Making Attractional Events Disciple-Making Focused

There’s something fun about a church event. There is a lot of excitement and a big build up. This can be anything from an Easter egg hunt, to VBS in the summer or a fun fest in the fall. Many churches have annual events they do each year that their community knows them for and look forward to. These events can provide an opportunity for churches to meet new people and for communities to get to know local churches.

It seems to me that for most churches a small crew of team members get together and they start to build the event. They add in craft stations, games, snacks and balloons. Then at some point there is a big push for marketing the event. Print some fliers, paste them around town, creating a Facebook event page, toss an ad in the newspaper, maybe go on the radio to let the surrounding areas know what’s going on. Announcements are made for people to jump in and help.

The big day finally arrives and hundreds or thousands of people show up. It’s a big deal. Overall it is a great success. You were under budget and no one died. This is a great mark of a successful event; no one died. The day ends and everyone goes home. Some church people stick around to help clean up. Everyone goes home excited because the event went well but also exhausted. The hope is maybe that someone will be interested in the church as a result. You anxiously get to church on Sunday looking around to hopefully see someone who was at the event.

For the most part this has been my experience with church events. This is not to pick apart events, how to run them, how to make them effective. However, this is a challenge for all of us to think differently because there is a shift that needs to take place. A shift in how we think about events, why and how we host them. Our team is trying something different this year with our fall fun fest and we are hoping and praying that God uses it for more than we can ask or imagine. I want to share that shift with you that we are making and encourage you to do something similar with your next event.

Understand What Your Event Is Not!

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Your Event is not just for fun!

Before I dive in here, did you know there isn’t a single verse in the Bible that calls the church to host events? Do you know what that means? That means that events are well-intentioned programs developed by humans. And when humans are involved, it isn’t perfect. Goals get out of whack. Purposes aren’t divine. Often times the purpose of an event is simply, “But we’ve always done it.” This is not the language of the intentional follower of Jesus. It’s the language of status quo humans. Church events should always be surrendered to the cause of Christ and nothing less.

Many churches host events because they are fun. Fun for the church. Fun for the community. Fun is fun. I love fun. It’s great to laugh and enjoy events. There’s nothing wrong with fun. In fact, your event should probably be fun or don’t expect anyone to show up year after year. If you come to our fall fun fest or any of the other events we host, you will find a lot of fun elements. But fun exists in a lot of places. And many places do fun better than the church.

“Fun” isn’t the primary reason for a church event.

Your Event is Not just to be Nice!

I love it when people have a good opinion about the campus I lead and the church I’m a part of. We want that to be a thing. No one wants to hear how someone hates our church because we aren’t nice. Being nice is awesome. In a similar vein with our current culture it’s all about being kind. Being kind is awesome too. Being nice is great.

Some of the language I use at my campus is that we want to be a church that is “for our community.” I believe that’s important and a good thing but I also don’t want to host 12 events a year for our community and see absolutely no one come to know Jesus as a result. This is a drag on vision, resources and people.

If you come to our fall fun fest, you will find nice and friendly team members. Our people will be kind to you. You will see nice people. But there are also nice people at Chick-fil-A. There are nice people over at Target. There are also nice people at that other churches event down the street.

But “nice” isn’t the primary reason for a church event.

Your event is not to show the world how good you are at events!

For a long time the way I would lead events, simply left me feeling like a glorified event coordinator. I was frustrated with that. I didn’t want to host events just for the sake of hosting an event and logging an event on our church calendar. If I was going to just host events to be a nice guy and provide a nice environment of sorts, I can do that at a local wedding venue or winery that needs an event guy. But I want something more than that. I want to make a difference well beyond an event. And I believe you do too.

For many churches, hosting an event comes with a simple purpose. Churches have different language for it, but we all have roughly the same idea. It’s to be visible in the community and hope someone comes to church on Sunday as a result. This is the purpose of most of our events. We host something. We hope you like it enough to show up Sunday.

The problem with hope in this scenario is that it isn’t purposeful. Hope isn’t an intentional aim at something. A plan and goal is intentional. Hope in Jesus is a sure thing. Hosting a $5000 dollar event in hopes someone shows up on Sunday, is not. And if you were to really evaluate your events throughout the year you might actually find that they are a huge waste of man power, resources and energy. Be careful to not simply become a wonderful event coordinator.

*Side note: if you have an honest meeting to determine whether an event should continue, check your ego at the door when you have that meeting. Someone is going to have an emotional attachment.

Church events have a much bigger purpose.

Making The Shift In Event Thinking

We must make a mental shift for our events to take on greater significance. Here’s where our fall fun fest is completely different this year.

Think Fishing Pond!

“The purpose of a church event is to create a fishing pond for disciple-makers!”

Click to tweet!

When 4000 people show up at our elementary school for a free fall fun event, they are going to have fun and it will be free. But 4000 people is an awesome captive audience. They will stick around for a couple of hours at least to experience all the fun and to wear out little Jimmy. What an AWESOME opportunity to start conversations. This year we are handing off many of the responsibilities to vendors.

  • Do you know who won't be making funnel cakes? My team!

  • Do you know who won’t be watching every moon bounce? My team!

  • Do you know what they will be doing? Walking around and starting conversations with people.

The Great Commission is so clear, “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” There isn’t a lot of wiggle room there. None in fact. And I don’t see much about events in there either. But if we are going to host an event, it had better come back around to disciple-making in an intentional way. Why have amazing disciple-makers stuck somewhere in a room when they can be fishing.

Jesus said in Matthew 4, “I will MAKE you fishers of men.” Let your people fish. We are changing things up and our primary training focus will be in starting conversations. Here are three simple questions you can ask to get to know someone at the event.

  • What’s your name?

  • How did you hear about this event?

  • Tell me more about your family.

If you want to read more about starting Gospel conversations, you can read more here.

These questions get disciple-makers started in a simple conversation with anyone. Mom and dad are standing in line waiting for a funnel cake? Time to start a conversation. See Grandma waiting at the moon bounce for little Jimmy to be done? Time to go fishing. That conversation can easily lead to a simple invite.

“Hey, I live in your neighborhood. I’ll look for you at (event, bus stop, HOA meeting, the pool, etc).”

“You’re interested in (church name). Awesome. I attend at (service time). I’ll be there tomorrow. I’ll look for you and we can grab a cup of coffee together. Would be happy to show you around.”

To be honest, it’s not rocket science. It feels really simple in fact. But it’s a dramatic shift in thinking. Shifting away from “hope” or “but we’ve always done it,” to, “let’s go fishing.” Now you don’t have to hope someone shows up on Sunday. You can ask your team, tell me who you met today. What conversations did you have? What stories did you hear? What next steps did you take with anyone?

If you have people hungry to make disciples, they will eat this up. It won’t be a challenge for them and you won’t have to convince them. They will do it naturally and they will have stories for you. They will start conversations and build relationships with neighbors they didn’t know they had. It’s a huge success if your event is the catalyst for the beginning of a disciple-making relationship and/or people connecting so well they check out your church on a Sunday morning. You won't have to wonder if they were there either, because your disciple-makers will be on the hunt, looking for them and will be sure to let you know.

“Guess what? I met Tony yesterday at the event. He brought his family today and we sat together. We talked a lot and they live down the street from us. We’re grabbing lunch later this week.”

Now THAT is the kind of event I want to be a part of. An event that creates a fishing pond for disciple-makers. That’s how every church event should be viewed. If it’s viewed with a purpose any less than that, my encouragement is to immediately stop doing that event or transform how you run the event.

Turn those disciple-makers loose.

Let them fish!

What are your thoughts? Other ideas for how to make church events more purposeful?