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How to plan your biggest event of the year

By Clay Morgan

Anyone who has ever hosted a dinner party or holiday gathering knows how much goes into even a simple get-together with family and friends. Putting on a successful church event takes planning to a new level. Whether you are hosting a picnic, worship event, camp, festival, Christmas service or any other special event, you need to think through a number of things.

Whatever you are planning, the key is to break your event into manageable parts and then identify who will oversee each one. That simple structure is often easier said than done.

Here are some steps to take as you manage your event planning. We’ve also included proven methods and suggested practices used by savvy planners everywhere, including a couple of ways smaller churches can pull off larger events than they had anticipated.

Proven methods from savvy leaders on how to plan your biggest church event of the year TWEET THIS TWEET THIS

Make sure the BIG event aligns with your church marketing plan

Creating a church marketing plan is the first step we recommend before doing anything big.  Some people don’t like marketing (and for good reason), but church marketing is the process of identifying and meeting the spiritual and service needs of your community. A good plan will help lay the foundation and set the direction for every event or program. Many people will skip this step because it’s too much to do before their event, but it’s highly recommended and could be cause to stop and define the role of your church.

After you determine your congregation’s unique calling and your community’s needs, you can start developing strategy and brainstorming the biggest event of the year.

Ask the right questions

After you have a solid marketing plan, your core leadership needs to ask the right questions before investing time and money! This will help lay the foundation for your event and shape your communications plan. Consider the following questions:

  • How does this event fit with the specific mission of your church?
  • How feasible is it for your church to execute the event successfully?
  • How would you define your overall goal?
  • How passionate are the people who need to be involved?
  • What makes this idea stand out to the community?
Ask the right questions before investing in new church events, ministries or programs TWEET THIS TWEET THIS

How NOT to plan your biggest event of the year

Next, consider the implications of the answers to the questions above.

  • If the event strays from your church’s unique calling, quit now and share your values and vision with core leadership.
  • If you don’t have enough time or money, it’s time to quit. You may need to prune a few programs before proceeding.
  • Are you unsure of all the expected outcomes? Quit for a bit and convert ministry goals into clear measures.
  • If you don’t have passionate volunteers — you’re probably sensing a theme here — QUIT! Now focus on recruiting and motivating volunteers.
  • If nothing stands out to the community, it may be the biggest event planned but not attended.

Be honest with your answers and go forth — if core leadership gives the green light.

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Plan with plenty of lead time

Be sure to give yourself and your team enough time to pull everything together. Last-minute planners might move too fast to notice that all the folding chairs were reserved elsewhere or that a wedding was planned on the same day you thought you could use the sanctuary.

People need time to get involved, both as volunteers and registered participants. Who will donate supplies or prepare food? Who will setup and tear down? Make registration easy. Allow people to sign up via your church website, Facebook page or app. Low-tech groups could leave forms in the pews or set up a registration table in the foyer.

If your goal is to reach local neighbors, avoid scheduling your event at the same time as popular community pastimes or sporting events.

Establish clear lines of communication

It is important to ask someone to identify jobs and assign people to those tasks. Who will be in charge of music, speakers, marketing, food, decorations, set up/tear down, activities and so on?

A clear chain-of-command goes hand in hand with clear communication. Know who is in charge of each area and trust him or her to organize volunteers and resources for that special focus. Chain-of-command is less about who is on the top rung and more about who can make decisions and help facilitate a smooth process.

Once you have the people you need, communicate often with them and tell volunteers what is expected. They will need detailed job descriptions and training to play their role well.

How does your church communicate? Learn to communicate with the “plugged-in” as well as how to connect with the “unplugged.”

Pick a theme

Having a theme for your event gives focus and helps determine the types of food to serve, games to play and decorations to display. Call on creative people for ideas. Many vacation Bible school programs do this well.

A theme creates atmosphere and makes your event memorable. Have fun creating team building exercises and guests will have fun, too. Play trivia with themed questions or come up with interactive ways to engage attendees.

Expect unexpected expenses

How much do you have to spend? Where will the money come from? Do you have a committee overseeing event finances? The treasurer will be key here.

You will need funds for supplies, food, advertising and decorations. Entertainment and equipment rental are also possible expenses. Build a buffer into your budget because most events cost more than anticipated.

Consider applying for a grant

Rethink Church event grants could help you with your media and marketing costs if you meet specific criteria. Grants are for United Methodist-affiliated organizations that create sustainable events and demonstrate community relevance. Learn the criteria to see if your event qualifies by taking this simple survey.

Rethink Church grants could help with your church's media costs. See if your events meet the criteria TWEET THIS TWEET THIS

Spread the word

For starters, post your event on the church website, social media accounts and email list. Weekly announcements and bulletins are also good to use. From there, consider what printed materials might work best. Are advertisements on local radio or television possible?

Check out these great ideas for planning and promoting VBS, which apply to just about any event.

After the event, debrief with your team

Schedule time with your team to evaluate the planning and execution of the event and make adjustments if the event will reoccur. What worked well? If it’s newsworthy, share it with media.  What went poorly? Don’t hide. Step up, own it and have some real talk with your team.

Send follow-up communication to the people who attended your event. You might send them a general thank you, a feedback survey or complimentary resources. Invite them to related events in the future.

Express gratitude for the service of everyone who helped. The more appreciated they feel, the more likely they will lend a hand again.

Successful events don’t just happen

They take plenty of thought and action. The more detail you lay out ahead of time, the fewer hiccups you’ll have during your event.

Clay Morgan

-- Clay Morgan is an author from Dallas, Texas who spent a decade teaching college courses in the social sciences before becoming a consultant in corporate communication.