From Back-to-School parties, to Thanksgiving outreaches, Christmas Eve candlelight services and more, churches host many events throughout the year. These special events are a great way to reach more people, disciple various groups within the church, and rally volunteers to serve at a fun event. But do any of the following statements sound familiar?

  • You’re practically living at the church the week before the event.
  • The event is over and all you can think about is getting off your feet and sleeping for about twelve hours.
  • While you receive many great comments from attendees, you’re also hearing frustration from several volunteers.

As much as it’s easy to tout the benefits of these events, they’re also known for exhausting staff and volunteers. Events involve a ton of details, decisions, and coordination, so it’s no wonder things can be a bit frustrating along the way.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

After managing many projects and planning several events, I’ve found the following to be key components of a successful (and much less stressful) event:

Key #1: Start Planning Early

If it’s November 1 and you’re just now planning for Christmas, you’re running late. Avoid the last minute running around by starting your planning process well in advance.

When should you start planning? Consider the following factors:

1. The number of attendees you expect

More people means more details to manage (traffic flow, parking, signage, communication, and more)

2. Length of the event

You don’t need quite as much time to plan a two-hour-long men’s breakfast as you would a Friday night/Saturday all-day event.

3. Is the event mostly for the congregation (youth lock-in) or is it focused on involving the community (Thanksgiving outreach)?

Community-focused events will likely require more time to plan since you’ll need wider promotion of the event plus additional logistics to consider.

4. Who’s on the planning team?

If you have a team of full-time staff members who can each devote a few hours per week, great. However, if you have a team of mostly volunteers who can meet one evening a week, that’ll take more time to finish planning.

Depending on these factors, anywhere from three months to a year may be needed for the planning process.

Key #2: Define the Vision and Scope

Discuss the following with your church leadership team:

  • What is the purpose of this event?
  • When the event is over, what will we look back on as a success?
  • Who are we trying to reach or minister to with this event?
  • How does this event support the overall vision of our church?
  • What will we not include in this event?

Document the answers to these questions and make sure the event planning team has this information. These answers will provide guidance on planning decisions in the coming months.

Key #3: Assign a Planning Coordinator

You’ll need one person to coordinate and oversee the planning process. This is the person who will:

  • Develop a project plan
  • Lead team planning meetings
  • Report progress to church leadership
  • Direct staff and volunteers the day of the event
  • Keep the planning wheels turning and the team moving forward

Key #4: Gather a Team

Depending on the type of event, you’ll need to fill several roles, such as:

  • Marketing
  • Finances
  • Décor
  • Security
  • Parking
  • Hosting
  • Food
  • Merchandise

If your church has several staff members, it makes sense to assign them roles based on their current job responsibilities. If you’re including volunteers on the team (which I highly recommend), choose volunteer leaders you know have the skills, time, and enthusiasm for this event.

Develop a brief job description for each role and review it with the person who will fulfill that responsibility. This is key to making sure each team member understands what’s expected of him/her.

Key #5: Document Tasks, Due Dates and Assignments

Talk with each team member to find out what tasks he thinks are required for his role. Get as detailed as possible with this list.

Make sure you connect the dots between planning areas and note which tasks are dependent on each other. For example: The Marketing Team member can’t create graphics for the event until the Décor Team member finalizes the color scheme.

As you work with each team member, assign a due date and a name of who’s responsible for completing each task.

Key #6: Hold the Team Accountable

The event planning coordinator should do the following:

Facilitate a meeting with the team on a regular basis to discuss overall progress, ensure the entire team is up-to-date on any significant decisions, and discuss any issues.

  • Provide a weekly task reminder to each team member. Include a list of the tasks he/she has coming up due within the next 2-3 weeks.
  • Ask for a weekly status update from each team member. If any tasks are past due, talk with the assigned team member to determine why he/she’s running behind schedule and what can be done to get back on track.

Key #7: Celebrate and Capture Lessons Learned

Once the event is over, you have two final tasks—celebrate and capture lessons learned.

You need to celebrate as a team.

You’ve put months of extra effort into making this event a success. Take the team out for lunch, bring in cupcakes, or do something fun to mark the occasion. Thank the team for their hard work, share comments from attendees, and make sure they know how their efforts made an impact.

Within a week of the event, conduct a lessons-learned meeting with the team. Ask two questions:

  • What went well that we should we continue to do?
  • Where do we see room for improvement and what specific recommendations do you have to fix those issues?

Document the answers and keep this documentation to review before planning the next event.

Hosting special events can be a fun, successful experience for everyone involved. It requires planning, coordination, and a dedicated team. These keys can help you make your next event less stressful and even more successful.

Planning an event soon? Download your free copy of the Church Event Planning Questionnaire.