Churches are often looking for ways to engage the community around them with the Gospel, to reach out to the unchurched and find an event which will pique their interest enough to begin a conversation. Small membership churches may find it difficult at times to host a large event due to limited budgets, resources, volunteers, facilities and the list goes on and on.
Here's the good news! By using creativity, ingenuity and networking, it is possible to make a big splash in your neighborhood.
I visited with Joe Ward, pastor of First Baptist Church Hallettsville, and he shared with me about a recent event the church hosted which reached out to almost 200 people in their community, approximately 98% of which were unchurched. For a church that averages 150 on a Sunday morning, this was a huge success and they are still feeling the lasting impact.
Average church attendance: 150
Event: Free lunch and a viewing of the movie War Room (including free childcare)
Event attendance: 375 (175 community members and 200 church members)
Budget: $2,000 (fully funded by donations and Sunday School class involvement)
Here's what they did and how you can apply it in your church:
Brainstorm and pray
Ward became pastor of FBC Hallettsville in August and was immediately excited about creative ways to reach out to the community of approximately 2,700. One of the deacons approached him about the possibility of sponsoring a movie night for the community to show the recently released Christian movie War Room, with an intense focus on the power of prayer. After some brainstorming, the event grew to include not only hosting a free movie for the community, but also hosting a free lunch at the church and offering childcare for families with young children.
The church had not done a community event of this magnitude before, but Ward was willing to try. The heart behind the event was to love their community and give back, without expecting anything in return. Ward and the church leadership began to pray about how to do the event well.
What you can do: Think outside the box and come up with an event your church has never tried before. Don't let budget constraints or the size of your church limit your imagination. Make sure the purpose for your event is in line with the goals of your church and then commit to faithfully pray for the event and the impact it could have.
Set your plan in motion
In order for their event to be possible, Ward needed to visit with the local theater to see if they would be open to bringing the movie to town. When the owner heard the heart behind the event, he was happy to partner with FBC Hallettsville to bring War Room to town. He also charged the church a discounted rate for each ticket because he believed in what the church was doing.
Ward also reached out to local hamburger suppliers to donate meat for lunch. He shared with them about hosting the free movie for the community and also providing lunch on the church campus. When he was asked what the church hoped to get in return by offering a free event, his response was, "Nothing. We want to show them Christ's love, we want to expose them to the power of prayer. We want to be loving in such a way that we don't want anything in return."
What you can do: Don't be afraid to ask for help and invite your community to be a part of what you are doing. You don't know who might say "yes" until you ask!
Generate church support
One of the greatest successes of this event was the support generated from the church body. While there was not necessarily money in the church budget to handle such a large event, Ward found church members were more than willing to sacrificially give to make it happen. Each Sunday School leader went to their class, explained the vision for the event and asked how their class could contribute, committing to purchasing a certain number of tickets, a portion of the meal or assisting with childcare. Each class determined what was an attainable goal and they all took part in making the event happen.
What you can do: Give your Bible study classes or small groups the opportunity to contribute, even if it is in small ways. If your church body believes in the mission behind what you are doing, they will get behind you and support you in ways you never imagined. When everyone takes part in the event, the excitement grows and there is a greater overall impact.
Spread the word
No matter how much money, time or energy is spent on an event, if you do not tell people it is happening, it will be impossible to fill the seats. FBC Hallettsville utilized their local newspaper to invite the community to their event. They also host a weekly after-school ministry at their church for about 150 children. They sent home an invitation with each child. A week before the event, the church contacted neighboring churches and asked for contact information for people who may have fallen off their radar. Church members were also encouraged to reach out to coworkers, neighbors, friends and family.
What you can do: Consider what resources you have in your church and your community to help spread the word. Social media, newspapers, radio, e-newsletters, word of mouth, and the list could go on and on.
Execute the event
On event day, FBC Hallettsville hosted 300 people for lunch, the largest number they ever had on their church campus at one time. One hundred seventy-five community members attended the 1:30 p.m. showing of the War Room at their community theater. Then, at 3:30 p.m., 200 church members were able to attend an additional showing of the movie after children had been picked up from the church.
"We've had a very positive response from the community," Ward said. "We had 15-20 guests in church over the course of the next month. People were drawn to the idea that a church would give without expecting anything in return."
What you can do: After all of your planning and preparing, then it's time to put it into action. Enjoy the time and seek to make connections that reach far beyond the event. Remember what your ultimate goal is and keep it in focus.
Have you had success with a recent outreach or event at your church? We want to hear about it! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story with us.