ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The church fall festival seems to have changed Halloween for at least a sizable number of 3-foot-tall costumed candy-seekers filing down neighborhood streets on Oct. 31. Drawn by blow-up obstacle courses and slides, free cotton candy and hot dogs and just about any other treat a kid could want, children and their parents are at least adding church events to their Halloween traditions. And churches are adding to their numbers yearly.
It’s fun. It’s safe. And it’s a good introduction tool for churches, Richard Leach, director of servant and community evangelism at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, points out.
It’s important to remember that families aren’t coming to be evangelized, but events like these can build bridges for sharing the Gospel.
“Most parents are trying to keep up with their kids and most kids are trying to experience everything and get to the food as quickly as possible,” Leach says.
So, focus on showing hospitality and learning as much as is reasonably possible about participants without being overbearing. Volunteers, for instance, could simply introduce themselves at game and food areas and provide information and follow-up cards to parents. It’s important just to help folks have a good time in order for a successful follow-up in the weeks to come.
“The fall calendar offers a perfect opportunity for combining trick-or-treating and relationship-building with your community,” Leach says. “Events held on the church property offer a combination of safety, fun and an introduction to the local church.”
For members of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., the annual Halloween outreach took on new significance following Sept. 11. The church’s decades-old fall festival attracted 3,000 people in 2001 as they left the streets in favor of a safer way to celebrate. This afforded the church a new perspective on the impact a fall festival can have. While the numbers have shrunk a bit, hundreds still show up for the church’s fun, generosity and hospitality.
In addition to the fall festival, more suited for young children, the church hosts a special gathering the week of Halloween for youth where typically 20-40 young people eat, hang out and gain a fresh perspective on their eternity through a pretty straightforward discussion of sin, death, heaven and hell.
“The key for us hasn’t been how great our program is,” says Craig Whitaker at Whitesburg. “Rather it’s been the prayers of people who want to see God reach families through the event, and the willingness of volunteers to share their faith.”
Kerry Hudson, pastor of North Gwinnett Baptist Church in Duluth, Ga. reports, “We’re only a church of about a hundred, and we tripled attendance for one night.” While the spike in attendance deflated with the moonwalks, follow-ups provided an extra opportunity for North Gwinnett to connect with its community. The church attributes half a dozen baptisms to last fall’s efforts.
Volunteers are key for a fall festival.
With the help of 60 volunteers, First Southern Baptist Church On Mill near Arizona State University in Tempe placed about 1,000 door hangers in two nearby neighborhoods and church bulletin inserts reminded members to bring friends.
For the second year, the church has trained volunteers to teach Bible studies at game booths and to teach children about Jesus Christ.
“We’re hoping our volunteers will be bold and talk about Jesus,” says Andrea Heaton, minister to preschool and children. The church’s fall festival, she says, is one of three events used to train church members, especially college students, in sharing Christ with children. “The festival has layers of purpose,” Heaton says.
Of course, the fall festival also is an opportunity for “window shoppers to determine whether they want to come back and bring their child to Vacation Bible School next year,” she adds.
In preparation, volunteers prayer walked surrounding neighborhoods. The church prayer team has held regular meetings to pray for the event. All this in an effort to show parents that maybe they could, with their kids, come to “a church like that.”
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board. Looking for some creative ways to share Christ this Halloween? Here are some additional resources from the North American Mission Board:
— Halloween Rescue Kit, www.onmission.com/site/c.cnKHIPNuEoG/b.830873/k.151/Halloween_Rescue_Kit.htm.
— Halloween outreach article, www.onmission.com/site/c.cnKHIPNuEoG/b.829847/k.A280/Holy_Halloween.htm.