You’ve got 100 people waiting outside your church for one of your big events. 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.
1. 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:
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.
An event focused on reaching outside your church walls can be located at a community center or amusement park with a welcoming atmosphere.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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 childcare 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!”
5. Publicize your event.
Get the word out early and clearly. Start at least three months before your event. Include your event name, date, time, location, cost (if any), what’s provided (notepad, lunch), what to bring, and what to expect. Depending on the event’s focus, a handwritten invitation may be appropriate.
For a larger publicity campaign, try the following:
- Announce the event in each Sunday service.
- Place a notice in your bulletin.
- Send emails to your team and the families in your church.
- Display posters on bulletin boards and in restrooms.
- Make an announcement in each Sunday school class.
- Send fliers home with children.
- Split up the church directory, and have your team call families.
6. Plan your menu.
It’s well-known that attendees show up when food is present. Food can often be overlooked or planned at the last minute, but this is a great way to wow your attendees with ample and tasty snacks and meals. Plan snacks and meals according to the timeframe of your event. Count on 10 percent of your attendees eating a vegetarian snack or meal. A muffin-and-fruit snack should cost about $1.50 per person, while a box lunch will cost around $5 per person.
Provide ice water during your entire event. Continue thinking of your attendees’ needs by placing a bowl of individually wrapped mints and chewing gum on your refreshment table. For more information about planning food and beverages for your event, visit www.reasontoparty.com. You’ll also find party theme ideas, fun party locations, and creative crafts.
7. Set up your room.
The key word here is “comfort,” but beyond making sure attendees are comfortable, ensure that the environment is conducive to achieving your event goal. Turn to other ministries in your church or support staff who can help with setup or audiovisual needs.
Hudson suggests you “always have more than enough food and tables set up. It’s better to have some left over than to run out.” Also make more copies of handouts than you’ll actually need.
Decorations add to your event’s excellence and impact. Rockwell says, “Prepare the environment so those who come will say, ‘Wow—they were expecting me!’ ”
Double-check everything the day before. This will allow time for last-minute challenges (yep, they’ll always happen) and will allow you and your team to be better rested to enjoy your event. Children’s minister Sarah Clayton in Dayton, Ohio, says, “Communicate, be very positive throughout, and know that if you have truly done your job right, the day of the event you should be able to relax, mingle with the guests, and enjoy.”
8. Add the extras.
The extras make your event an amazing experience. Perhaps you’ll want to add a goodie bag for each attendee at the start of the event. Door prizes or other giveaways are crowd-pleasers. Group photos or other mementos are great ways to remember the day…and what God accomplished at your event.
Budgets often skip right over these extras. If this is the case for your budget, perhaps local stores will donate some items. A volunteer or a youth-group member could enjoy taking group photos for free.
9. Say thanks.
At your event, publicly thank your team. And give them a thank you gift after the event. This can be something simple, such as a handwritten card, a gift card to a local coffee house, or a favorite snack. Take pictures at the event to show at the next Sunday morning service or to post on your ministry’s bulletin board. Send an email to attendees a month after the event thanking them for coming and sharing your favorite moments from the event. These ideas will not only spark interest for those people to help with the event next time, but they’ll also encourage other attendees to be sure they don’t miss the next event.
10. Evaluate your event.
You and your event team will have an impression of how things went, but by asking each attendee to fill out an evaluation, you’ll learn even more. Ask how attendees would rate each session of the event, the location, the food, and the time of day. Two key questions to ask attendees are, “What was the best aspect of the event?” and “What would you change?” Asking open-ended questions gives you more detailed feedback. Discuss these evaluations and the event with your team so you learn what worked and what needs to change the next time.
Anyone can plan a successful event. The top keys are to take your event to God in prayer, pursue your goal, work with your team, and dream big!
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