Along with some of the awesome members of our core team, I spent the majority of this past weekend hanging out in a tent at a local town festival. This was our first opportunity to really introduce ourselves to the community. The following are a few reflections on the experience.
- We want to be present (and have a noticeable presence) in our community. I would (and we will) do this again in a heartbeat. As a church, as much as possible, we want to be present where people are gathering. An evaluation question for us is, "If Graceway Church ceased to exist in this community, would anyone notice?" Our scorecard for success is not solely based on how many people we can eventually manage put in seats on Sunday morning, but is based also (and more primarily so) on the kind of impact we are having in the broader community. If we are helping people grow in their faith then we believe that the evidence of our transformed lives should be reflected in the community around us. This weekend was a place for us to start building the relationships that will allow for this kind of opportunity.
- Keep it Simple. If there was one negative (outside of the rain) this weekend it was that we strayed a bit from our value of keeping it simple. At our booth, we sold fair trade crafts from Ten Thousand Villages. This was a reflection of our core value of "serving the world", but for this event I wonder if it was too much. Ten Thousand Villages makes doing a one-time festival sale pretty simple, but the primary purpose of us being at this event was to have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the community. It may have been more effective to simplify our booth to do something like an iPod giveaway to go along with our freebies (we gave out 500 super-cool light up yo-yos with our logo and website). I don't regret doing the fair trade sale, I just wonder if it made our primary purpose more labor intensive then it needed to be.
- If you give something away, make sure it is something people want. There were a ton of people giving stuff away at this festival. What was interesting was to observe the response different booths got to what they were giving away. There were all the things you might expect… bookmarks, fans, pens, rulers. We gave away light up yo-yos. Whenever you go to an event like this, there is usually one thing that is being given away that every kid in the place is playing with… making others wonder where they got it. Our goal was to be that booth with that one thing. I would say we succeeded in this. As the weekend progressed we had people sending others to our booth to get the yo-yos. Once night fell, you could see little red lights going up and down all over the park. Pretty cool. What was unexpected, however, was how many adults wanted yo-yos. It was a new toy that some kids had never tried before, but for some adults it was a reminder of their childhood. They shared stories of the "yo-yo man" coming to their school every year, and tried to do their old tricks, etc. Pretty cool.
- The conversations/connections were worth the effort. Because we are not gathering regularly at this point, and we are very early in the process of assembling our launch team I get very little one-to-one time with the folks who are the "early connectors" to our community. This event gave these folks something tangible that they could participate in and it also gave me an opportunity to have some extended conversations that I had previously been unable to have.Some of the biggest highlights of the weekend came in the conversations/connections we had with folks who we had not yet met. We met the director of organization called "Birthday Blessings" that provides birthday parties for homeless and impoverished children in our area, we met a woman who has dedicated her life to childhood cancer research through an organization called Cure Search. We met a middle school kid who thought our booth was the coolest at the festival. He ended up hanging out for over an hour and helped hand out yo-yos! We met folks from other area churches, folks who have no church connection, displaced Lutherans… It was really great.
Thanks to all of our volunteers. Your friendly faces made all the difference!
Beyond the "So do you have a building where you will meet?" question, the number one question I have been getting lately as I tell folks I'm preparing to launch a new church is, "How will you gather people? Seriously? You are starting from scratch?" Yeah. I am starting from scratch, but I am already making contacts with folks in the area that I know from my college days and other friends/acquaintances of friends, etc. It is an overwhelming thought that currently Graceway Church consists of me, Michelle, and Zachary, but I really believe that God has called us to be there and if that is the case, it will somehow come together. I do, however, want to be smart and strategic about how I begin to meet folks. Are the traditional methods of knocking on doors and calling everyone in the phonebook still the most effective ways, or are there new ways that other church planters have found to be effective ways of connecting with their communities? I am particularly interested in knowing how folks are using online, social networking resources as well as other innovations. My cousin is a church planter at Great Park Church in Irvine, CA and the other pastor posted this on their blog:
Church Database System vs. Using Facebook & Meetups | Great Park Church
Does anyone have any thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Warnings?