Making the Most of a Fall Festival

Date Posted: 8/11/2016

Churches across the conference share ideas on how to better leverage this popular outreach activity to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Fall provides a weather-friendly opportunity for churches to welcome the community on to the campus while often giving an “entry ramp” for families seeking an active children’s ministry for their youngsters. It is a premier opportunity to build relationships with others that are not associated with a church. Rev. Bob Farr, coauthor of Get their Name spells out the importance of collecting and focusing on names as a first step to cultivating dynamic relationships that could result in life change for all. Getting contact information from a few hundred guests might be accomplished through a special prize drawing or other registration strategy.
The following churches and denominational groups across the conference are sharing their strategies and plans for the fall in hopes of getting new ideas and inspirations from each other.
Texas A&M Wesley Foundation
According to Ben Sinclair, the United Methodist Student Center in College Station, will kick off the fall semester with an annual Pie Party. “As the name implies, we simply provide a free slice of pie to any student who comes through the doors during the two-hour event,” shares Ben. “We typically have between 600 and 800 students attend, and over 90% of those are not already involved at Wesley, which makes this our most effective outreach tool to get new people who have no connection to the Wesley Foundation into our group.”  About a dozen students each year get active at Wesley as a result of attending the Pie Party, most of whom grew up Methodist. This year's Pie Party is Thursday, August 25th from 6-8pm, with worship following at 8.
TIP: Unique angles boost attention for these kinds of events. Adds Ben, “Most of the time, if I tell one of my friends on campus that I go to the Methodist Student Center, they say, ‘Oh, that’s the place with the pie, right?’ even months after the event.  Pie is specific and unique enough of a thing to give away that it’s memorable to a lot of people, even those who would not know our group by name. I have not heard of another group in town doing a pie give-away.”
Throughout the summer, leaders spend a lot of time trying to connect with the incoming freshmen at Texas A&M as they attend their New Student Conferences, where they register for classes. “We have an information booth for Wesley set up in one of the main buildings on campus and hand out brochures for Wesley along with fliers for Pie Party,” he adds. “A few days before the event, we also place about 20 yard signs around campus advertising Pie Party.  This year we have made 2 banners that people will hold up at major intersections in town the morning of the event.  We also try to get Pie Party on the university calendar of events that every student gets.”
At the party, volunteers sit at a Wesley table to talk to the students who are interested in more than just the pie. Contact information cards are at the greeter table and in baskets with pens on all of the tables where the students enjoy their pie.
FUMC Brenham
The annual Harvest Festival on October 25 is the work of the United Methodist Women, according to Chris Rogers, UMW President. “We feature a drive thru or sit–down dinner of turkey and all the trimmings, a silent auction and a country store that has many items, both new and used.” Adds Chris, “The community supports our endeavor every year as tickets for the dinner are always sold out in advance. We do publicize in the Banner Press, with signs throughout the community and by word of mouth.”
Wesley-Bryan UMC
This year’s 45th Annual Chili Day comes on Saturday, November 12 with chili served 11 am - 4 pm (to-go orders available) silent auction from 11 am - 1:30 pm, followed by the live auction at 2 pm. Publicity comes by word-of-mouth, flyers, and radio. Members greet guests and invite them to attend church following day.
Wesley Memorial in Huntsville
On October 1, Wesley's own UMM sets up to barbeque their infamous burgers and sausage as a fundraiser for their many ministry projects. Hundreds of plates will be fill up with this well-known menu item at the community and citywide Fair on the Square. On the following weekend the UMW will have their turn to raise funds during their annual Bazaar.  Hundreds of people from the surrounding area come out to shop local baked goods, canned goods, and homemade crafts from the UMW of Wesley Memorial. Rev. Kimberly Carney shares that advertising for these events is done in local papers, the sign on the front of the church and by word of mouth.
The River UMC
RiverFest, is a Halloween carnival which includes games, bounce houses, food, drinks,
music, and raffle prizes. “Since we encourage kids and adults to dress up in costumes we plan to have a costume contest this year,” notes staff member Emily Wisbrock, who estimates about 90% of participants are non-members.
Publicity Tip: Shares Emily, “We publicize our event primarily through flyers sent home in local school folders and place them in all area daycares. We also advertise on our website and social media, in addition to our weekly bulletins and e-newsletter. We offer free raffle tickets to capture basic contact information from our guests.”
Planning Tip: Start the planning process early. By asking for volunteers early, they can get the date on calendars before schedules get booked; the same is true when seeking donations from local companies -- several months in advance is essential to get them first.
Adds Emily, “Our carnival is a family centered, non-threatening way to touch non-believers, showing them how the church reaches out to serve its community.  For those without God in their life, they will know one place they can turn when their heart is ready.”
St. John’s UMC Richmond
About 75% of participants are non-members at the St. John’s fall event. They encourage guests to register their email onsite to get information on future events.

