Are “Fall Festivals” Counter-Productive?

For the past twenty years in Children’s Ministry, I have planned and hosted a “Fall Festival” (a.k.a. “Harvest Party”, “Hallelujah Night”, “Fall Fest”, “Family Fun Fest”, “Trunk or Treat”, etc.) at the church where I was serving.  These events generally were seen as a fun Family Event that served as an “alternative to trick-or-treating and Halloween.”

The typical “Fall Festival” usually looks a bit like this:

  • It is a family-oriented celebration/party.
  • It may have costumes.
  • Games are played.
  • Contests are held.
  • Food abounds.
  • Music blares.
  • Everyone enjoys themselves.

Certainly there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a Fall Festival on its face.  I love dressing up in funny costumes.  I love seeing what crazy costumes the kids will come up with.  I love games, fun, and candy.  All of that is awesome!!!

However, several years ago, I began to ask the question:  “Is our Fall Festival actually counter productive?” Could it be that this event actually works against what our mission is as the church:  “to know Christ, make Him known, and reach the lost people in our city and around the world?”

Now, before I go any further – I want to assure you that I am not indicting anyone who does Fall Festivals.  As I said, I have done one for the last twenty years.  But, as I and our pastoral team put more thought into it we had several questions come up.

1)  Why do we feel the need to do an “alternative event” for our families on Halloween?  We don’t do an “alternative event” for Mardis Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, or other random holidays.

2)  Are we really “connecting” with the lost people who come?  We consider it a “bridge event” (connecting the lost of our community to the church in a non-threatening way).    Do they end up just stopping by to play a game, win a bag of candy, and move right along to the next church that’s throwing a Harvest Party?

3)  What about the people in our neighborhoods?  I have been most frustrated by the fact that on the darkest night of the year, it seems the Church has gathered all of the “light” together in one place (the church) in order to “escape the darkness” – and there is absolutely no light represented in our neighborhoods.  For the last twenty years, the very people I MOST want to reach, my neighbors, have been out on Halloween going door-to-door.  On a night when they are voluntarily coming to MY house, giving me an opportunity to speak to them and show God’s love – my house is dark with no light on because…the pastor is at his church throwing an alternative party.

I welcome your thoughts.  I posted this as a means to initiate discussion and provoke thought on this subject.  I purposefully waited until AFTER Halloween to post this because I didn’t want to appear to be “dumping on” something that many people were in the middle of planning.  I invite disagreement and diversity of opinion.  Would love to hear what you think.

42 thoughts on “Are “Fall Festivals” Counter-Productive?

  1. Our church created invites for our children’s ministry specifically aimed at kids so that our congregation can give them out to kids (along with candy) when they come trick or treating.

  2. You are so right on, Brian! I think you have been in our staff meeting-I so feel the same way. Thank you for expressing what I have been feeling for several years now.

  3. Great thoughts! Our pastor stayed home as long as possible before church Wednesday to give out candy in the neighborhood they are trying to reach. I really thought that was a better example to challenge the rest of us and had more potential for eternal fruit than hosting something at the church would have had.

  4. We had the biggest trunk or treat of our church ever. We had over double the amount of people than last year. This Sunday we had one family come as a result. In addition our church involvement was dismal.

    Because of these things, I have been seriously reconsidering even doing the event. Many of our families went trick or treating in their own neighborhoods and one family even did their own hay ride. I think that maybe we can empower our church members to be lights in their neighborhoods and build relationships with their neighbors during Halloween.

    Thanks for posting. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  5. We purposely had our event the Wednesday before Halloween this year so that our families could be in the community on Halloween. This helped us to be able to still have an outreach event for our community but still be ” in” our neighborhoods on Halloween.

    We are now determining if this is the best outreach for us. Thanks for posting and I look forward to hearing what others think.

  6. I have been a children’s pastor for 6 years and prior to that lead kids outreaches at VFCC and we would come alongside and help churches organize a Fall Festival… Last year changed my whole perspective… we had our Fall Festival not on Halloween night, but the day before… we ended up seeing mostly our church kids and a few of their friends… Halloween night last year I was home and I ended up having 200 kids who are not ‘my kids’ come to my door and I had extra comic books & candy bags that we had handed out the night before… it changed my entire perspective.

