Northeast Ohio Church Fall Fest Attracts Unprecedented Crowd
By Carl Stagner
Like other parts of the country, weather in the Midwest can be unpredictable. Eleventh Street Church of God in Canton, Ohio, knows this fact firsthand. But one thing they can predict is God’s blessing when his people choose to be the hands and feet of Christ for a community event. As the northeast Ohio congregation recently discovered, the combination of great weather, effective promotion, and an amazing God is a recipe for unprecedented response. After preparing for a crowd of up to 300, following a year where only a couple hundred showed up, the church welcomed an estimated 1,000 people to their annual fall festival.
Ten times the number of people who call Eleventh Street Church of God home came to be a part of the event. The congregation of about a hundred-strong pooled their resources, recruited volunteers, and planned and executed a quality experience for the community. When the Facebook event they’d created started to indicate well over a thousand interested persons, event coordinator Jessica Hunt began to wonder. “We’ve done this on and off for years now,” she explains. “This time we were almost overwhelmed. When you look at the Facebook numbers, you know people don’t always make it who say they will. But when our lot filled up and people had to start parking on the grass by the time the event began, we knew this was going to be a lot bigger than we’d imagined!”
God worked it all out. “The nice thing about our congregation is we have key, ministry-focused families,” Jessica explains. “People were stepping up and saying, ‘How can I help?’ Someone would run to the store to get more hot dogs and ask what else they could get. They also freed our pastor from watching the bounce house to be able mingle.”
Because, after all, dozens of volunteers from a church of about a hundred don’t give up their Saturday (and numerous planning hours prior) just to play games and offer crafts and face painting for no reason. It’s about God’s love expressing itself through the local church. Pastor Randy Shafer, more than willing to serve as a bounce house monitor, was glad to be given the chance to engage the gathered crowd, reinforcing the reason they do what they do.
“The natural tendency of churches is to become ingrown, so we do a lot of effort to keep us looking out,” Randy explains. “We do a lot of outreach events. Our annual Thanksgiving Day meal is coming up, where we even carry out meals to people who have to work over the holiday. We do a food pantry, where attendees of our Thanksgiving meal can also walk away with a bag of groceries. We do a live nativity, an advent banquet, a New Year’s Eve party, a Super Bowl party, an ice cream social, a backpack giveaway, Easter egg hunt, and host a sign-language choir for the deaf.” And the list continues. One might conclude that the church is too busy, but Pastor Randy explains that they space out the activities on the calendar and empower laypeople to do the ministry.
“I’m always trying to be sensitive to the fact that I don’t want to overload the church,” he explains. “A lot of the volunteers at one event are the same at another. But we have a great working group of leadership who want to do these things. Some of the events have grown out of one family that has taken charge and became the catalyst. To balance out our ministry, we don’t do some traditional aspects of church, like a Sunday evening program. We work smart. It’s not too hard to cook up a couple hundred hot dogs on a very large gas grill. We also receive donations from people and organizations in the community that are more than willing to donate supplies. God provides, we empower others to lead, and we have a congregation that is very committed to our community.”
The twenty-three acres of ground where the church holds many of their annual events, including the Family Fall Fest, is also the property they already own on which the growing church anticipates the construction of its new facility. The Canton congregation is excited that a developing hub of community activity will one day be the location of its weekly worship services.
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