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In the following pages I will chronicle my step by step journey as a Church Planter
Do BIG events really work?

Each month I coach youth pastors from all across the country. The other day one of the young guys I work with asked the question “Do BIG events really work?” Talking with him reminded me of a training session I did a few years ago at the SEEDS conference at Church on the Move. At the time I had been the youth pastor of Oneighty for six years and in this session I tried my best to answer this question.

Here are the actual notes from my training session from SEEDS Conference March, 2011

DO BIG EVENTS WORK?

Around the youth ministry landscape right now, there is some debate on if “Big Events” really work? In conversations with youth pastors from around the country, the most common reason I’ve heard as to why student ministries have decided to stop doing big events is…”We worked real hard, spent a lot of money, our numbers went up for one week, then within two weeks we were right back to were we were before. So we stopped doing the “attractional” big event style ministry and became more missional in our DNA.

If you don’t do outreach events properly, the truth of the matter is… you can spend a boatload of money and not see any real momentum or growth in your ministry. However, if done properly, we have found that the “Big Event” can be a catalyst for true-life change in the lives of both the believing and non-believing teenager.

Last fall, we hosted a big event simply called “The Biggies”. At this event we had over 1,500 in attendance with 200 first-time visitors, and 28 teenagers accepted Christ as their personal Savior. In the six weeks that followed the event, we averaged over 1,300 per week in attendance, had over 400 first-time visitors, and 85 teenagers became Christians. During this timeframe, we also graduated 75 young people from our Turn Life discipleship ministry. It was this Biggies event that not only catapulted us into what God had for our ministry, but also most importantly drew more teenagers closer to Jesus Christ.

Through the years we have seen that, yes, big events do work. I consider us at Oneighty to be both attractional and missional – our mission is to introduce teenagers to Jesus and help Christians live like him and one of the tools we use to accomplish this mission is the “attractional” nature of a big event.
So what I want to do today is dive into the nuances of the big event, in hopes that you and your student ministry will join us in using this incredible tool to grow the Kingdom of God in your area.

So to kick this deal off lets talk about – WHY do I need to do a big event?

1) It gives teenagers that have never been to your student ministry a reason to show up. 
Unsaved teenagers don’t wake up in the morning and think “Boy, I’d like to go to church tonight, have some dude preach to me, and then give my life to Jesus.” Teenagers that don’t know Christ will never think about going to church unless you give them a reason to think about it. That is what the big event does best. It puts “church” into the mind of someone that typically never thinks about it.

2) It gives students that have not attended your service in a while, a reason to come back.
 Do you have any teenagers that were coming for a while and then have stopped? Why have some of your teenagers stopped coming to your youth service? Maybe they’ve forgotten about it, maybe they’ve been busy, or maybe they haven’t had a real good reason to come back in a while. Doing a big event gives unplugged teenagers a reason to get off the couch and plug back into your student ministry.

3) It gives your hard-core Christians a reason to bring a friend with them to church.
 Let’s face it. It is extremely tough to get Christian teenagers to bring unsaved friends with them to church. Maybe it’s because they don’t have that many unsaved friends. It could be that they know they should invite someone, but just can’t seem to get up enough courage to ask them, or maybe they’ve never actually thought about it at all. No matter what the reason is, hosting a big event in your student ministry will give your Christian teenagers a reason to find someone that doesn’t know Jesus, break through their fear, and actually bring them to church.

4) It gives your volunteers something to rally around, pray for, and be excited about. 
People want to make a difference, they want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves, that’s why your volunteers are giving you their time and energy each and every week. Allow them to make a difference. Show them that God is up to something big in your community by hosting a big event that impacts tons of teenagers. When you do, your volunteers will be more excited, they will feel more involved, and they will keep volunteering for years to come.

5) If done right Big events can build Big Momentum:

If there’s one thing a leader from any organization wants, it’s momentum. We want things to happen that propel our company, our church, or our youth ministry forward. We all want the BIG MO. Thru the years that is exactly what the big event has given me.