    I know others have done this, but I wanted to change it up this year… We decided to this year call it Illuminate and go to people’s homes. The pastoral staff even let us not have church in the building that night, to encourage our people to go out into their communities… We targeted 10 neighborhoods that had a lot of kids and had our host homes from those areas. Each host home had games, food, prizes, hot chocolate, goody bags, etc. We organized each home and made sure they had everything they needed and people they would need to make it a success… Some of the adult small groups in our church teamed up and took on hosting at one of the homes…

    We saw more than 2000 kids that night that do not go to our church. Inside each bag is a card that says “we hope this small gift brightens your day. it is a simple way to say “God Loves You”, no strings attached. Let us know if we can help you in any way!… then it included info about the church… On top of our 10 host homes we had other people who decided to stay at their homes and hand out goody bags in their neighborhoods.

    I have had so many responses from people in the church saying it opened their eyes to how they can build relationships with people in their own backyards and how easy it was to do. It was so worth changing it up this year. We are looking at other creative ways we can do things like this to keep the vision going and growing about people reaching out in their own neighborhoods.

  7. We postponed doing our HAPpening (Halloween Alternative Party) the past two years for the same reasons you mentioned. Felt like it was lacking real purpose. I love how you put it, “they are voluntarily coming to MY house, giving me an opportunity…” Great thoughts!

  8. At a church that I was volunteering at during college, we would have fall festivals at houses in the neighborhood. This would serve a few purposes:
    1. It would give a good name for the family in the community that they had the best candy, games, and food.
    2. It gave us a connection point to invite people to church. It wasn’t just strangers inviting strangers, but it was neighbors inviting neighbors.
    3. It also helped build relationships within our church. Families were spending time doing ministry and outreach with other families in the church. They got to see where other people lived and got a picture of their life.

    This is much more effective than having an event at a church with only church people.

  9. Brian,

    Excellent post and great thoughts!!! As you know, I volunteer with Pastor Justin at Central Assembly here in Springfield, MO. This year packets were handed out to the congregation for Neighbors Night. That included themed t-shirts, instructions and business sized cards inviting kids to KidZone with a gift for coming as the incentive. Church was cancelled and everyone was encouraged to stay home, be the first to turn their lights on and hand out the candy and use the card to invite kids and parents to church as well as minister to them in any other way they could come up with.

    Having been in children’s ministry for over 30 years, I’m with you, we have tried lots of different ways around navigating this “holiday”. However, our best solution may be as simple as giving our church families the tools and know-how to minister the love of Christ all over our cities.

    After all we as pastors are first called to equip the saints for works of service. How awesome is it if we equip all our saints every year to be the brightest light they can in their very own neighborhoods to potentially hundreds and thousands of children and their families.

  10. Wow! there are some really great replies here, and I really liked what Heather had to say. I feel that churches have made this night a competition night and like Brian said “have lost the real emphasis” of this outreach. Brian, I do feel we need to look at this night a little differently than we have been and make some changes in our agendas concerning outreach for this night. I loved the small group outreach mentality that Heather talked about. This should be about meeting new people, and an awesome outreach for Kidmin leaders and pastors to make children know that we really do care and God does love them!

  11. Couldn’t agree more Brian. The only church I’ve seen that truly needed an alternative for their community was the church I served at in Louisiana.

    In our small town community (literally in the middle of nowhere) was the largest haunted house in the south. They were open for 2 months around Halloween and made millions. People would drive over 12 hours to come to this place. It was located adjacent to an elementary school. The school had to build a 12 foot fence around their property to keep the drugs, liquor bottles and adult items off their grounds. This business glorified all the negative Halloween stereotypes.

    When we started a safe Halloween alternative, that’s was exactly what we made it…a safe fun alternatives for families. We had massive crowds of people. It was scheduled to run 3 hours and went 5. Families were begging for something and I felt we truly met a need.

    Don’t know that we gained many families as a result but neither did any of our previous Halloween activities. I do know it gave our church a great name in the community.

