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!

Why do people actually go to church?* (or …its like a family)

Whenever I talk to people about why they like going to church…the reasons I usually get come down to two reasons. (*Katy’s poll is totally anecdotal)

What Church People are actually saying

1. Its a like a family/the relationships, etc.

2. for the kids (although that tends to be a baby boomer reason)

Seldom to I hear (What church people aren’t saying enough of)

1. We are actually helping people 

2. The prayer is amazing

3. I feel connected to God

4. Worship is so meaningful

5. We are actively welcoming of all people…..

Pastor Fail? Denominational Fail? Gospel Fail? Church fail? Institutional Fail?

Where is the disconnect… (PS families are great, but to me there is more to it)

The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!

Shannon A Thompson

Author. Speaker. Librarian.

Lady Jabberwocky

Write with Heart

A Pastor's Heart

Thoughts on Life and Faith

10:00 am Worship @NCPC

Won't You Be Our Neighbor

Martha Spong

Clergy Coach

r e F o c u s

a ministry for transition

Church Set Free

Love is the answer - now what's your question?

Living Contemplatively

Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

PNEUMYTHOLOGY

ROBERT LAMBERT JONES III

A Spirit Filled Life

Seeing the Sacred in the Everyday

Improvisations

thinking outloud online

G-Free Rev

Knittin' and Preachin'

Infinite Windows

Meditations on faith and art

Mom Meets Blog

Managing motherhood, midlife and a blog