October 10, 2018 Tony Morgan

These Are Killing Your Church – Episode 63 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

6 Questions to Ask When Planning Events


Are events killing your church? The truth is: I don’t believe most churches ask themselves why they’re doing certain events. Events have the potential to be helpful for people to take their next steps toward Jesus, but it’s rare that they actually work. I think there are plenty of reasons churches do events, but they might not always be for the right reasons.

In this episode, Amy and I discuss 6 reasons we think churches have events as well as 5 ways to make your events effective.

In this conversation, we discussed:

  • The hard truth about why most churches do events

  • Why church events usually aren’t effective

  • The one event you should probably stop doing

  • How to make the most out of every event


Want to have a discussion with your team? We have put together a one-page discussion guide for you to print out and bring to your team to start the conversation. Enter your email address below for an instant download.

Join the Conversation

We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.

Some things we are hoping to discuss:

  • Do you feel like your events have clear goals?
  • How do you help the people who attend your events take their next steps?
  • What events have you noticed always work well for your church?

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.


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Podcast Transcript

Tony:                            00:00                Hey, before we start, I wanted to share a resource I’m finding churches need but don’t often realize they can actually afford the church lawyers is a solution focused national law firms serving the legal needs of churches of all sizes. Their membership program gives you high quality legal expertise that’s really affordable. The team prioritizes the relationship part of the attorney client relationship to learn more about becoming a part of their membership program. Contact the church lawyers@thechurchlawyers.com.

Amy:                            00:42                Welcome to the Unstuck Church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck and today we’re going to be talking about church events and whether or not they’re killing church. Tony, I’m guessing I know what your answer is to that question, but let’s hold off on your response until we do a little bit of other work. So why do churches have events?

Tony:                            01:09                Yeah, so that’s a great question. It’s a good place to start, appropriate place to start, but before I respond, listeners may actually want to go back and listen to a recent episode. I did with Carey Nieuwhof on the topic of cynicism where I admitted a, of all of the topics he wrote about in his recent book, cynicism. Maybe the thing that I struggle with the most might be a cynic. Yeah, that’s right. And I just say that because there may be a bit of cynicism in my response to your question, but I happened to also believe there’s a bit of truth in this. So let me go through these. Why do churches do events was your question. That was my question. I think one of the reasons why we do events is because churches have always done events.

Tony:                            01:53                It’s kind of the way churches operate and it doesn’t matter if the event actually helps people or not. We do the event because we scheduled the event last year and the year before that, and therefore we just, we continue to do the event. Another reason why we do events is generally because we can become lazy in how we engage ministry strategy and frankly it’s just a lot easier to throw an event on the calendar than it is to think about how we might effectively help people take their next steps toward Jesus and especially if helping people take their next steps toward Jesus involves engaging people relationally. It just takes a lot more time, a lot more effort, its a lot messier to engage people relationally and you know, it’s challenging to create strategies and next steps to connect people relationally. It’s just easier and sometimes we’re lazier because of it.

Tony:                            02:53                If we can just throw an event on the calendar. Another reason why churches do events is because we hire staff and it’s almost a vicious cycle. When staff get hired, they feel obligated to create a busy ministry calendar, so they add events to their ministry calendars, which means then we have to hire more staff to support all of that ministry. And then when we hire more staff, that staff needs to show that they’re actually doing stuff for the money that they’re being paid. And so they add more events to the calendar and so it’s almost a compounding factor that we see in churches. I think another reason why churches do events is we all have egos and it just feels good if we can get a group of people together for an event and then we can get in front of that group and teach them and encourage them and challenge them.

Tony:                            03:47                It kind of fuels our ego as well and so speaking in front of a lot of people, gathering a lot of people for an event where we can teach them and encourage them. It could be a good thing, but it could be that we’re just fueling our egos. Truth. Yeah. Another reason why churches do events, we do events because we’re afraid to say no, and many times we don’t know when to say no because we haven’t established a clear vision and strategy for our ministry. And then more importantly, we haven’t clearly defined the win for the events that we’re putting on our calendar and because there’s no clear understanding of what the purpose of the events are. It’s just really easier for us to say no, especially if someone has an idea, it’s hard. It’s hard to say no to someone else’s ideas. And then finally, and we could probably go on and on here, but I guess my cynicism has run dry at this point.

