3 Strategies for Simplifying Fall Church Events

It’s the early days of October.  Hopefully the craziness of a new school year has settled down and you’re finding a good groove with your new fall schedule.

What has become front of mind at my church, and I’m guessing a lot of churches in the United States, is two-fold:

  1. Fall events
  2. Holidays

It’s become apparent to me that while Fall events take on many different shapes and forms, the purpose is the same: give people who don’t like church a reason to come to your church.

And I love it.

Maybe it’s the number of people who I know personally who have been intimidated by church or completely alone in their community, but have found a sense of safety at a “fun” event.  Maybe it’s the success stories from churches who meet new people every year at their fall events who they are then able to connect with and love on. Maybe it’s the fact that the Fall Fest at my own church is the first thing my husband and I attended before we got connected with our church, and we were blown away by the hospitality and genuine care for everyone at the event.

I think it’s probably a combination of these things, plus much more.  But I believe strongly that these community wide events are huge outreach opportunities for churches.

However, we’ve been hearing about some pain points.  Tell me if you can resonate with any of these…

  • It takes so much time and resources to pull off.
  • Our guest attendance the Sunday after (the event) hasn’t increased.
  • There’s a lot going on, so we aren’t able to be present and intentional with all of our guests at the event.
  • I have a hard enough time getting people to do nursery or worship team, much less spend their whole Saturday working this event or spend months helping to plan it.
  • We have other things we are focusing on this fall (new sermon series, pushing for Holiday events, etc.); we just don’t think it’s necessary this year.

Alright, truth be told, there is nothing I love more than planning an event, but when your plate is full, your budget is low, your people are overworked, and your calendar is tight, the party is what’s going to get dropped.

I get it.

However, there are a few, 3 to be exact, strategies that, when implemented correctly, can make a huge impact on these events.  

1. Set Goals
I think this one is so important for creating sustainability with these events.  With a lot of the frustrations above, pastors and church leaders explained a key reason why they are losing momentum around their fall event: they didn’t know what they wanted from it.  If you don’t spend a little bit of time explicitly stating why you’re doing this event, and then letting the why inform all the details of the event, then disappointment is inevitable. Think about it.  If you have an event with no real why, then everyone has a different one. We aren’t wired to do things for no reason, so we all assign purpose or value to everything we do. So, you might want to do a Trunk or Treat as a fun alternative for your members on Halloween.  Your Children’s Pastor might want to do it because she wants to meet more families from the community. Your Communications Director might want to do it as a way to keep momentum from the launch of the Fall schedule and activities. None of these are bad. They’re just all different.  So, when you host your Trunk or Treat and 80% of the people who attend are members, you’re thrilled! Your Children’s Director, however, is feeling like it flopped. Or when you are meeting to plan and your Children’s Director wants to market it as a stand alone event so people don’t feel obligated to church, your Communications Director is frustrated because they want it branded to the other awesome stuff you’ve rolled out this fall.

Totally frustrating!  And often, we don’t even realize we had these unspoken expectations until they aren’t met.  Avoid all of that drama and extra work, and spend an hour together stating 1-3 goals for the event.  Then, as ideas and issues come up, you can see if/how they help or hinder your goals and weed them out.  

Here’s an example.  Let’s say I’m helping to plan a Pumpkin Patch at my church.  We are a church of about 200 regular attendees in the suburbs of a major city.  Every year prior we’ve done a Trunk or Treat and have struggled to get enough families to participate, so it’s fallen on the staff and the same small group of volunteers to do all the planning and executing the night of.  Goals for this event are: minimal “day of” requirements for executing; low cost; engagement opportunity with our community.

So, for the first goal, you can see how hosting a pumpkin patch requires very few people to be present to make sure it actually “runs” well.  If the ideas of doing a hayride or having face painting and all these extras come up, compare those with your goal of minimal day of requirements for executing.  You can then filter these things out without hurt feelings or major push back, because you all agreed on these goals. You can do the same thing, then, for goals 2 and 3.

Setting goals creates focus, unity, and metrics. It allows you to actually see if this event is or isn’t worth having.  Goals, obviously, can change year over year, but make sure you have buy in from everyone on the leadership team for the event.

2. Gather Info
Alright, the second strategy is to gather information. Now, if none of your goals for your Fall event are around outreach, I suppose you should stop reading this.  The rest of this article won’t be very helpful to you. However, my guess is that most of you started doing these events as a way to reach your community. What has happened is that either a. No one from your community shows up or b. Tons of them show up to your event but that doesn’t translate to showing up at your church.

Ugh, just typing those things makes my stomach drop. I’ve helped plan these events before, I feel your pain.

Here’s where things get exciting, though.  You can effectively engage with your target event attendees before, during, and after your event.  Yes, yes you can.

