rd were from the church, 1/3rd were from another worshipping community within our church and 1/3rd were from the community.

The clothing exchange was a lot of work, but it was cool because it was a ministry for everyone (not just the “needy”). Those who sorted the clothing found a lot of things for themselves and others (haha) and plus we started to get some regular ladies who dropped by to check out what we had.

The free playgroup didn’t have a lot of steady people but hey 1. it was drop in 2. a lot of people came until they found a job, and it was a great way to get to know the neighborhood if you were new in town.

The real issue, of course, was that we weren’t getting new members, which I (constantly) reminded our members, was not our goal.

Our goal was to get to know the community, to provide space for them to gather and to use our eminently well placed church that happened to have an awesome parking lot. (Of course we were doing other technical things too).

Then a couple from the church and said, What about a farmer’s market? We have a good parking lot.

Session agreed, and within session we outlined our goals which were to

1) Get to know the neighborhood

2) Help local farmers

3) Not have ulterior motives (or at least try not to)…this was not for money or members, it was for the community….In fact session maturely agreed that we would charge Farmers money to hold them accountable, but all the money would go back into the market.

We researched the other church farmer’s market, we went to big and small farmer’s markets, we looked up rules and regulations, we sent out letters and then we called & called & called & called the farmers until finally someone agreed to do it and all the other farmers (small world eh?) jumped in as soon as 1 person committed.

We plotted out the parking lot, we advertised and made signs and got ready for our grand opening.

We had well over 200 people! 200 people!

And afterwards we worshiped together and took apart all the things that helped to our success! We literally put each thing that we thought contributed upon a building block and then we took all the blocks and “built up” into what was now the farmer’s market!

And sure enough the congregation finally saw what I had discerned, those past events weren’t failures they were warmups!

During these events we learned about

1)How to work together; After throwing so many small events we had a pretty good idea who we were and what our skills are (hospitality, organizer, motivator, builder, community contact, etc. )

2) timing :how long things should be, when people got out of work

3) media: how do we publicize things online? What kind of signs get noticed? How can we tell our friends?

4) Events; small events lead to big ones, since we started to have events, people had been starting to notice us as being active and involved

5) People: We saw people from everywhere! People from the choir concerts, people from the praise inc. revival, people from the clothing exchange and the playgroup, heck we even saw people from our nursery school (which has been running for 40yrs, but like most church schools is viewed as separate from the church)

What a success, and we realized, all of those events were successful, and they built off of the farmer’s market.

So we kept building. We created a program called “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?” in which all the events under those headings were purely to bolster and minister to the neighborhood so we could get to know them better.

Under this heading–We did a Trunk or Treat at the end of the Farmer’s Market for Halloween and we added a Chicken BBQ as a fundraiser (which isn’t really with no ulterior motives, but we were transparent about that we wanted your money for a sound system and since you drove thru our parking lot customers weren’t afraid we are trying to steal their souls), we did Charlie Brown Christmas in December and hosted over 100 nonchurch parents and children who watched it. Last summer we included Charity Yoga where the proceeds went to the Presbyterian Disaster Fund. We built a success!

We are still building. This has become a foundational ministry, it has honed our mission statement to one line “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?” Its become a joyful duty for the 12 some volunteers to work EVERY week for 4-5hrs for 4 months, it has become an identifier for our church “the one with the farmer’s market.” Enrollment for nursery school is up, the community comes together, and we truly are starting to get to know our neighborhood, from the farmers to the crafters to the performing artists to the customers. This will be our 3rd year doing the farmer’s market, we are the most successful one in the city limits, our vendors love us, and we have expanded even moreso. its a beautiful day for a neighbor!

And that is how our true local ministry was born!

(for more info about what I learned as a minister for my context click here)

Church Event Guide/What I’ve learned in the last 4 years: Don’t do anything for free

Recently there was an article concerning the …..lets say staidness of overly churched culture….

How do you get a church to event plan beyond the church culture? Here are some guidelines to consider

Rule number One: Don’t do anything for free….it creates a debt mentality that is unhealthy for the congregation and the attendee

Church: Let’s throw this free event, then people will love us and come to church….