Tony:                            04:46                We do events because they’re just easy to measure as far as the number of people showing up. That’s easy to measure. It’s always, it’s always easier to measure attendance. What’s more challenging to measure is the movement. The next steps are we actually encouraging people to move toward Jesus, thats more challenging. And again, often times it’s more relational that’s. And because it’s more challenging to measure. I think we lean towards putting events on the calendar because we know right away whether or not we’ve succeeded based on the number of people that have shown up. So, that’s my perspective, Amy. I mean, again, a bit cynical probably, but I do think there’s a hint of truth and all of those things that I mentioned as well.

Amy:                            05:37                Just pick up that last one a little bit because you actually said they’re easy to measure but then you twisted and kind of went there. Actually hard to measure when we get to next steps, so why should we be concerned about events if lots of people are showing up to them? It almost sounded negative.

Tony:                            05:53                Yeah, and actually my concern sometimes is you might hold an event and it could actually attract a lot of people, but lead them nowhere. That’s my biggest concern is when churches leaned too heavily on events and they don’t, they don’t have a defined purpose or next step coming out of those events. The challenges, and we’re just keeping a lot of people busy. I mean it’s the people that we’re inviting to the event. It’s the staff, the volunteers that are trying to pull off the event and we’re keeping people busy with events and a culture that’s already too busy. I mean it’s one of probably the biggest challenges.

Tony:                            06:37                Barriers to emotional, relational, spiritual health in our culture today is our culture is just busy and when we, as churches, we continue to put more and more events on the calendar. We’re really just fueling that challenge that our culture and the people in it are trying to overcome. So the reality is your successful event could actually be causing quite a bit of harm. If you keep people busy at your events, both attenders and volunteers, you may, you may be preventing them from investing in their marriage, their children, their relationships, engaging with people, including people outside the faith. I mean these are the things we want people who love Jesus to be doing. We want them to be investing in relationships with people around them so you may be preventing them from really fulfilling their calling. They think they’re becoming more like Christ because they’re going to a church event when you could actually be pulling them away from what God really wants them to be doing, which is to be investing in people around them and inviting people to take their next steps toward Jesus.

Amy:                            07:48                I’m just to make it a little more practical, Tony, what’s an example of an event that could draw one of those big crowds but not help the church fulfill its mission?

Tony:                            07:57                Well actually that’d be pretty easy for me to respond to, but narrowing it down to just one event I think is the challenge. But let’s do this because it’s Fall and Halloween is right around the corner. Let’s pick on trunk or treat events for a moment. Are you up for that?

Tony:                            08:20                Here’s the deal. I mean, it’s fall and it happens every year. I’ll be driving around my community and so it’s going to be easy for every church in my community now to be thinking I’m picking on them, but really I’m guessing I could be driving around any community and really almost every church that I drive past these days is promoting some sort of trunk or tree fall festival, Pumpkin sale, whatever the case might be. It’s crazy. This one holiday that we thought Christians were supposed to somehow be against for whatever reason. Now the church celebrates this sometimes to the same level. We celebrate Christmas and Easter. I still don’t understand it theologically, but it is what it is and when churches do these things, these events, assuming it’s trunk or treat, they will say that the win is hundreds, thousands of people showing up for the event, but the problem is we rarely ask the question once people get to the event, what happens next?

Tony:                            09:30                And so getting people to the event is the win. What happens next? It’s not even an afterthought. It’s not a thought at all, so we’re not considering is it going to help people connect with someone new? Is it going to help people connect to the church is it somehow the event going to help people take a step and whatever discipleship strategy we’ve outlined, which by the way, side note maybe one of the key reasons why churches add events to the calendar is they really never thought about what is our discipleship strategy? How do we help people move from where they are to becoming fully devoted followers of Christ and because that hasn’t been clearly defined. We just put an event on the calendar and then for the trunk or treat event, I mean for this to be successful based on our success of getting a lot of people attending.

Tony:                            10:25                We know we have to tap into all of our leaders. We have to tap into all of our volunteers. We have to ask them to set aside all their time to focus on pulling off this event and then on top of that we have to communicate, promote. We have to let people inside the church know this is coming and then somehow we have to get the word out to people beyond the walls of our church to let them know this is happening and it diverts our energy and it diverts our communications focus from what the church’s primary strategy should be, which is helping people take their next steps toward Christ. And so this is just one example. Trunk or treat is just one example of the event itself becomes the win, when in reality we should be stepping back and asking, is it really leading the life transformation?

