This past weekend our church, in one of Milwaukee’s urban neighborhoods, hosted a neighborhood BBQ. We served food to over 550 people, gave away sno cones, set up a “bouncy house” for the kids, played live music, and had dozens of conversations with our neighbors.
Before the event even started, our band was warming up. A woman who lives across the street came over with her face in her hands, near tears, and said to our musicians, “Was that you playing that song?” She proceeded to relate how that was one of her favorite songs; how she hadn’t been to church in a long time; how she wanted to join us for worship and make it a habit again.
The whole event was a rousing success in any number of ways, but it didn’t just happen. Here are some of the things we learned that may help you organize your own successful community event:
- Put the Right People in the Right Place. The two men who organized our event were a former food service Human Resources manager and an extremely well-organized graphic artist. The skills that they have used in real life work situations were naturally transferred to our event planning.
- Get the Word Out Early and Often. We began spreading the word in our community already a month before the event as we canvassed our neighbors. We want to know what local people feel the community needs most. As we posed the questions, we also invited them to our BBQ. In addition, each of our teachers invited all families during their pre-school meetings. In the week leading up to the event we blanketed our community with flyers at as many homes as possible.
- Make it Free (Or as Inexpensive as Possible). Thanks to careful budgeting, special grants we had written and received, and a suburban church that donated the time and meat to produce the BBQ, we were able to create an event that was completely free to our guests. A free event is attractive in most any community, but especially in an urban community at a time of economic distress.
- Plan Plenty of Things for Children. Where there are children there will certainly be adults. Kids bring parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors.
- Plant Your Own People in the Crowd to Create Conversations. Our congregation had volunteers who helped with food service, event coordination, music, and security. There were others whose “job” it was to show the warmth of our church by conversing, inviting to worship, and simply being friendly.
- Learn and Evaluate in Anticipation of Your Next Event. As people were given wrist bands (as a way of counting the number we served) we asked them how they heard about the event. Immediately after the event our two leaders were already discussing ways to improve and things they will do differently next year.
On Sunday morning our church had visitors that came as an immediate result of the event we held the day before. Members and guests alike had a glorious time at our Neighborhood BBQ. We look forward to seeing how the efforts will be blessed.
Have you ever hosted a community event? What did you learn?
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