MIAMI (BP) — While retail stores across the nation are selling Halloween costumes and all kinds of sweets, many Southern Baptist churches are getting ready to offer their communities a safe and fun alternative.
These events, scheduled on or around Oct. 31, are growing in size to the point where some of them now compare as outreach opportunities to Easter, Vacation Bible School and Christmas.
Wayside Baptist Church in Miami started hosting Halloween alternatives in the early ’90s. It was one of the first churches in South Florida to do so, said Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association.
Leigh Byers, Kidz Ministry director at Wayside Baptist, noted, “VBS is the biggest event on the church calendar because it runs for an entire week. But in terms of community outreach [Halloween] is the one we spend the most money on and attract a large amount of people.”
Wayside will host its Western Fiesta on Oct. 31. The children will receive a bag of wrapped candy when they arrive for rides, games and a food court at the church’s parking lot and part of the adjacent land at the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes. Hundreds of children show up to the event with their parents.
David Burton, director of David Burton Ministries in Middleburg, Fla., said churches “have always struggled about what to do with Halloween.”
“I think it’s good that the church doesn’t throw in the towel and ignore Halloween,” said Burton, former evangelism director with the Florida Baptist Convention. “We want churches to do the alternative, but let’s make sure that it’s an actual alternative.”
HighPoint Church in Lake Worth, Fla., will host a Trunk-n-Treat event where the children can dress up, but preferably not in scary costumes. Angie Machler, director of children’s ministries at HighPoint, said 150 kids participated last year, with more than 200 expected this year. The two biggest outreach events at HighPoint are Easter and Halloween, Machler said.
Some practical ways of sharing the Gospel during alternative Halloween events, Burton said, are to pass out evangelism tracts along with the candy, talk to parents and pray with them as they stand aside and watch their children, and make sure to follow up after the event with visitors who attend the event.
For Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., Halloween is an opportunity to let its community know it is a family place, said Debbie Weisemann, the church’s minister of guest services, prayer and community outreach.
“It’s a strong outreach for us because it’s good at getting the community in,” she said.
The alternative event at Bell Shoals is done as a Trunk or Treat featuring classic cars such as Chevys from the ’50s and ’80s and Cadillacs from the ’80s for the dads, as well as bounce houses and games for the kids.
Every candy bag a child receives contains a “Light up the Night” evangelism tract, which Weisemann described as a great opportunity for them to know the Gospel.
Last year, Bells Shoals had a turnout of about 1,500 kids and parents.
“We’re finding, at Bell Shoals, that people drift away from church as they get older. But when they have children they feel the need to come back to church,” Weisemann said.
First Baptist Church in Jacksonville will be hosting its second annual Trunk of Treats event. Diane Mitchell, director of preschool ministries at the church, said more than 2,000 people participated last year. Each campus of FBC Jacksonville will be hosting its own Halloween alternative to reach their individual communities, she said.
“I think parents are looking for an alternative to going door-to-door because you just don’t know who’s behind the door,” Mitchell said.
All the churches have a registration system to assess who is already a church member and who is not attending a church. At Wayside Baptist, the names of people who make professions of faith are forwarded to the evangelism ministry for follow-up, while other names are added to an email list to keep them in the loop about other church activities. At Bell Shoals, a group of volunteers hand-delivers gifts to the first-time visitors in the days following the Trunk or Treat event and they mail out invitations to Sunday School for the children.
Burton said churches need to take advantage of the fact that they control the event.
“Use that time to announce other upcoming events, have someone share their testimony on a mic, play Jesus music and share the Gospel. … It’s a wonderful opportunity for our churches to take advantage of.”