Potential Attendee: Free? Really, I bet that church just wants my soul, no way I’m going to that…

Church: We had a free event…why didn’t anyone come (or) People came to our free event, why aren’t they coming to church

Rule Number Two: If you throw an event, have a reason behind it (other than attracting people to the church…ideally have at least TWO solid reasons

ex: Let’s have a farmer’s market 1. it will support our local community and help reaquaint with the neighborhood 2. It will help our local economy–these are our reasons, we are sharing them with the farmers and the customers

ex 2: Let’s put on a play of Charlie Brown Christmas as a food drive because 1) that’s what Christmas is all about 2) we don’t want it to be free 3) because its for children, and if someone cries they can be taken out without money lost

I have found if you have 2 solid reasons, more and more reasons to have the event start to build…..eventually we realized a. there is no farmer’s market in our corner of the city b.people are meeting each other at our farmer’s market and becoming more communal c. its easier to come to the parking lot than the sanctuary (see the ps for more info) d. Won’t you be our Neighbor? we found a motto that described that we wanted everyone in the neighborhood to come to the farmer’s market, and that this reason should drive everything we do

Charlie Brown Christmas 1) its accessible to children of all ages (yay for a mental center coming to see it) 2) one of our actor’s father with alzheimer’s could wander around and enjoy the show 3) people don’t feel bad when their kids make noise because we welcomed the children and they didn’t have to pay “good money” for it. 4) People love to donate food, we got wayyyyy more than the number of people who attended 5) It’s multigenerational, children are seeing what their parents and grandparents grew up with so everyone enjoys it 6) It tells the good news but is not too preachy–many people who are spiritual-but-not-religious felt comfortable with coming to see Charlie Brown

Rule Number Three: No ulterior motives….Try, try, try not to have ulterior motives for putting on Events, because when you do, You hamper God!

You box the event into being successful based on a bunch of random info that you think is important, instead of running the event and then discovering what was important afterwards.

Discuss What Worked Rule Number 4: This is the one piece of advice that I MUST stress, talk about the BEST part of the events, discuss what worked, look on the brightest side, ok not many people came, did you get ANYONE new (?) that’s progress, did you learn anything about advertising (?) that’s progress, did the group do a lot to work together and enjoy certain parts of the process (?) that’s progress. Progress is incremental, you do not build a success story out of one event, but many

Rule number 5 You do not build a success story out of one event but many (see above).
Rule number 6 Try to do repeatable events. I find it take 12 meetings (rule of thumb) to know if something has failed. I repeat, an even CANNOT have failed until you’ve tried it multiple times: whether that be a Bible study or a playgroup or a concert series. That means if you meet once a week it takes 3months, if you meet once a month it will be a year. If you have an event every season then its 3years before you can write it off as a failure. (recommendation: if you have monthly events that are not really connected but seem to be a “thing” that are happening, start measuring those as a grouping, because you are advertising regularly.
(Rule number I’ve lost track, because it doesn’t matter how many rules there are) If you must count (altho I try not to) include your workers as attendees! They are there, they are making time and effort because they think this event is important, and you value your current members/community as much as your potential community (well that is the theory you should be practicing right?), include them
Another Rule Reinvest from the event: For our farmer’s market all our farmer’s fees went into advertising the market, we didn’t make a penny. For our Charlie Brown Play we turned it into a food drive to further teach the message of the play. Don’t do it for the church, do the event for the MISSION of the church
Final Rule: advertise, advertise, advertise: Get people to hand our pamphlets, send out invites, be sure to do that internet thing pick ONE UNIFIED IMAGE for the event and post it everywhere. It takes 3 times of seeing something to register. Put up NEW SIGNS for every event, it makes you look active, it shows your paying attention, it shows your reaching out and you care.
PS try to have events outside the church building (I know, I know that monstrousity costs a lot of money to maintain), but its a lot easier for a stranger to go to neutral ground then to come to your turf where you make the rules ex: its easier to come to the parking lot than the sanctuary, the fellowship hall feels less forboding than the chapel area and the NURSERY is a very friendly place if you make it feel welcoming. Also TRY To make things clear (where to enter, where to park, etc) you don’t want to make your people feel stupid before they even arrive<—my church is still struggling with this, but it makes a clear in-crowd, out-crowd thing…you don’t want that!
Lady Jabberwocky

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