Church uses pop up events to attract new people
By Lindsay Peyton
FUMC Center fires up the grill on the first Saturday of the month. Neighbors are invited to bring a lawn chair and something to cook – hamburgers, hot dogs or boudin – for Grillin’ Chillin’ & Lovin’ First. “Then we grill it up for you – and provide all the fixings, plus drinks and dessert,” Rev. Malcolm Monroe said.
Family fun is the theme, and there’s plenty to do for the kiddos, with crafts, games and a soundtrack of Christian music. “It’s not a drop off,” Monroe said. “It’s for the whole family to come and participate.”
The location changes each month. “Hosting a series of events that moves from place to place means more neighbors are impacted,” Monroe said. “It creates a safe environment. It’s church influenced, but not at church. It’s about building relationships between families – and between families and the church.”
Guests are then invited to a follow-up event on the FUMC Center campus – either a Family Fun Night or a special event like Trunk-or-Treat or Christmas on the Square.
“The ultimate goal is to bring people into the family of God – and to be surrounded with people who share that love,” Monroe said.
The inspiration for Grillin’, Chillin’ & Lovin’ First came from the Texas Annual Conference’s Innovation Lab held in March at the Texas Museum of Broadcast and Communications in Kilgore. The event was designed to inspire clergy and encourage creativity.
And it did just that, Monroe said. He attended with his wife Teresa. “We’re always looking for new ways to reach out to people through Christ,” he said.
The Innovation Lab goes hand-in-hand with the Conference’s new Innovation Grant Program, which provides funding to congregations, pastors and districts to expand their mission in creative ways.
After the Lab, Teresa assembled a group to brainstorm back at FUMC Center. Participants ranged from young adults to seniors. “We sat down and looked at different ideas,” she recalled. “We met several times and put together the grant application.”
The intent was to extend the church’s “Love First” campaign that has been in the works since February. “It’s really nothing more than putting out yard signs to help us remember to love God first and each other,” Monroe said.
The signs, which simply read “Love First,” now number in the hundreds throughout Center, in front of homes and businesses. Adding Grillin’ and Chillin’ seemed like a natural way to extend that loving spirit and to invite more families to join in.
“We want to strengthen families in our community,” Monroe said. “And the Bishop’s initiative of We Love All God’s Children certainly plays into this. What can we do to reach families and welcome them to our church?”
When the grant application was approved during the Annual Conference, Monroe was ready to spring into action. He invested in E-Z UP tents and other supplies to make the outdoor celebrations possible. “We are very grateful to the Texas Annual Conference for a grant that gives us the ability to reach out like this,” he said.
The first event was in September at the community splash pad. The theme was “love one another.” Teresa, a former educator, helped design crafts that centered on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Children created bookmarks with their thumbprints forming hearts. They also made handprints on an image of the world.
“Their hands can impact the world,” Monroe said. “And it’s about He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
The second Grillin’ Chillin’ and Lovin’ First was held Oct. 1 in the historic Courthouse Square. After each festivity, an online countdown begins to the next one.
The buzz is spreading about the event through the community. “Over time, as more people know about it, this will grow,” Monroe said. “And the church has really gotten behind it and showed up to help.”
Teresa hopes this is the start of a new family tradition in Center – of all ages gathering for burgers, games and activities and ultimately strengthening their relationships to each other and to FUMC Center. “I say keep on going on,” she said. “I hope we look back on this after 10 years and say it really made a difference.”
For more information, visit GCLF.fun.