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.

  • What’s next?  Before launching the community event, make sure you have the next step for your guests planned. This hand-off is the next baby step in relationship building with your new friends. The next step is likely not inviting them to worship. This would be too big of a leap for most unchurched folks. The handoff needs to be related and of interest to the same niche demographic who attended the community event. It could be a gathering of people to focus on neighborhood crime prevention, an invitation to hear a psychologist who specializes in parenting elementary-age children, or the formation of a neighborhood basketball team.  Again, the handoff would need to be a felt need or of interest to the niche demographic who attended the event.

Having a focus and understanding of the purpose and intended outcome of your community events is critical. Reimagine your relationship-building events using the tips above to help your church be more intentional and strategic.  By implementing these tips, your church will be sure to build more new relationships, make deeper connections, and engage with more of your neighbors to impact your community.  If your church would like to take a deeper dive into learning more about revamping your community events to boost engagement, check out this on demand webinar for even more tips and strategies.