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Plan Events Like a Pro

Janna Firestone

You've got 100 people waiting outside your church for your big event. It's 8 a.m., and you've slept in! The coffee maker's broken, the chairs aren't set up, and your spouse forgot to pick up the speaker from the airport. A catered lunch is on its way to -- you guessed it -- the wrong address. Your event is turning out to be a world-class failure!

Okay...you can wake up now. It was just a bad dream!

But how many of us have had at least one of these -- or other -- things threaten to go wrong on the day of our big events? Planning an event can be exciting and stressful both for the detail person and for the organizationally challenged person. With careful planning and by following the expert tips in this article, though, your next big event will turn out to be a dream instead of a nightmare.

What's Your Goal? Begin with prayer, because God has a purpose for your event. Follow his leading and direction. Children's minister Wayne Rockwell of Madison, Wisconsin, suggests, "Know what you want to accomplish with the event, stick to that one purpose, and carefully prepare the environment so that purpose gets accomplished."

The four main classifications of children's ministry events with their primary goals are:

Training -- Since the goal of this event is to train people, it requires trainees, an experienced trainer, and an atmosphere conducive to learning.

Brainstorming and Planning -- The goal of this event is to determine a plan of action, so this event often requires a smaller group of key decision-makers, a detailed agenda, and a relaxed and creative environment.

Appreciation and Celebration -- Events planned to appreciate volunteers or to celebrate a milestone call for excitement -- from the invitations to the decorations.

Outreach -- An event focused on reaching outside your church walls can be located at a community center or amusement park with a welcoming atmosphere.

Who's Your Event For? Is your event for adults or children, volunteers, staff, or new recruits? Knowing your target audience allows you to make key decisions about location, time of day, food, theme, decorations, and many other details surrounding your event. A catchy theme can be woven through the event from decorations to food to a memento to take home, but the theme must be appropriate for the people you're targeting. For example, an outdoor theme for children may have giant bugs and butterflies -- and even plastic ants in ice cubes! Adults would more likely appreciate checkered tablecloths and live plants as centerpieces.

Children's minister Selma Johnson went all out for her theme when she was serving at a church in Las Vegas. Her church brought in 10 tons of snow in August in 112-degree weather. Their event made the news and the front page of the local paper, and the snow lasted for three days for their arctic-themed vacation Bible school.

What's Your Budget? This is a challenging subject that keeps many church leaders from planning events altogether. Is there money set aside within your church budget for your event? Will your church board accept a proposal for using additional funds? Will you charge a registration fee?

Once you've answered these three main questions, take the following steps.

1. Form a team. Many people want to help, so delegate. Some enjoy cooking; others would love to sit with children while your volunteers attend training. Someone could thrive if asked to take care of decorations.

Rockwell says that some of the "worst moments have happened when the team leader bottlenecks by taking on too many responsibilities. This usually happens because the leader wants things to be done exactly the same way he or she would do them. The leader needs to share the work and the decision-making."

Meet with your team often and clearly communicate your expectations, the status of details, and tasks yet to be completed.

2. Choose your location. Ambiance truly sets the mood for any event. If getting your entire team to attend is important, holding the event at your church may be more convenient. For a brainstorming event, hold the meeting at a new venue: a local restaurant, a community center, or a hotel meeting room. Hotels often negotiate the room rental fee if you order food and beverages. The downside to a hotel is that the food and beverage prices are often high and are subject to an even higher tax and gratuity. For tips on working with hotels, go to www.meetingscoach.com.

3. Make a date. Plan in advance! You'll find that your church calendar, your personal calendar, school calendars, and the potential attendees' calendars fill up fast. Be respectful of other commitments your team and attendees already have.

Children's minister Dale Hudson, says, "Work with the other ministries in your church. Don't make kids or parents have to choose between two events. An example [to avoid] would be having VBS family night when there's a men's conference also going on."

Avoid holiday weekends, times when children may have a break from school, and other congested days on your church's calendar. Would a weekday evening be better-attended than a Saturday morning? Having child care available on-site will allow more people to attend. Strive to plan for the best time for the majority; rarely is there a perfect day and time for everyone to attend.

4. Determine your event plan. People are busy, so you must make your event worth their time if you want them to make time for any of your future events. Consider who's the best leader for your event -- you, another team member, or an outside speaker. Get a commitment from this person far in advance, and communicate your expectations. Be creative. There's no reason your event has to be run the way it always has been. Children's minister Cheryl Jordan in Troy, Illinois, put a new twist on a teacher-training event.

"Our best time was a teacher-training meeting where teachers had to go on a scavenger hunt," Jordan says. "We had a lot of new teachers who weren't aware of where things were kept -- everything from extra diapers to the copy machine to accident report forms. So we divided our teachers into teams, making sure there was someone from each age group on each team."

Jordan gave each team a sheet with questions such as "If you were teaching in the 2-year-olds' room and an accident happened, where would you find accident forms?" When the team found the accident forms, they also found their plates for lunch. At other places they found forks, napkins, and cups.

"When they had completed all of the questions," reports Jordan, "they came back with everything they needed to eat as we began the training. It was great fun, and even the more experienced teachers found out a few new things!"

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