Tony:                            11:21                Now I could actually make the case that some events on our calendar, even these broader community events like truck trunk or treat, if they’re done well and it’s the right event that it could potentially encourage people to take their next steps toward Christ. But I think we have to put all of our events through that filter to determine are we doing this event just because we want to do an event and are we doing the event just because we’re getting a lot of people that come to the event or are we doing this event because it’s actually strategic and helps us move people forward in their connection to Jesus and ultimately to helping people connect to the church so we can encourage people to take their next steps toward Christ.

Amy:                            12:12                So that was actually what I was going to ask you. Tony, are you saying churches, it doesn’t sound like it, but that churches should never do events?

Tony:                            12:20                No, I’m not actually because I, I have seen and I’ve been a part of churches that have had highly successful events, but it was based on those next steps. That was the reason for the success. I will say though, in almost every case that we engage with a church where they are doing, there are churches that are doing some effective events, but I do think at some level, every church needs to consider the number of events they’re doing and making sure that there’s the appropriate intentionality behind them. So with that in mind, let me just run through a checklist that I think may be helpful for you. We’ll actually include a more detailed checklist and the show notes with this episode. And for those of who have followed my writing through the years, you’ve seen this checklist in the past. In fact, a number of you have communicated to me. You cut this out of an article or something along the way and you haven’t been up at your desk so that every time an event is scheduled, you’re kind of running your events through this filter. I would hope. I hope you’ll do something like that. Or at the very least with your team debrief after every event to make sure it’s hitting the mark. As far as healthy events are concerned,

Amy:                            13:43                First listeners, Tony, let’s just challenge them. Why didn’t you think about an event that you’ve got coming up or event that you’re thinking about doing really as you read through this so that it becomes real?

Tony:                            13:54                Yeah. So here, let me give you some highlights of this checklist that you can use to determine whether or not you have a healthy event. Okay? The first is this the win isn’t about attendance. It’s about helping people take their next steps toward Jesus after the event. And I do think it’s possible to have a community focused event and the next step may just be coming back to a weekend service at some point at the church and if there’s some way that you can intentionally use an event, a community type of event, to encourage that basic first step, I think that’s a win, but it, it has. There has to be some movement, some next step that you’re encouraging people to take beyond the event itself. Here. The second item on the checklist is this. Every event should have a name that purpose.

Tony:                            14:51                And so in other words, for an event to be successful, before you have the event, that team should be aware going into it, this is the purpose of the event, this is why we’re doing it that way. The whole team, both the staff and the volunteers know this is what we’re trying to build and this is the next step. We’re hoping people will take and many respects, amy, that’s not unlike the how we’ve talked about weekend services. You and I are in agreement on this. Every weekend service going into it. There should be clarity about what. What is the next step we want people to take after this weekend service? Isn’t that correct? That’s absolutely correct. Don’t you like it when I ask you questions that I already know you.

Amy:                            15:35                No purpose related to event, that that’s the missing step a lot of times, but you should know what you should see as a result. I remember at our church, you know you can, you can draw a crowd. Any church can draw a crowd, but if a campus wanted to have a marriage event, they had to have a stated purpose of what they want to see the next steps, which was often related to starting a small group, a temporary small group out of the event that it’s not just about the crowd and the fun at the event.

Tony:                            16:03                That’s right. So another example of a, an item to consider when looking at the health of an event is this, does it lead to stories of life change? And if there are no stories to share related to the event, then you probably really shouldn’t do the event. And this is again, if you’re doing a community event to get attention, to give people just a taste of what’s happening inside the church. Somebody along the way should be pointing to, you know, I was not at all connected to your church and I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. But my very first connection to the people at such and such church was going to this event. And that was the beginning of a journey for me to begin to ask questions of faith and take my next steps towards you and Yada, Yada Yada.

