How many events does your church host each year? Whatever the final tally, that list may include marriage retreats, VBS, community outreaches, back-to-school bashes, and special Christmas services.
Hosting events is an excellent way to attract new people to your church and help members grow in their relationship with God and with each other. Unfortunately, the weeks leading up to a big event mean late nights at the church office, frustrated staff members and volunteers, and last-minute requests to vendors.
Between the workload of planning weekly services and keeping the wheels turning for various projects around the church, planning an event can easily get lost in the shuffle.
Also, the outcomes of an event may be disappointing to pastors and church staff members. In his post, “Three Reasons Why Big Events Are Ineffective In Most Churches," Thom Rainer states that a lack of strategic preparation for the event and follow-up afterward keeps churches from seeing real fruit from their events.
Another aspect that complicates preparing for an event is how many departments within the church are impacted. This isn't a project you can hand to one person and have that individual complete every task.
Planning events requires the involvement of several departments within the church including communications/marketing, worship, facilities, security, parking, childcare, finance, and more. If the coordination of tasks among those departments isn't handled well, you'll quickly have conflicts and issues pop up.
Fortunately, there's an easier way to host successful church events. By using a standard, repeatable process, your team can plan incredible events while staying on-schedule and on-budget; avoiding late nights at the office and stressed out team members.
Here is a planning process that works for events of all types and sizes:
Step #1: Clarify the vision for the event
You wouldn't take a long road trip without a specific destination in-mind. However, it's easy to get into the rut of always doing the same events each year without considering why you do those events. Before you start any detailed planning, determine why your church should host this event.
- What are our goals with this event?
- Who are we trying to reach?
- Are we trying to fulfill a specific need within our community?
- How does this event advance the overall mission of our church?
- How will we know if this event is a success?
If you can't articulate why your church should host an event, you'll have a hard time communicating why people should attend or even volunteer to help. The answer to "why" will guide your decisions throughout the planning process.
- How should we promote this event?
- Should we have guest speakers? If so, who would be a good fit?
- What décor and theme will work best for this event?
- Should we sell tickets or offer this for free?
This step is where an event planner comes into play. You need someone responsible for understanding the "why" of this event, who will work with each department to make sure everyone is coordinating effectively, develop a plan, monitor progress, and troubleshoot issues.
Step #2: Develop and document a plan
If you've visited a new city, you likely needed directions to make it from point A to point B. A GPS device with turn-by-turn directions is useful in that situation. A project plan is similar to those directions.
It's a list of all the tasks the team must complete to make this event a success. This includes deciding on a theme, décor, and location. It also includes purchasing supplies, updating the church website, opening up registration, and much more. Your event planner will talk with each person involved in the event to gather his/her tasks, decide on task deadlines and assignments, and document the full project plan.
Step #3: Assemble your planning team
Here's where your event planner will bring together everyone who'll have a role in pulling off this event. This step includes:
- Defining each person's role and responsibilities (document these and review with each team member).
- Reviewing the project plan at a high level (discuss key milestones such as "Guest speaker locked in by X date" or "Early Bird Online Registration starts on X date").
- Establishing a schedule for providing updates to the event planner: letting him/her know when you've completed a task. Online tools such as Asana, Basecamp, and Trello are useful for keeping track of tasks and collecting status updates.
Step #4: Work the plan
One advantage of going through the effort to create a detailed project plan is you get to make mistakes on paper during that process. As the event planner reviews the plan with the team, someone will realize they forgot a task or that they need another department to finish a specific task before they can start one of their own.
Since you've had the luxury of making those corrections before any actual work began, now is the time to follow the plan. The event planner will make sure each team member knows what tasks he/she has coming up, will help the team troubleshoot any issues, and will work to keep the team on-task.
Step #5: Monitor progress and update leadership
This step happens at the same time as step #4. Your event planner will gather updates from the team and consolidate those into an executive summary to keep senior leadership up-to-date.
Weekly updates tend to work well for most events but check with your pastor or other senior leader to find out when he/she wants to receive updates.
Step #6: Run Event Day
We're finally here! The day of the event is filled with excitement, a few nerves, and hopefully no last-minute surprises. If you created a detailed plan and kept the team on-track, this day should simply be a culmination of all that effort.
Setup a Command Center where staff and volunteers can come to get clarification, ask questions, and receive help. The event planner, plus an assistant or two should be at the Command Center to provide direction and troubleshoot issues.
Step #7: Wrap-up
While it feels like you're done once the event is over, there's one final step to complete. You need to conduct a few wrap-up activities to ensure your planning process for future events benefits from this one.
First off, take the time to celebrate as a team. Savor the moment, share stories of attendees who were impacted by the event, and recognize the team's efforts.
Next, hold a lessons-learned meeting. This is a time to discuss what went well that you want to repeat for the next event. It's also time to address what didn't go well and how you'd like to improve for future events.
Assign someone to take notes at this meeting, distribute them to the team, and save them in a central location to refer to as you start planning the next event.
Finally, create a planning notebook. Include vendor contracts, the project plan, meeting notes, artwork samples (graphics, flyers, and more), videos, and other documents you used to keep the project running smoothly. The purpose behind creating a planning notebook is to have something to start with when you plan the next event. This step alone can save time and money for every future event, so don't skip it.
It is possible to have impactful events without wearing out your team. By using a standard planning process, you can greatly reduce the last-minute issues, miscommunications, and long days at the office.