I’m not here to throw shade (as the kids used to say in 2017, but now they act like no one has said that since the 1940’s), but I am going to share my thoughts. I don’t like when churches charge money for outreach events like Easter Egg hunts and I don’t even like when they charge money for drinks or hot dogs. I know I’m in the minority for that last point, but I’ll make my case.
Churches are often accused of just being “money hungry.” I think that’s just a made-up excuse people use to not go to church, but the moniker is out there. I’m not anti-talking about money. Money reveals what we really care about. If you care about building God’s Kingdom your money will reflect that. So it’s worth talking about. My issue is when clear outreach events start getting intermingled with money. I know, you’re right, these events can be crazy expensive. I’ve seen churches get helicopters to do egg drops and have stinking Ferris wheels at fall festivals. Believe me, I love fun, and I think its great for kids and families to have fun at church. Fun = Trust. I don’t think I want people to just think of church as fun, but I’m all for people enjoying church and church activities. So what am I complaining about? Just because my church can only afford a bounce house, am I jealous of the ones who can afford whole carnivals? Nope. I want churches to be good stewards of their money but if they have 20,000 people coming to hear about Jesus and be exposed to their church ministry, then spending $3 a person doesn’t sound ridiculous even if $60,000 does. The problem I have is when we start charging people to “recoup costs.” Giving hotdogs and chips to everyone increases the costs by $1. Throw in a drink and there’s a few more cents. If you have to recoup costs then you are spending too much. If you can’t afford to give everyone a hotdog, chips, and a drink… then don’t. It’s no problem to just have an Easter Egg hunt from 10am-11am (or from 10am-10:03am because man those kids pick up those eggs fast.) You don’t have to have food at every event if you can’t afford it, but probably if everyone at church chips in something, you can probably provide more than you think. That just takes more organization and it’s easier to just go buy a 270 pack of Hotdogs and a 240 pack of buns at Sam’s Club and not deal with it. But then your costs go up.
What I think is happening is that churches have started to literally compete with one another (I know it’s not new. Stop trying to throw shade at me.) Ring toss and basketball rolls have now been replaced by laser tag and Build-a-Bear. The church across the street is doing it, so you need to also. If you just become a family friendly festival then that’s how the neighborhood will treat you. You are a service-oriented entertainment venue, and that’s all you’ll be to them. With money comes expectation, and expectations only go higher. I know, I know, people are going to throw at me that there is nothing we shouldn’t do to reach new people with the Gospel. Here are the hard and fast numbers when it comes to church attendance. Of the people that go to your church – apx. 35% are there because of a family member, 35% are there because their friends, 10% because they saw your church sign and wanted to check it out, and the other 20% comes from EVERYTHING else the church does. That one event isn’t the most important thing in the world. So here are my rules of thumb to break this insane cycle of spending gobs of money and then needing the community to pay you back:
1) Gear your events to be for your church family to enjoy, fellowship, and invite their friends. Encouraging families to spend time with each other and giving them a reason to invite their friends to church covers 70% of the reasons why people go to your church in the first place.
2) Plan on charging people absolutely nothing, zero, nada. Don’t charge to get in, don’t charge for food, and don’t even ask for donations. This prevents you from forgetting the purpose of this event and curbs the potential to overspend and encourages creativity as opposed to spending.
* I personally think this applies to raising money for Mission Trips. As a youth pastor I jumped on every event as an opportunity to raise funds for mission trips or camp or whatever. I’d sell anything and everything to help my students raise money. But as a Lead Pastor, I have tried to clearly define events. Which leads to the next point.
3) Call events what they are and they should only be one thing. If something is designed to be a church fellowship, then let it be a church fellowship. If an event is supposed to be an outreach to the community, let it be an outreach to the community. And if it’s supposed to be a fundraiser, then by all means raise funds! But an event shouldn’t be all those things. It can’t be, so don’t pretend it is. Declare the purpose for the event and then everything needs to be about that. Be willing to cut something really cool and save it for a future date because it doesn’t fit the purpose of that event.
4) Emphasize relationship building. Have chairs sitting in a circle, have areas for the parents to talk to one another, and create avenues for more communication. In some ways you want to simplify what you do to allow for this. You don’t go to a rave to just talk; you do that at a coffee shop. Let’s be honest, kids have fun with a box and any kind of slime.
5) Finally, give them a taste of what you do regularly for children’s ministry. Do some things you do with your kids. I think people sometimes have to be disappointed when they show up on Sunday morning and there’s no laser light show or water slide (but I’ve been to some churches where they totally have that so maybe they don’t disappoint.) They probably learned what others have yet to. What it takes to get ‘em, it’ll take to keep ‘em. If people expect a full-blown rock concert, then you better deliver it or they will go somewhere that won’t disappoint. But the truth is that is NOT WHAT CHURCH SHOULD BE ABOUT. It should be about equipping and encouraging people to go and live out Christ’s mission. Let carnivals be carnivals, and let church be church.
So yes, this year my church is doing an Easter Egg Hunt ;) (I should have totally just dropped the sentence off there.) We have bounce houses and games and hotdogs and candy and Easter eggs hidden throughout the woods. We cage in the little ones so they don’t wander too far. Why do we do this? It’s an outreach to the community. We don’t think people know where we are down our little side road, so at least they’ll know where we are after this. Our immediate neighbors are middle class, but right up the road there are less fortunate people and we want everyone to enjoy everything equally so we charge for nothing and don’t accept donations. We sometimes run out of hotdogs and have to go get more, but people don’t seem to be too mad (except for 1 lady who gave our church a 1-star rating on Facebook because the line was too long for trunk-or-treat. I like watching all the church members with their homemade games all working together to make this event happen. We share the Gospel with every person who comes through our parking lot, and we invite them to come to Easter Service the next day. Over the years we’ve have a few people come by. Few have really stuck around. We know it takes lots of touches for a person who doesn’t go to church to start. So that’s what we’re doing. We’ll end up spending about $400-$500 for everything with lots of people contributing to keep the costs that low. You’re welcome to join us.