Now, I’ve got to be completely honest and say that there have been a few times that I planned a big outreach event and it flopped. By “flopped” I mean – I Leave thinking I SUCK – I should just resign now before my pastor fires me – because we did all this work and we did not get the number of students we were shooting for or we did get huge numbers this one night but next week went back down to where we were before the event.

What causes big events to fail?

I’ve found that sometimes-big events don’t work – sometimes they fail – here are the reasons why

BAD PLAN

The goal of an outreach event is to reach out. You want to give teenagers that typically would not come to your youth service a reason to put down the XBOX 360 controller and come check out what you’re doing. In order for that to happen you have to have something planned that the un-churched teenager will want to attend and your churched students will want to bring a friend to. There have been times through the years that I have planned an event that I thought would be really good, but none of my students got excited about. Therefore, they didn’t show up. Here is a personal principle that I always go by when planning a big event: “At this event we are trying to draw young people ages 13 – 18. I’m 40 years old. I have four kids and drive a minivan. If what we are doing at the event is something that I would personally love to do, we’ve got a bad plan.”

BAD TIMING

Years ago, while serving as a youth pastor in Northern Indiana, I brought in a really good regional band. They had some notoriety in my area and our students loved them. This was going to be a great outreach event. We planned out an end of the school year concert. We had the band, great give-a-ways, and some free food. We passed out flyers and talked it up in the area really well. I was confident this event was going to bring in a lot of un-churched teenagers. On the night of the concert, we had 25 students. Twenty-Five! The reason had nothing to do with the event. It had everything to do with the timing. In scheduling the concert, I did not check the local school calendar. We only had 25 teenagers show up because I had scheduled the concert on the same night as PROM! Bad timing killed this outreach event.

BAD PLACEMENT

When and where your big event is placed in your monthly service schedule will play a huge role in the type of success you have in retaining the new students you attracted that night. One mistake we made early on in my time here at On eighty is placing the big event on a single night, in between two teaching series. Almost every time we’ve done a “stand alone” big event, we have had great attendance that night, but because there was no tangible reason for the students to come back the next week or two, many of them bailed and we quickly went back to where we were before. Learning from this mistake we now have two places we strategically place our big events.

1) At the end of a teaching series.
Last February we did a teaching series titled “Looking for Love”. Each week I took 20 minutes to answer a specific question pertaining to the ever-popular topics of sex, love, and dating. Throughout the message we allowed students to text in questions on this topic to a specific number. After the message I took 10 minutes to answer as many of their personal questions as I could. The students loved the series!

Each week of the series we advertised that on the final night of “Looking for Love” we are doing a special event where you can “Find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the opposite sex.” (That was the title of the event) On this night they could text in their questions and I would answer them live and off the cuff for the entirety of the message. We also had great prizes and special games after the service. The students LOVED it. Each week’s attendance throughout the series was bigger than the week before. The students were talking to their friends about what we were doing and telling them “you have to come on the last night, Oneighty is going to answer all our questions about the opposite sex – I think they’re even going to have pictures – its going to be awesome. 
Needless to say the event was a success. We reached more students not only for the big night, but also for the entire series as a whole. We had more visitors, more salvations, and more life change. Tying the big event to the end of a series gave us momentum.

2) At the beginning of a teaching series.
This past semester we kicked off a six-week teaching series called “The Biggies” with a huge outreach event. For three weeks we advertised (in some very unique ways that on “March 31st we are kicking off a brand new series that you won’t want to miss”. For the kick off night, we brought in a special speaker that our teenagers love to hear, had some big give-a-ways, free food and great activities for everyone to enjoy. That night, the students packed the place out. We had a capacity crowd, tons of visitors, and 28 students accepted Christ. The night was a huge success.
But the cool thing was, because we had advertised not only the single “big event”, but also the entire series, we kept a large portion of those students. Each week of the series we tackled some big issues like “Is there a God?”, “Is there absolute truth?”, “Is Jesus really the only way to Heaven, what about the other religions?” and each week the students just kept coming and accepting Christ as their savior. During that series we led 85 teenagers to Christ.

We had momentum!

Once again, tying the big event to a teaching series, instead of doing just one single night, proved to be a catalyst for change not only in our ministry, but also most importantly in the lives of students.
We’ve seen that Big Events work. If you stay away from the flops of a bad plan, bad timing, and bad placement by tying a “student friendly” event to a teaching series, you will have what your looking for…momentum.

