We booked Steve Chalke. We Managed to get a discount on the FE college to host. We did crazy things like wheel a sofa through the town to use on the stage. We sent a press release. We booked a band. We took our own PA system. We thought we had something on cool. We created a half decent programme. We put posters up in several churches.
And what happened?
Images of queues of People lining up to get in early were somewhat dashed. An FE college, with a PA system to catapult a crescendo of delirious covers throughout the hall, and town, didnt experience much extra traffic in its car park that evening. In fact, probably less than 40 people were there. Even if there was 100, it still would have looked empty. A day of getting everything ready, wasn’t over when Steve Chalke had finished, there was still a sofa to return, a PA system to dismantle and a debrief to take place.
It felt, at the time like a crushing blow. The success of our Ministry in the town being represented by about 40 people who we already knew. It must have been Steve Chalkes fault (he was only controversial for social gospel then..:-)), or our posters, or the press release being too late, or other people not galvanising the troops in all the other churches.
Or. we. didnt. pray. enough.
This week is this first time, almost since then, that I am organising an Event, for 20 odd years since 1997, my youth work practice hasnt needed events, and i have avoided the organising of them. But some of the feelings are flooding back, and I wonder if Christian event planning and organising follows a similar cycle. Right now i am at point 3.
- The Excitement & Ideas Phase: This is the time in which the principle thought is: ‘the bigger and better our event is, the more people will come to it’ – and so every idea grows and arm and leg, every possibility is excavated. This same principle is applied to the content, the guest list, the food, the publicity – and then sometimes the cost.
- Then the ‘ignoring the criticism’ phase. This is the time when the voices of reason, of critical thought and objectivity are usually removed from the planning team. They start saying things like ‘ who is this for?’ and ‘have you budgeted for if no one turns up’ or ‘ have you personally actually invited people’ or ‘you will only get christians who like this sort of thing coming and trust you to this’ – So the best thing to do, is ignore these nay-sayers, cast them out.
- Then theres the Fear phase. Its about a day before the event. And whilst a few people have let you know that they may come along, you’re beginning to doubt whether booking Wembley arena was wise. Usually, in your Christian event planning team, there will be ‘the enthusiast’ he used to ‘do this sort of thing all the time in the 1980’s’ and lets you know that people are ‘so last minute’ and even more so that ‘If God is in this, therell be people there, its what he wants, after all’
- The on the day Panic. In the middle of the day, the person who was lead guitarist is ill. There is always one added stress on the day, usually so that the pre planned schedule of events, organisation all written down hour by hour is out the window by 10am. Theres an hour to go and you’re ringing round local churches for a mixing desk and the band are yet to rehearse. Hmm, all good prep for a time when you hope revival might be the minimum you expect from such a large event.
- The ‘brave face’ phase – This is as people start arriving, and you’re putting on the ‘brave face’. Things will be alright on the night. The band are currently playing to welcome people (it isnt their only rehearsal), It will be full of exciting activities and being modern there wont be a preacher (he is stuck on a train 100 miles away), and you’re letting people know this as you’re counting them in, hoping that you’re breaking even as people pay the really cheap entrance fee of £2, at least. Or the catering can be paid for, or the band, or the train fare for the preacher. Just one.
- The justifying that it was meant for only one person phase. Yes, thats it. Its the moment half way through the even when it becomes so obvious that it wasnt about the event at all, it is that one person is having a good time at it. The realisation that it is the same one person that has a good time at every event it irrelevant.
- The avoiding an argument afterwards phase. When the crowd has gone, everyone is tired and packing things away and holding a post-mortem on the death of the church, on young peoples lack of spirituality and the ‘hardness’ of an area to warm to such events, and discuss why the PA equipment didnt turn up, and why the guitarist played ‘Did you feel the mountains tremble’ was in the key of ‘C’ and not ‘D’.
- The Debrief see above. Usually occurs a week later, if people can bear spending any time with each other.
- The Repeat. but only when youve decided whether scaling up to be more attractive- ‘eveything louder than everything else’, or scaling down and focussing on smaller groups is the next step, realising that only christians who are free on a saturday evening will actually be there.
- Find a different way to connect with young people who aren’t Christians, because its only christians that do attend events, its somehow part of the evangelical make up.
Theres so much riding on something that is so unpredictable, and what happens when as leaders and workers we invest emotionally, spiritually and psychologically in the success, in numerical terms, of events. Or more minutely, success looks like people who have taken time out of their schedules and routines to do something different and be present in a space. To me, and looking back, and forward to this week, its such an unhealthy perspective to have, but in ministry events and people at events seem to still be the order of the day. Yet in many cases- do we ever ask people who might be a ‘target’ audience what they would like to do, where, when, how and what it could be? Not usually – because after phase 1, people are stopped listening to, event planning mode takes over.
Oh, and theres some free training for youthworkers on the subject of refugees taking place all over the UK on Thursday, please do book….