Publicity Tip: One of the lessons planners have learned over the years has been to distribute flyers in both English and Spanish. “In terms of building relationships, our festival is staffed primarily by church members and provides an opportunity to reach out to our community and engage in conversation while they are on our campus,” shares Melissa Rocha.
San Felipe UMC
San Felipe UMC has a symbolic fall event celebrating its unique history, which generates an average $3000 for continued restoration of the church. Considered the oldest Protestant church building in Texas, San Felipe UMC began its first Sunday school program n 1829. The original log home burned in 1836 and the present church was built in 1837. Clara Miller says, “Because the church is so old, we have formed a committee to restore the church. As a church of 37, our November event brings in about 300 – 325 people, which implies a big influx from the community and all over.” This year’s event is November 12 and will be held at the Historical Park of San Felipe with events throughout the day including a ticketed chicken fried steak dinner. Proceeds come from meals and a silent auction. The park is located across the road from the church and will soon feature a new Center, which will bring more traffic to the church. “The old cloakrooms are now our restrooms and our educational building was once the first school,” notes Clara. Members are happy to do tours of their historic masterpiece upon request by visitors to the area. Adds Clara, “To advertise our annual fall event, we run articles in the local newspaper and surrounding papers. Also, flyers are put out all over town. Sharing our history and enjoying fellowship with other people from all over is a great treat for us.”
Seabrook UMC
“We had done a festival for a few years and scrambled for help, so, we switched to a trunk or treat,” shares Christie Hall. “Everyone loves helping to decorate cars and set up games and scenes -- it is so much more fun for them. We provide free bounce houses and free hot dogs with water, chips, and a cookie, and give out an award for a car wash to the best car.  We hand out participation car scents for everyone, of whom about 40% are non-members.” To publicize Seabrook members put lawn signs out and use invitations members can share as well as Facebook posts. “We have yet to collect contact information,” she adds, “but one of our treat booths is an information table about the church.”
Planning Tip: Be flexible. “Last year it rained,” notes Christie, “so we just moved it down the hallways inside and it all worked out fine.”
Here are several other ways to add a new dimension to your event.

  • Pumpkin power
Whether you recycle the water balloon slingshot or mark a field like a driving range, small airborne pumpkins are likely to be a popular attraction. And if you want to host a mess-free pumpkin decorating activity, opt for stickers and bling instead of knives, seeds and goo. Uncut pumpkins will often last outside for 8 to 12 weeks.
  • Help children earn Bible bucks
Hand out tickets at your events that can be exchanged for Bibles, books, and outreach items as well as prizes that can be earned at future kid events at the church. Consider incorporating Bible bucks into your children’s ministry to encourage ongoing participation and attendance.
  • Save money on rentals
Churches can consider saving money by buying concession machines instead of renting them year after year, since most will pay for themselves the second year. This also allows you to have concessions at other events.
  • Mission Station
The church is about mission that transforms the world. Involving your community in this effort is powerful. Set up a station at your festival for helpers to prep backpacks, sort canned goods or something similar. Have all the supplies set out and a volunteer on hand, giving instructions. Maybe you can even make it a contest.
  • Sponsor the School Festival
What if you took your fall festival on the road? Many schools have (or would like to have) a special day or event with cotton candy, hot dogs and face paint, similar to the one you normally plan for your church’s parking lot. Consider partnering with the PTA at your neighborhood school and leverage your volunteer resources to put on the whole event from beginning to end—and then give all the proceeds to the school.