October 4, 2011

Is it Worth It?

“If no one else signs up to help, you’ll have to bring me in on a stretcher next week.” This was the closing line of a lay leader’s announcement last Sunday, as she pleaded for more volunteers to make blueberry cobbler for the town’s annual Fall Festival next weekend.

I signed up. Not because this was the best recruitment pitch (far from it), but because I’m new in town and the parish. It sounded like an easy way to get to know a few people, lend a hand, and participate in the Fall Festival as more than just a tourist. (Later, friends told me this Episcopal Church’s blueberry cobbler was one of the highlights of the Festival!)

But after Sunday worship, as a few of us huddled around the beleaguered project leader discussing what needed to be accomplished in the coming week, I heard a vestry member say, “I don’t know if we can continue this next year. If there isn’t enough support, we might have to drop it.” For the moment, they’d do what they could to cook and serve more than 860 portions of blueberry cobbler over two days, to anyone who visited this little New England town.

Events take a lot of effort! Time, energy, talent, supplies, space, money, and more time. They require great ideas, excellent coordination, and significant promotion to be successful. Often church events are conceived as fundraisers. But are they worth it? Do they raise enough money to cover the upfront investment of time, talent, and goods? Sometimes the fundraiser in me is skeptical: usually one-on-one asking, toward a specific need or goal, is the best way to raise funds. But the community organizer in me understands that events have multiple purposes – at least the best ones do. An excellent return on investment would have at least a few of these elements:

  • leadership development
  • volunteer engagement
  • community connections
  • positive visibility
  • good will
  • raising money or giving it away
  • serving a real need
  • evangelism
  • renewal of body, mind, or spirit
  • creativity
  • fun

A great example is St. Alban’s in Monroe, Georgia, featured in this month’s Vestry Papers. Their creativity and commitment in “event evangelism” is encouraging, and clearly their results are worth it.

So what makes some events successful and others a drag? Has your congregation cut back on certain events, or started up new ones, and why? How have you evaluated the effectiveness of church-sponsored events, determining your upfront investment compared to the outcomes?