Many churches have at least an event or two every year to connect with their wider community. There is always much anticipation and expectation that said event will result in neighbors showing up for Sunday worship. Too often that anticipation is met with great disappointment. The expectation is that when folks show up for the event and find out how friendly the church is, they will automatically want to be a part of the church. Unfortunately, for the most part this strategy is not working for the majority of churches.
Before your church hosts the next community event, consider revamping your planning and implementation using the following tips to unleash its power of connection to boost engagement with your neighbors:
Consider fewer events for a niche demographic rather than more events trying to reach everyone. You’ll actually reach more people.
Create the event around an activity that is of interest or meets a need for your niche demographic. Too often churches plan events for what the church likes (or has done for decades) and then wonders why the new neighbors are not interested in the event.
Consider hosting the event in a neutral space where more people might be comfortable (i.e. city park) rather than the church.
Don’t combine purposes for events. If the purpose is a fundraiser, then call it a fundraiser and do a fundraiser! If the event is for building new relationships with your neighbors, then conduct an event for relationship building. It shouldn’t cost someone a dime to build a relationship with the church.
If the event is to meet and connect with your neighborhood, plan and implement the event with opportunities for interaction, connection, and relationship building. For example, churches often host Trunk or Treat for their communities, but they don’t build in any opportunity for conversation, connection, or follow up. Congregants drop candy in neighborhood children’s bags. The interaction is merely a few seconds.
Don’t assign all your congregants jobs to do at the event! If everyone is “busy” doing their job to pull off the event, no one is left to host your neighbors, have conversations, make connections, and build relationships! Guests are unintentionally ignored. Be sure that those with the gifts of never having met a stranger are not assigned tasks. Instead, they are event hosts and invest in getting to know the neighbors.
Get their name. For those that are comfortable participating, provide a drawing for a gift with a perceived higher value to the targeted demographic to collect names. Make sure you have a team in place before you even advertise the event who have agreed to invest in the relationship follow up. If your church does not have a team of people who are willing to invest in multiple personalized follow up steps, you are not yet ready to host a relationship-building event.