Are You "Eventing" Your Church to Death?

11/1/2017

As expected with the timing and the title of the Tony Morgan article which I shared on the IGRC Facebook page on October 31 (“Churches Can’t Trunk or Treat Their Way to Health”), it stirred up quite a bit of comment and conversation.
 
The title itself, especially given the day it was posted by Tony Morgan, functioned as “click bait.” It was meant to attract attention and get people to click on it. Unfortunately, that caused many to only interact with that one specific piece, which was actually intended to be illustrative, not the main point of the article.
 
I agree with what several commenters on the Facebook post wrote. I agree that a particular church may have a very good reason to hold a “Trunk or Treat,” other than immediate or specific evangelistic purposes. I’ll get to that later.
 
I believe there are two vitally important points which Morgan makes in his article. First, “If your experience is like countless other churches, my fear is that you’re trying to ‘event’ your church to health.” (By the way, in my read of Morgan, including his recently published book, The Unstuck Church), “church health” would be described in terms of effectiveness in fulfilling the core purpose of the church (defined by the UMC as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”).
 
Second, “I beg you to push the pause button after this fall (he would say “after any event” because this one is just illustrative) and ask yourself some questions” (he goes on to give questions based on his wife’s definition of the “why” of the event, which may or may not be the particular church’s “why”).
 
Morgan is exactly right. I see churches all across our conference which try to “event” their way to health and effectiveness. What do I mean by that? They plan “one-time” events which they hope somehow will slow or turnaround their decline. In most cases, two mistakes are repeated.
 
First, the church doesn’t articulate the specific “why” of this event. How will this event fit the overall work of fulfilling the purpose for which we exist as a church? How specifically will we measure if this event has effectively fulfilled that “why”?
 
The second repeated mistake is that we make the events “stand alone, one-time” things. We aren’t clear how they fit in an overall strategy to fulfill our purpose. Or as I often say, “we don’t plan for a handoff” which leads us to running the event like a “sprint” instead of the long-distance relay which effective ministry truly is. Any church activity which is done in isolation and not seen as one piece of the whole of the church process of making and developing disciples of Jesus Christ will eventually become a “silo.”
 
So, let me look at this particular illustration of Trunk or Treat. As your church plans for 2018, you might consider holding a Trunk or Treat.
 
First, consider the “WHY” for your church. I’ll offer a couple possibilities (there are others):
1.      The members of the church are “relationally disconnected” from the people who live near the building. The “why” might be to build relationships with the neighbors. The measure might be related to how many “conversations” (more than quick interactions while handing out candy) members have with the children and adults. This “why” can apply to several of the different situations posed in comments on the post (even those who say they only want to do it for “fun”). Seek to develop specific ways during the Trunk or Treat which might encourage people to spend a few minutes with you (e.g. have hot chocolate available) and make sure people with the gift of hospitality are assigned to be present whose primary goal is to interact with individuals.
2.      If the church is “relationally connected” with those who live near the church, it can be a piece of an evangelistic strategy. The “why” for this church might be to increase evangelistic effectiveness and to be an “entry level discipleship” strategy. As a piece of the strategy, you might invite people to leave contact information to receive more information about ministries planned for children and/or families or you could have a specific “next invite” which you hope people will attend (Gene, this is where I would consider adding the movie; not at the Halloween event, but 2-3 weeks later).
 
Second, plan for next steps. In “Why” #1 above, the discipleship strategy was more about the people who are a part of the church than it is the people who are not yet a part of the church. It is to open their eyes and hearts to their neighbors. Next steps (relay handoffs, if you will) could be related to holding a time of conversation about the interaction which took place. What did people experience, feel, observe, and how were their hearts changed? Other next steps could include seeking opportunities to deepen the relationships which have begun. And as relationships deepen, we grow in deeper love for our neighbors.
 
In “Why” #2 above, it is best to think two steps ahead of the big “event” which happened, in this case Trunk or Treat. The next step might be a movie night or some other “fun” event which will take place in a few weeks and to which you have invited the people. The third step would be the one which is your ultimate hope in this stage of the discipleship process. It should usually be a ministry with a spiritual emphasis. You don’t expect all who attended the big event nor even the second step to attend. But your goal is that at least a portion of them will attend. It might be an overnight retreat for children who are in upper elementary school, for example. Or it might be a parenting class to equip adults as they lead their families. Note, this is not a “bait and switch.” These are steps which build toward something and at each point your neighbors are offered clear choices as to whether they will or will not participate .
 
Third, make sure to evaluate the effectiveness of the “event” before you schedule it again next year. Two of Morgan’s questions, I believe, are effective evaluation questions for almost any “event” or ministry of any church. “Are we doing this because it’s the (I would change that to “an”) optimal way we can fulfill God’s purpose for our church or are we doing it because every other church is doing it?” and “Are we doing this because it really matters for the Kingdom impact we’re trying to make or are we doing it because we’ve always done it?” His other questions can be rephrased according to your “why” but questioning use of resources (people’s time being the most valuable resource of all) is also vitally important in evaluation.
 
My caution: I see many churches which are “eventing” and “activitying” themselves to death, literally. They are engaged in doing more things than they have the energy and resources to do and instead of helping the church fulfill their core purpose. And all the additional activities are hastening their church’s death. I don’t want this to happen to your church.
 
So…should your church have a Trunk or Treat next year? Do your answers to the questions above point to “yes” or “no”?