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Complete Guide To Church Event Management & Planning

Church events are some of the most important services a church can offer, so effective church event management offers powerful opportunities for growth and outreach. These events can teach, unite families, fundraise, and more. The scope of events are only limited by imagination and your resources. Local churches remain vital places where people can safely gather within their community, and successful events are key in drawing those community members into your doors.

I’m Lexie Schmidt, and I have years of experience in church event management. I’ve done everything from act in and help produce yearly plays with a cast of hundreds to organizing weekly hangouts for teenagers. In this article, I’ll teach you the fundamentals of managing the various aspects of your church’s events.

What Is Church Event Management?

Church event management strategies will differ depending on the size of church you have. For instance, a larger church with several hundred members might have an associate pastor who handles event planning, while a megachurch of thousands of members may have a dedicated event planner who is not part of the ministry team. 

The smallest churches may find that their lead pastor or worship leader handles event management. The church I currently go to is so small that our Treasurer, who is also a deacon, is usually the manager for our events.

No matter who is managing your events, a church event manager needs a few qualities to be successful.

  • Organized: Every successful event has this in common. Without organization, your volunteers will not be able to complete their tasks, and the event may result in failure.
  • People-Oriented: Managing an event is as much about managing the volunteers who help put the event on as it is about managing the people being served in the event.
  • Self-Driven: Your event manager should be able to take instructions and complete them through delegating tasks and hands-on intervention when necessary.
  • Shared Vision: The lead pastor should have a clear vision about the goals of the event, and the event manager should share those goals and be able to communicate them clearly and enthusiastically with your volunteers.

What’s The Difference Between An Event And A Project?

illustration of a hammer and hard hat with the label project and a wedding with the label event
Projects and events are distinct, although they do have some similarities.

Before we continue, we should make sure that your event is an event and not a project. It is common for people to use the terms interchangeably, but they are quite distinct. The easiest way to distinguish between an event and a project is to ask yourself who it serves.

An event serves the community, the congregation, or the greater good. 

Event examples include fundraisers like Fun Runs or bake sales, yearly events like Passion Plays or Christmas Pageants, and even Vacation Bible School would be considered an event. The most common event that churches manage is the wedding.

A project is something that directly benefits the church itself, whether the physical building or the spiritual structure. I won’t delve too deeply into projects here, but think about things like repairs, landscaping, or even developing volunteers into leaders.

Events and projects are linked, though. Frequently, projects require resources above the normal amount that your church has. Most types of events can help you generate those resources. So, if you’re in the right place, read on.

Guidelines For Church Event Management & Planning

When I was in active ministry for a megachurch, my main areas of responsibility were stage management for the main church and youth events for the youth church. After hundreds of events, I was able to learn the five steps to successful event management.

Guideline 1: The Plan Is The Key

Without a plan, no one knows what they are doing. My solution was to put plans in binders filled with event details. Hardly any church event is one-off that will never repeat, so keep yourself organized and prepared as events come around again. Your plan should include all the steps to set-up, break-down, and everything in between. Eventually, each type of event should have its own template binder.

I find it helpful to divide each set of instructions into sections based on the areas of responsibility. For example, as a stage manager, lighting, sound, and musicians were under my care. So, in my event binder, I would have a section for each one, plus a section where I wrote instructions for myself in case I was unable to do the event, or I forgot what comes next.

In the church where I worked, we had a very large stage, nearly 200 feet long. For a wedding, lighting would only highlight the center of the stage, where the bridal party would stand as opposed to the entire stage. Our lighting system had specific codes that would program the lights, so those codes were written in the binder. Typically, the lights would be colored to match the bridal party’s dresses and overall theme.

I could continue with each section, but this should give you an idea of the things to put in your plan. When it comes to church event planning, whether a wedding or a fun get-together with your church’s young people, it is not possible to plan too much. The more you plan your first event, the less you have to plan your next church event.

Guideline 2: Know Your Volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of a church. Without them, we don’t get very far. Take the time to get to know them, their skills, and their passions. The foundation of Christianity is leadership through service, so, as pastors, it is our job to put those who help us serve in positions of success.

Several methods exist to learn who your volunteers are, but my favorite has always been a team dinner. Most commonly, team dinners end up as pizza parties, but feel free to get creative with it. Just be sure to ask about allergies. That’s a mistake I’ll never make twice. If a dinner isn’t feasible (at the time of this writing my current church has canceled all after service dinners due to COVID-19, for instance), you can get on Zoom, send emails, or otherwise engage with your people.

I have been consistently amazed at the things people do in their free time. A steel worker who sews like he was born with a needle in his hand, a housewife who can keep up with professional carpenters, and even children who are better at improvising in difficult situations than their parents. You can never judge a person’s abilities by your first look. Get to know them, and you will find that many of your problems have already been solved.

For a more in-depth look at managing your volunteers, I wrote this article on church volunteer management. It really digs into how to identify and develop your church members.

