By Kris Buckman
Fall is a great time to host church events! “Trunk or Treats” and harvest festivals were all a traditional part of the church’s annual calendar. Until 2020 came along. We’re still facing the realization of the cancellations of major events and traditions. Even Macy’s canceled its Thanksgiving Day Parade earlier this week! That was a hard one for my family to take as we enjoy this tradition in our home. As a church, what we do when life as we know it is canceled? How do we reach the community? How do we stay connected to our families and our kids? How do we continue to guide and help parents with discipleship within their homes? We have to get creative. And God gave those who serve in children’s ministry a few extra drops of creativity when He made them!
If your autumn plans have fallen victim to the cancel culture of 2020, never fear! I’ve created a list of several activities that you can still pull off during a time when face masks and social distancing are keeping us safe and healthy. Let’s get right into it!
Outdoor Family Movie Night
Many churches are hosting these and they are a great idea! Add another element by having a DJ host your event! Everything Entertainment, a Maryland DJ company, has everything you need to host an outdoor movie night! They bring the screen, the sound system, and do all of the technical work for you! But, they bring an added element of fun by completing setup an hour before showtime. Their DJs play fun music and interact with your crowd through socially distant games! Support small businesses and restaurants in your community by purchasing gift cards to give away as prizes. Encourage your audience to bring their dinner or snacks and come early for some DJ fun! This event can be done safely by ensuring that you follow your county’s guidelines pertaining to crowd size, social distancing, and face masks. If this event is geared towards the community, be sure and find a way to intentionally share the Gospel with the crowd before the main attraction.
Family Bingo/Trivia Night
A fun event for the family to attend together! You can set this up outside with just tables and a sound system. Have families register ahead of time and provide a table with Bingo supplies for each family. Families can bring their own snacks or dinner and enjoy music while everyone arrives. To add an element of fun, encourage families or kids to come dressed in their Halloween costumes and hold a costume contest! Your Bingo game can be fall-themed and don’t forget the prizes — er — candy! You can easily adapt this to a trivia night as well. Share a brief devotional about how, unlike Bingo, we don’t have to have everything perfectly lined up to “win” with God.
Family Picasso Night
You’ve heard of Paint Nights? This is a similar concept. You can seat families at their own tables with all of their supplies ready for them. Again, they can bring snacks or dinner. This event can be done in a few ways. One, if you have a talented artist in your congregation, invite that person to walk families through a specific painting such as a sunset or some kind of fall scene. Another option is to have families create a piece of canvas art together that can serve as a wonderful memory (yes, something good can come out of 2020!) Hop online and google “family handprint art Thanksgiving” (or “Christmas”). You’ll find some wonderful ideas to use at your Picasso Night! Have plenty of hand wipes or a hand washing station available! Share a devotional about how each member is an important part of their family and that, similar to their artwork, their family wouldn’t be complete without him or her.
When’s the last time you got to build a scarecrow? Invite families to build their own scarecrow! Have them bring their own clothing to use for the scarecrow, while your church provides the straw and string. Give families a few parking spaces to spread out and get to work. Host a contest to see who has the best scarecrow. Award prizes such as large pumpkins for families to take home to decorate or add to their scarecrow’s display. Share a devotional about the use of scarecrows — scaring away birds. Ask kids what scares them and let know that God tells us that we should “fear not,” for He is always with us.
Model Rocket Launch
How much fun is it to shoot off a model rocket? Just ask any kid! Have families register to participate in a model rocket launch. Make model rocket kits available for families to drive through and pick up and then have them assemble the rockets and return for lift off! Have families bring chairs, blankets, dinner, or snacks to the launch as they come watch rockets soar over the church! Make sure your launch area is taped off for safety. Assign volunteers to fetch the rockets once they land (if they’re not stuck in a tree!). Kids as young as three or four are able to press the launch button on the control pads. At the end of the event, send the kids home with Rocket Pops popsicles. To offset the cost of this event, ask congregants to sponsor an “astronaut” for $10. This is a great way for those who may not be able or would not attend or participate to get involved. Share with the kids that even though those rockets can go super high and super fast, it’s not high enough for them to make it to heaven. Share with them the only way to get to heaven!
Community Drive-Through Car Wash
Serve your community by offering a free drive-through car wash in your church parking lot. Have several “lanes” open and assign small groups to each lane. You could advertise it as “Washing Away 2020!” (I bet you’d be overwhelmed with cars for that one!) Print a small postcard which shares the Gospel ahead of time and place it on windshields right before drivers pull out. Make it a quick washing so no one has to get out of their cars. Turn it into a contest between the teams to see who can completely wash a car the fastest!
