With the best of intentions, churches plan community outreach events in the summer: free food and fun festivals of all kinds, free movies, and events that are tied to local summer traditions. Though they often get a large attendance and everyone has fun, we need to ask ourselves, how can they do more for the kingdom of God?
Being community friendly and providing free events isn't enough if we want to use them to grow our church and ultimately to help people come to know Jesus as Savior. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we do all the work we are doing. It's easy to fall into the habit of thinking that just doing good things will help people think kindly about our church and Jesus, but we live in a secularized world, where it takes much more than attending a free BBQ to change the eternal destiny of a soul.
To do that takes often sustained contact with your church and to move beyond a one-time interaction at a fun event, you have to be intentional in your interactions and follow-up with your guests. Here's how you can do that:
How one church changed from event provider only to growing their church
A church in Canada held a yearly community BBQ that was extremely popular. Though year after year they had a great turnout at the event, few people came to church after it. The event cost a lot in terms of time and people power and few months before the yearly event, the coordinator contacted me, shared her frustration and asked what she should do.
I asked her if they did anything to follow-up after the event and she said "No."
Though understandable (few churches do), I told her that to change the response, they had to change what they'd been doing.
Here was my suggestion:
- Before the event takes place, create a follow-up postcard and email and social media messages. In your follow-up, invite them back to a specific event at your church and let them know what your church provides regularly, e.g. times of services, children's programs, singles, seniors, parent's etc. I always suggest preparing your follow-up BEFORE the event, because you'll be too tired afterwards to do the creative work. It's enough work to just get the follow-up out.
- Put together a GREAT door-prize or several of them. In this case, I suggested a giant basket filled with all kinds of BBQ tools, spices, sauces and related goodies. Any prize that relates to the theme of the event is great.
- Have people sign up for a drawing of the door-prize. Let them know you will be contacting them and they can be removed from your contact list at any time. This is how it is done in all secular events, advertising, etc. People are not offended by it—particularly if you have a really great prize.
- Immediately after the event, send out your follow-up via postal mail, social media, and email.
- Pray for open hearts and a great response.
The results when the church in Canada followed this advice
It was fantastic! The even coordinator who asked me the question said that people loved the idea of the door prize and they had a large number of people who came to church after it (and this had never happened before). They planned to continue this process in the coming years.
In conclusion, never assume a response from free food and friendly people alone. You have to be intentional in how you invite people to your church after a special event. Though it is more work, the results initially and eternally as people will come to know Jesus as Savior after interacting with your church, your people, and God's Word will be more than worth it.