Guideline 3: Know Your Vendors

One fundamental mistake I see many pastors make is forgetting that their church is a business, at least legally. Specifically, in the US, churches are a commercial business due to their nonprofit tax status under 501c(3). In the smaller churches I have worked in, I’ve seen many pastors go to big box stores and use their tax exempt card, but there is a better way.

As a corporation, most churches are able to buy direct from warehouses and wholesalers of all types. While you may think those big box stores are cheap, their prices are very high compared to what you can find from local vendors. I can’t give specific advice here because prices and availability of products will vary greatly from region to region, but I highly recommend making connections with your local warehousing agents and wholesalers.

For instance, a church retreat might involve camping. You can place orders with a warehouse or wholesaler for the camping supplies (including marshmallows and chocolate!) and pass the savings on to your churchgoers. Tables, chairs, sports equipment, canopies, and everything else your event needs to be successful can be bought near cost. From fun fairs to food drives, any material need can be covered by those local vendors.

In my personal experience, I’ve seen event costs cut in half by making purchase orders from wholesalers rather than pulling those same items off the shelf of a big box store. By shopping smart, you can really stretch your tithes and offerings and even get a return on them.

Guideline 4: There Is No Substitute For Experience

Experience is something that can only come with time. As someone who has had both talent and experience, I can say that experience wins every time. This is why you need to know your volunteers. Your veteran event volunteers should always be training their replacements so that the experience is not lost when the older volunteers retire from serving.

Do this by fostering good friendships and healthy relationships between your older and younger generations. Make sure the communication goes both ways. As much as the older volunteers have to teach, they also have to learn. Young people are fountains of new ideas and rejecting those ideas without considering them is a surefire way to get left behind.

New ideas are not inherently good. In fact, I would estimate about 90% of all new ideas are pretty bad. That’s where the experience comes in to temper the enthusiasm of youth. Show people that you are not afraid to try new things, but also show that everything must be tested to see if it is worthy. Of course, experience will state that new ideas should never be tried on the day of the event.

Guideline 5: Communicate At Each Previous Step

You have binders full of notes, you know your volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses, you’ve found great vendors, and your volunteers have a great amount of experience in the type of event you’re throwing. Now, make it all run smoothly without talking. It’s kind of difficult.

Pastors, especially the lead pastor who preaches every Sunday, are known for their strong voices, usually. If you are not the lead pastor but someone who is taking on the role of church event manager instead, you must find your voice. Sometimes it can be difficult to walk the line between assertive and rude, but experience helps. I never advise yelling or using mean words. You will just discourage people with those techniques.

  • Still, be loud because people like to talk until they are told to listen. 
  • Be clear with your wording. 
  • Write everything down. If it looks strange on paper, it will sound strange in speech. 
  • Make copies of your notes and give each section their own copy. That way they can coordinate with each other and any questions they have will be based on your own words.

Communication makes everything better. Using church event management software can help that. When all else fails, communicate. And if you are struggling with this skill, try following the steps in How To Develop A Church Communications Plan.

Tips & Best Practices For Church Event Management

I have a number of tips and best practices, but the first tip and most important practice is organization. Say it out loud, if you can. “Organize! Organize! Organize!” I stressed the importance of communication and planning in the previous section, because there is nothing to communicate without a plan. Every successful event begins and ends with binders full of notes and schedules.

That said, in addition to organization and communication, I have found the following to be the best practices for pulling off an amazing church event:

  • Excitement: Get your volunteers excited about the event and the goals that define its success.
  • Training: Not every job in an event needs extensive training, but those that do require it should have someone with the right experience. The wrong person in a key position could collapse your event.
  • Teamwork: Just because your volunteers go to the same church, it doesn’t mean they get along. Assign people to sections who work well together and have complementing personalities.
  • Hard work: Putting on events is not easy. Things go wrong quite often. But, hard work in everything from the planning process to event registration will help smooth out the bumps in the road.
  • Praise: While we should always praise the Lord, praising our volunteers will keep up the energy and excitement which will get them through the rough patches.

These are the most important tips I have for a beginner church event manager. As you gain experience, you might come across more of your own. Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Church Event Management Software

To help handle event check-in, credit card processing, RSVPs, and more, you need the best software. Thankfully, this has been covered in depth here in our article on the best church management software.

Church Event Management And You

Successful events are a part of every successful church’s toolkit. By following this guide, you will be able to create a workflow that will extend your church’s community outreach through fun and exciting events. Along the way, you might even find new church leaders that will help you grow as you approach the future.

Thank you for reading with me this far. I sincerely hope that you found the answers you needed. For any further questions, comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. I’ve been Lexie, and you’ve been wonderful today!

Related Read: Young Disciples: Turning A Youth Group Into A Youth Church

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By Alexandria Schmidt

Lexie was born into a family of pastors and other church leaders. She was trained by her grandfather and worked as an assistant youth pastor in a megachurch in her twenties. Now she runs a peer support group and is the Technical Consultant for her current church, MCC Illiana. While she is no longer pastoring, she is staying active in other parts of the ministry.

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