Community Scavenger Hunt
This one will take some extra thought, but drive around your town and find some unique things that people may or may not see during their everyday driving. For example — a scarecrow in someone’s yard or a certain football team’s flag outside someone’s house. You could even include things people might be aware of, such as a building for sale or a water tower.On the day of the scavenger hunt, have teams drive around and take photos of the things they see. Allow them an hour or so to find as many things as they can and get back to the church. Once they are back at the church, award prizes (pizza shop or ice cream shop gift certificates) to those who come in first, second, and third. Or award teams with a pizza to take home for dinner! Be sure to include a family devotional that talks about seeking God. Encourage them to share their photos on your church’s Facebook page.
Arrange a time for families to come to the church to pick up a large- or medium-sized pumpkin before November 1. If families are out for trick-or-treat on Halloween, have them stop at the church where you’ll be sure to give them some treats, plus their gratitude pumpkin. Instruct families to daily write something that each person is grateful for on the pumpkin during the month of November. At the end of the month or on Thanksgiving, have families upload a photo of their gratitude pumpkin to your church’s Facebook page. This is a great project for families to stay consistent with throughout the month. Provide some conversation starters for families to use as they write on their pumpkins. For example, have moms ask their kids why they wrote what they did for the day or once or twice a week read what’s been written on the pumpkin and have a time of thankful prayer to God for those things. This could be a great, simple project that could lead to some real faith conversations in the home!
The Manger Project
This can be done closer to Christmas, but during the months of November and early December. Have a few carpentry-savvy folks in the church make building plans for a manger (about the size that would fit a baby doll), cut the pieces for the parts, and assemble a kit. Be sure to include a weekly or daily Bible reading plan on the Christmas story. Encourage families to register for a kit and offer a time for them to drive through and pick up the kits. Families are to assemble the manger using the kit. They may choose to paint it, stain it, or decorate it. Have them place the manger in a prominent place in the home, maybe near the Christmas tree or on the coffee table, gather near the manger, and use the reading plan to share the Christmas story as a devotional. Once they’ve completed the devotional, they can decide who they’d like to gift their manger to. Some ideas include a local pet shelter, a local food pantry, or a family that is somehow in need. The family can fill the manger with items that would be useful to the recipient. For example, if the family chooses a food pantry, they could fill the manger with canned goods, boxed food items, and non-perishable foods. If the family chooses to give their manger to a family in need, they could fill it with whatever that family may need: hygiene items, socks, coats, a meal, and the like. Include a note or a Gospel tract in the assembly kit which families can give away with the manger. Have families post pictures of their manger-building, the finished product, and what it looks like before they give it away.
S’mores to Their Door
Assemble kits which include ingredients for making s’mores, a light ‘n go bonfire log, a s’mores craft, and a devotional for families to pick up. Or deliver kits to families’ houses. You can find the bonfire logs at your local grocery store or Walmart, where they are usually around $10. It’s a ready-to-go mini fire pit, basically. Great s’more craft and devotional ideas are available on Christ To All’s website. Encourage families to choose an evening to have their s’more’s event. Ask them to share pictures of themselves on your church’s Facebook page!
See? Fall’s not canceled! There are many ways we can reach the community, serve our families and children, and put our creative juices to good use! With any event you choose to do, always remember your main goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to share the Gospel with the community? Are you hoping to equip your families to practice more at-home discipleship? Are you creating an event for the families of your church to spend time together? Whatever your goal is, plan accordingly. If your goal is to reach the community with the Gospel, then be intentional about how you’ll do that during your event. If your goal is to equip parents with tools to disciple their children at home, then don’t let them leave your event without practical, ready-to-use tools that they can easily begin to implement. Always ask yourself how you can take your events up a notch. Outdoor movies are fun; outdoor movies with a DJ, family dance-offs, and cool prizes are more fun! When planning your event, walk yourself through it mentally. Think of every detail from setup to tear-down, from bathroom use to hand washing. We have so many more things to consider and, when planning an event these days, don’t leave anything out! Also, think of everything that could go wrong during an event. Here’s where you invite that one volunteer who always has some reason why it won’t work into the planning. You know who that person is, right? Run your event through them and then come up with ways those negatives can be turned into positives. And finally, don’t try to do too many events. It’s best to do one or two well-planned, successful events than to do a myriad of events that leave out the details and finishing touches that would make them a great event.
2020 is not over yet! And we’re getting good at swinging back at it! Let’s finish well and continue our mission of reaching families and children for Christ!
For more information, tips, or further details, or help to brainstorm on any of the events mentioned above, please email me. I’d love to help! And don’t forget to invite me!
Kris Buckman is the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s children’s ministry and VBS consultant.