Tony:                            16:57                Don’t you love how I tell stories? There should be a story somewhere along the way that ultimately lead to transformation and somebody’s life and if there are no stories to share, if you can only point to attendance numbers, and again, you know me, Amy, I’m all for getting more people to show up to weekend services and events and things like that. When it does lead to life transformation, that’s a great thing. I mean, when churches are doing great things, when they’re healthy, I want more people to show up. I want attendance to go up, but attendance is not the win it’s ultimately it’s life change, its transform. Transforming people’s lives for eternity. That’s what we’re most concerned about. Another item on the checklist would be this. Is the event so compelling that people are inviting their friends to join them, especially outside the church and outside the faith?

Tony:                            17:52                In other words, if, if it takes a lot of marketing and promotion in order to get people to show up, you might have a problem because great events, great events are so compelling, they’re so attractive to people that you just get the word out and not only are people going to be there, they’re going to want to invite their friends to be there as well, and so if you think you need a lot of marketing, a lot of promotions to be successful, that may be an indication that you shouldn’t be doing the event because it’s not healthy. Another item here is healthy events should only be scheduled again if they’ve accomplished their primary purpose, their win, and again, I would argue that every event that we do at the church should be helping people take a next step toward Christ. It should in some way be encouraging movement in people’s lives spiritually, relationally, emotionally.

Tony:                            18:51                We want to encourage that type of movement. So is the event helping us with that and then finally given the priority of the discipleship path, which includes things like attending Sunday services and connecting in biblical community and serving other people and building relationships with people outside the church and outside the faith. I think a big question, and these are all kind of related, but a big question is, does this event encourage those next steps that we want people to take? So those are some specifics. Again, we’ll we’ll include in the show notes a full or detailed checklists that you can use, but I love your thought, Amy. Let’s just pick one to start with. Pick one event that’s coming up or one event that we recently held and let’s put it against all these filters and just ask ourselves, is this a healthy event or not? And my hope is that type of process as you use that filtering across all the events on your calendar will help you land on those one, two, or three events that are really gonna help people move forward in their faith.

Amy:                            19:59                And I think it was your fifth point on there that if churches just did that one, it would start to create a great shift, which is name the purpose. Hold the event, evaluate against that purpose, and then decide if you’re ever going to do it again. If we just did that. We do our own screening.

Tony:                            20:18                I love that. Yeah, you’re, you’re very right. Amy. That’s very good.

Amy:                            20:21                All right. Any hate to ask any final thoughts?

Tony:                            20:26                Alright. So I’m going to try not to be cynical in my response here. Are you good with that? Yeah. Here’s the deal. Sometimes I think churches throw events on the calendar thinking these will help them reach people outside the church and outside the faith because, because their weekend services are not friendly to unbelievers. And so what I want to encourage you to do is number one before you look at your event strategy, that you step back and look at your strategy for designing weekend services and make sure that your weekend services are both designed for believers and unbelievers. And my guess is if we begin to design, weekend worship experiences with that in mind, it might shift our need than to have these other events on our calendar that churches tend to offer because their weekend services are not invitable events for people that are outside the church and outside the faith. Do you want to add anything to that, Amy?

Amy:                            21:32                Well, I think you just reframed it, which is our weekend service is a strategy to accomplish something. It’s an event that we hold every week. So I think what I heard you say is what’s the purpose of the weekend, the weekend, and then evaluated against that purpose. Now you’re probably going to do it again, right? Because that’s what we do. But you’re going to have to do it better to get the results you want.

Tony:                            21:54                That’s right. And then related to this we’re reopening the leading and unstuck church course. And in that course there are two sessions I would encourage church leaders to lean into. The first is related to the church’s mission field. And I think for churches to get a handle not only on events that they’re doing, but also then this related conversation with their weekend services, you have to have a good understanding of your mission field and in the course, the online course leading an unstuck church, one of one of the modules that we offer, one of the 12 modules is specifically related to defining your mission field. And I think that’s critical for churches to really address this topic well. The second module though that I would call your attention to is specifically on creating compelling weekend services. And again, as I just alluded to, I really believe if churches had compelling weekend services, it would change how they approach events that also get on their ministry calendars.

Amy:                            23:05                That’s Great Tony. Well thank you tony and thanks to our listeners, I know we covered a lot of ground today and I’m going to provide you with that link that Tony mentioned where you can get the show notes. So you just go to the unstuck church.com/episode63 and you can get all the show notes and thanks for listening. As always, you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck@theunstukgroup.com.



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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.