Three Non-Negotiable of Big Outreach Events

Now I’d like to say that the three non-negotiable were – pray – pray – pray – that all we did is pray for two hours on a Wednesday night and on April 5th we had more teenagers than we knew what to do with – but that isn’t how it happened – if fact that is never how it happens –

I Corinthians 3 – “Paul sowed – Apalos watered but GOD gave the increase”

I Kings – an amazing supernatural thing occurred – fire down from heaven – whole city converts back to God – but the spiritual only took place after Elijah built the altar – stacked the wood – butchered the cow – poured water on it all.

When we physically do our part – God intervenes and does the spiritual.
We see this over and over in scripture – David and Goliath – Joshua at Jericho – Moses at Red Sea – Peter Preaching at day of Pentecost – each of these situations God got involved but only after a man or a group of people played their part

There is a part you and your team play in getting a lot of teenagers to come to your youth ministry and be exposed to the gospel.

From here on out in this session – I want to break down the step-by-step process we go thru to have great success at Outreach Events. I will take the teachings form Pastor George’s “How to have a Big Day”. I have used these steps for years – even when I was in much smaller churches and they work – every single time!

Develop Your Plan – what is the event going to be?

Build Anticipation – slowly increase marketing and advertising.

Equip Your People – inspire to action and put tools in hands to spread word

We have used these three steps in various ways for events like –
Live@180 – we had 1500 teenagers
Biggies – we had 1500 teenagers
Paul Smith – we had 1300 teenagers
World Premier Event – we had 1400 teenagers

This is what we did with our ALL OUT with Shaun Alexander outreach event where we had over 1500 teenagers – 315 visitors – 68 salvations

Develop Your Plan
Guest – Shaun Alexander
Food – Chick Fila
Activity – Punt Pass Catch Competition
Prizes – 1,000 in give-a-ways plus a CHANCE to win a new car

Build Anticipation and Equip Your People

Announce / Video at Oneighty
Face book
Websites
B-Vites (mini-flyers)
T-Shirt Tuesdays
School Lunch Visits
3 student prayer cards
Power Aid Practices to 8 school programs
Chick Fila passing out bringvites
Car sitting out in front of Oneighty – you could win a CHANCE to win this

Here is the thing – I know how the devil works – and right now some of you are thinking –
Well I’d like to do an event and give away – $1000 – bring in a football player – but we can’t
We don’t have that kind of money?
We don’t have that kind of staff?
We don’t have this kind of space?
We would like to do this stuff by we just don’t have the ability to …

But here’s the deal – you mean to tell me that a God that created the world in 6 days – parted the red sea – turned the water into whine and saved more than 3,000 people in single day is limited to how much money you have – how many staff you have – God is not willing that any should perish but that all might come to repentance – if you are willing to do your part – have a heart for teenagers – develop your plan – build anticipation – equip your teenagers – if you will be willing to sow and water – God will bring the increase.

I know from experience – God is not limited to your staff – God is not limited to your space – God is not limited your money. When I was in tiny Ligonier Indiana with only 4,000 people in the whole town and 150 in the entire church – we used these principles of “develop your plan – build anticipation – equip your people” – we did the best we could with what we had – were we giving away a $1000 no – were we bringing in pro-football players – no – but we got together and did our part and God provided in supernatural ways – we sowed and we watered and he grew that group from 15 teenagers to over 240 a week with highs of 300. We had no budget – We had no staff – the only thing we had was a desire to do whatever we could to share Jesus with teenagers … and God blessed us.

When we were in a little bigger town of 12,000 people and a church of 400 – still no money – no budget – we sowed – we watered using these principles I shared with you today – we strategically placed outreach events in certain series to gain momentum and that group grew from 30 teenagers to over 350 each week – in only two years.

I am telling you from experience as a volunteer youth pastor – small town youth pastor – middle size church youth pastor and a mega church youth pastor that when done properly BIG OUTREACH EVENTS work – and if you will develop your plan – build anticipation – equip your teenagers … you will fulfill the mission that God has called you to in your area.