Let’s talk about before the event.  Think creatively about anything you could do or provide when someone RSVP’s.  To continue with the pumpkin patch example, you could ask people to RSVP and when they do they get a “coupon” for a free pumpkin.  This aligns with my goals stated above, because it gives me contact information to connect with the people in my community who are interested in attending.  It doesn’t make me money, but that was not part of my goals. The reason for wanting them to RSVP and leave you some contact information allows you to start sending them some messaging before they even show up to the event!  Maybe the Pumpkin Patch event takes place on Saturday. We start promoting it a month in advance. Everyone who RSVP’s gets an email the Saturday before with a picture of volunteers preparing the patch that says “Can’t wait to see you next weekend for our First Annual Pumpkin Patch.  Come anytime from 10am-2pm at City Church. Don’t forget your coupon for a FREE pumpkin :)” Then, maybe you send a text message on Friday night that says something like, “Hey {First Name}, it’s Ali with City Church. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful! We can’t wait to see you at the Pumpkin Patch!”  I promise, this will help alleviate your problem of people not showing up.

With Text In Church, you can allow people to RSVP by texting in keyword, maybe it’s PUMPKIN, by an actual pen and paper sign-up sheet, or with a Smart Connect Card on your website.  This also keeps everyone organized as part of your event so you can send them personalized follow-up information… but I’m getting ahead of myself :) 

Okay, let’s move on to gathering information during the event.  You can do this a variety of different ways, so brainstorm with your team and figure out the best fit for your church, community, and event.  Some of my favorites include having a tablet at the event with some sort of form or connect card (this will show you an example of how one of Text In Church’s Smart Connect Cards could work at an event like this) that people can fill out.  Again, using a system like Text In Church and one of our connect cards saves you time because it organizes the data for you and can trigger your follow-up messaging.  But if you’ve got a form you’re already using, you can do that, too. You can have the tablet be at the check out area and people can leave their information if they want to receive follow up messaging from you.  Or, you could do a giveaway to a local event or coffee shop. The way you enter to win is to leave your name and number.

You can also have a text in option at the event.  If you’re offering pictures with your pumpkin or serving hot apple cider, you can have people text in a keyword of your choice to “get in line” or to get the link to all the pictures, etc.  This is a feature specific to Text In Church and it’s a game changer. Just sayin’.

Lastly, let’s look at gathering information after the event.  If there’s one thing our society is really sensitive to right now it’s FOMO.  You know what I’m talking about, right? The fear of missing out. Take some awesome pictures from your event, post on social media during your event, talk about how fun it was the Sunday after.  HYPE IT UP! Then, give people something to make them feel a part. Maybe you have pumpkins left over that people can have for free. All they have to do is text the keyword PUMPKIN and you’ll deliver it.  Or maybe you want to already start talking about next year and offer to keep people informed if they text in. Just because the day of the event is over, doesn’t mean the impact of the event is over. Keep on with that momentum!

3. Follow-Up

Okay, last strategy to use to take your Fall event to the next level.  Obviously, you know at Text In Church we are all about follow-up. But I think that sometimes it can get overlooked as just something churches do, and texting is just another tech tool.  But personalized follow-up messaging, that’s timely and sincere, is so impactful. If you had someone attend your event who wouldn’t otherwise go anywhere near your church, AND they left you their information, you have to recognize that that is their shakey digital arm getting raised saying, “I’m here, and I want you to notice.”  So don’t talk yourself out of the need for follow-up. You can take all of that information you gathered and send messages similar to the following:

Saturday night, after event, text message: “Hey {First Name}, it’s Ali with City Church.  Thanks for coming to the Pumpkin Patch today; I hope you had a blast! I’d love to see you at church tomorrow.  We have services at 9:30 and 11:00am. There’s always plenty of donuts and coffee, as well :)”

Wednesday of the next week (email): “Hey there, did you see all of the fun pics we took at the Pumpkin Patch last weekend?  Check out our Facebook Page, @City Church and if there’s any pics of yourself in there, feel free to tag yourself!  Also, we host a lunch every third Sunday after our 11:00AM service. It’s potluck style and really laid back. Would you be able to come?”

Saturday morning text (one week after event): “Hi {First Name}, Pastor Pete is starting a new sermon series tomorrow. Are you interested in coming? Let me know so I can save you a seat!!”

Now, the best part about these follow-up messages is that you’ll be getting responses back.  So, you’ll know whether to continue on with these messages or to move them into a different group, or to take them off your list altogether.  The other best part (yes, there can be two best parts) is that all of these messages can be done ahead of time and put into an automated workflow.  So all of this genuine follow-up is happening exactly when and how you want, no human error allowed.

One more note about follow-up.  Make sure you include your volunteers and planning team in some personalized messaging.  Imagine how good it would feel for the volunteers who sat at the Pumpkin Patch all day (not to exhaust my example, or anything (;) to get home that evening and receive a text from the pastor that says, “Hey {First Name}, what a fun day for our community! Thank you so much for your hard work making the Pumpkin Patch such a huge success. I appreciate you so much!”  You can also send them reminder messages ahead of time about when to show up the day of. There’s a lot to keep track of, and you don’t have to do it all!

Conclusion

Let these 3 strategies work for you.  When you are evaluating and planning your Fall event, remember to set goals, gather contact information, and follow up. The results you will see will blow you away.