  12. I agree with you, Brian. These questions really need to be asked with regard to doing an “alternative” event to Halloween. Personally, I’d love to do away with it because I don’t like Halloween in the first place AND it’s a lot of work. I’d rather stay home… however, I have just relocated to a small town in eastern Oregon that has done a Family Fun Festival for the community sponsored by our church and another local congregation and held not in a church, but in the local elementary school gym. Over time, it has now become our “baby” alone as the other church doesn’t have the energy or interest to do it anymore. While I’d love to dump it for the above selfish reasons, I do see the value as this is definitely a community bridge event. We have an opportunity to interact with so many in our small community as well as partner with our city council. While there may be a couple of other Halloweeny things in the community, ours is the only family event. So there can be value in such an event… but you still need to ask those tough questions and evaluate and re-evaluate the what and why every year…

  13. Thanks for this post. Love all of the replies. We do a huge community even that is the largest in our town….brings in thousands. I have been thinking a lot lately about how a more neighborhood targeted event would go over. I love the ideas I’ve read here.

  14. here is my question: who is simply giving out candy while kids are going door to door showing the love of Christ? To these kids are you not just giving out candy, the same as your non believing neighbour.

  15. I’ve struggled with this for a few years myself. I’ve done an “alternative” event every year s well, all the while wanting to be home meeting and loving on the kids in my own backyard. I’ve made it a point that at any event I do, there will always be a message presented. This year was my 1st Trunk or Treat. We did the candy, inflatables, ect, then brought everyone in for door prize drawings where a short illustrated message was given on removing Fear from our lives. Families were encouraged to either be in church Sunday wherever they attend, or to come check us out where we had more drawings planned during the morning kids service. We picked up two new families looking for a church home so I’m pleased with that result. Debating on just doing this on a weekend next year and freeing up Halloween.

  16. My wife and I have been children ministers for about 7 yrs now. With our older children and before we became really sold out for Jesus, we celebrated Halloween. The kids dressed up ,trick or treated ,and we passed out the candy . That was until I studied what Halloween was really all about, after that my whole outlook changed. We no longer celebrate Halloween at all, our 7 yr old son doesn’t dress up, no trick or treating , and no church Halloween alternatives. I have a hard time ,understanding how the church (which is suppose to show the light of Jesus) can justify participating in Halloween or any other activity that basically promotes death and darkness. The bible tells us in Ephesans 5:11 to have nothin to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness but rather to expose them. The bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:9 that we are a peculiar people ( NIV says a people belonging to God) 1 Peter 2:11 tells us we are aliens in this world.2 corinthians 6:17 tells us to come out from among them and be seperate. No I can’t judge people if they celebrate Halloween ,all I can do is let them know what the Bible says and let the Holy Spirit convict from there. I to Brian posted about Halloween on my facebook wall purposely on November 1st because I didn’t want to appear to offend those who were in the middle of their preparations.

  17. This year we approached Halloween three ways.
    1. We had our Fall Festival the last Sunday afternoon of October, like we always do, with games, food, Trunk-or-Treat etc.
    2. We had a booth at our Main street Trick or Treat. This event is sponsored by our local business association, and since we are a member we can have a booth, where we handed out zip lock bags with candy and church information.
    3. Finally, for the first time, we had two mini block parties like Heather described. Two host homes had carnival games, candy, balloons, hot chocolate, and church info.

    Overall all three events went well, and we were able to reach a much broader group of people than ever. Additionally we chose to not have church on Wednesday.

  18. We quit doing an alternative a few years ago for this very reason. Fortunately our town seldom does trick or treat actually on Halloween. It is usually a night or two before. We have started doing a family-centered event earlier in the month and in turn do a community Christmas Carnival in early December so that we are not at the same time as everyone else. This has worked well for us.

  19. I’m with you, Brian. I’ve always struggled with this, especially when the church is all “We don’t celebrate Halloween! We have a FALL FEST!” I wrote a post entitled “We’re Not Fooling Anyone” after talking with a nonchurch mom about it… and I just started thinking that there has to be a better way. We almost never got new kids and we had to schedule it on a different night b/c even church kids weren’t skipping trick or treating for Fall Fest. I heard Dick Gruber on CMTalk podcast describe a block party he held. Great idea! I found out one of our kidmin team members has a house that gets 400 kids on Halloween! So we headed up there, made bags w/ candy and invites to church, had some games and passed out hot cocoa. I was so pleased with the turn-out and the chance to talk with families a bit. This was our second year, and I think it will be a tradition!

    Lindsey @ GrowingKidsMinistry.com

  20. As our church’s fall fest continues to grow I have noticed the following:
    1. Adults care more about the event than their kids.
    2. We receive greater community exposure, but it is not translating into church attendance. Word of mouth invites and witnessing is still (by far) the way God grows our church.

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