Church of God Fall Outreach Events Shift under Pandemic’s Shadow
By Jaymie Dieterle
Fall is a great time for churches to reach out to their communities with harvest bazaars, trunk-or-treat events, and block parties. But the COVID-19 pandemic made this year’s event-planning more challenging than in past years. In fact, some churches had to cancel their events entirely due to community outbreaks and rising case numbers. Other churches scaled their events back, focusing on serving the families within their congregations who have had a challenging year. Still other groups were able to pivot and create events that matched attendance from “normal” years.
Heritage Church of God in Toledo, Ohio, held a drive-through trunk-or-treat event for their community. Mary Dunckel, administrative assistant for the church, said the church prepared treat bags in advance to pass out to the children who came to the event. They also had a photo “booth” set up so families could get photos of the children in their costumes with a nice backdrop. “Our event served as a way for families who chose not to trick-or-treat traditionally to still enjoy some candy and a chance to dress up.” The Heritage event was also an opportunity for church staff to make connections with some families who have not yet returned to in-person worship. “The kids were so excited to be back at the building,” Mary said.
Cornerstone Church of God in Kalispell, Montana, partners with some congregants who have their own outreach ministry called Exchange Station, for the church’s fall event. Exchange Station, run by Mark and Becky Jacobs, hosts community events like a weekly story time, game nights, and holiday events, including the Fall Festival, which just celebrated its third year. Cornerstone supports the event with volunteers who help with stations including a highlight of the event—a giant leaf pile! Becky said the leaf pile is twelve to fifteen feet across with straw bales creating the perimeter. Community members bring bags of leaves to the event to help keep the pile full. The guests who attended this year expressed gratitude for the opportunity to get their families outside in a safe space where the kids could burn off some energy after the extra time at home due to the pandemic. Participants in this year’s event had an opportunity to win one of six prize packs of an Action Bible and a devotional.
Park Place Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, has hosted a fall block party for the last five or six years. But many of their usual activities, including hands-on crafts and games, as well as a chili bar, were not going to work during a pandemic. Kirsten Streit-Harting, pastor of community development and executive director for the church’s community center, coordinates the event. “Our church really is made up of four ‘parishes,’ in addition to those who come for worship on Sunday mornings. We have the neighborhood families in the blocks around our church building. Then we have the Anderson University community right across the street. We also have the families who are served by our Children’s Center. Finally, we have the folks who come to the Community Center for our food pantry or our After School Fun program for local kids.” The fall block party is the one event where all of these groups converge. “This year we shifted to a trunk-or-treat model where members of the church donated candy and several groups created trunk designs that our guests could enjoy.” Park Place also planned no- or low-touch game options, including an obstacle course drawn in sidewalk chalk around their event space. And families flocked to the outdoor event. “We usually have 400 to 500 people for the block party. For our event this year, we had 250-300 come out, which we thought was an excellent turnout. Things were a lot more structured than usual because of our safety precautions, but everyone respected the guidelines and had a great time.”
New Vida Church of God in Dallas, Texas, hosts a “Twilight Experience” for their fall event. Usually the church takes advantage of their building to host some of the event activities, but this year they moved everything outside. Andrea Long, community and outreach director for the church, said they worked hard to be certain that safety precautions didn’t mean their event couldn’t be just as fun for the families who participated. New Vida’s event this year included a photo opportunity where the church printed the pictures at the event so families had them to take home as well as a spot where guests could shoot candy at a target with an air cannon. They also had princesses and a magician. Another booth offered Spider-Man, who challenged guests to physical contests. There was also a space where an actor portrayed a resurrected Lazarus who shared the gospel with visitors. Andrea said one of the best things about this year’s event was that partnerships brought it all together. “We worked with the Loving Missionary Baptist church to run a prayer booth for our guests. And we also partnered with groups like Camp Gladiator for the Spider-Man booth. We hosted a richer event because we worked with these other community organizations.”
We have seen time and time again that, while the pandemic has shaken “business as usual,” God is showing up in new, creative ways to draw people in. That was evident once again in the fall events in these and other communities.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Jaymie Dieterle is a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. She enjoys writing adult small group and Sunday school curriculum for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press). Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.
*Feature (top) photo: Park Place Church of God fall outreach scene this year.