Are Church “Fall Festivals” Actually Counter-Productive?

Last year I wrote a post that caused a lot of discussion.  I thought I would revisit the subject since this blog has grown by over 1,000 readers since then, and many of you were not able to be a part of the discussion.

For my first twenty years in Children’s Ministry, I 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, mostly for other Christians.

I welcome your thoughts in the Comments Section.  I posted this as a means to initiate discussion and provoke thought on this subject.  I invite disagreement and diversity of opinion.  Would love to hear what you think.

24 thoughts on “Are Church “Fall Festivals” Actually Counter-Productive?

  1. Oh Brian, you are saying some of the things that have been repeatedly going through my heart about church in general and the way we do ministry within our 4 walls….only. Our church stopped doing a fall festival three years ago and started doing what we call “Light The Night for Jesus”. I actually heard the idea on the radio from a Christian author. She said this is what she does in her own neighborhood. She LIGHTS up the place, opens her garage and puts on a pot of chili and invites all the neighborhood in. While they are there, she and her kids take the opportunity to talk to them about their relationship with the Lord. I thought: If she can do that in her neighborhood, what would happen if our CHURCH did this in several neighborhoods. We ordered cups with our church name, gathered tracts, lit up our yards as brightly as possible and every child who came heard that JESUS LOVES THEM. It also opened a door to talk to their parents. To be honest, I’m not sure it is still as deliberate in sharing the gospel as it needs to be, but still I feel this is way more intentional than doing something (else) that serves only our own church. We have fewer homes this year than last year. We have less involvement this year than last year. BUT, we will still make an impact on people (probably 700) that we would never have been able to impact at a church carnival. Maybe someone else out there will pick up on this idea?????

  2. My Husband and I started a tradition when we got married to use Halloween night as a witnessing tool for our neighborhood. No, we don’t preach the gospel to all the kids and parents coming through, but we do try to make an impact, a small one, but nevertheless an impact for the kingdom. We love our neighbors and get along with them quite well. We try to live an example by word and deed in our everyday lives. It doesn’t always take preaching or singing to make an impact on others. What we do on this night is dress up as fun characters, nothing scary. We hand out Christian Tracts and candy along with a fun toy. We’ve become quite known in the neighborhood as the couple who dresses up and gives out fun candy and toys and of course those crazy Christian Tracts. LOL Those tracts might get overlooked or even thrown away by most, but I believe there are those kids and parents who have taken the time to review them. This has placed a seed within them…..God’s Word that will never return void. We are a small beacon in our neighborhood but a beacon nonetheless.
    Same goes for the “alternative” church outreaches on Halloween night! It’s just that….an alternative. It’s another beacon! No, there may not be preaching or singing, but nonetheless witnessing is still taking place. The church is there….people know it’s there and offered them a safe and fun place to bring their children. Who knows they may remember that when they need help! They may very well take advantage of the church who took interest in their children and visit one Sunday which may change their lives forever. I’d much rather these kids and parents come by a house whose love is for children and using the opportunity to give them a physical piece of the Kingdom or go to an “alternative” church event that is fun and safer than being out in the neighborhoods!

  3. Brian, this is great!

    It’s exactly the discussion our pastoral team had a few years ago. For years we had hosted a Trunk-or-Treat event on Halloween night, but – like you – realized we weren’t reaching the community effectively. With our event, we reached about 400-500 kids and 200 families…*if* they came over to the church instead of trick-or-treating.

    So 4 years ago, we canceled our church event and, instead, we encouraged our families to be the light in their neighborhoods on Halloween – being the house that everyone looked forward to visiting! The first year we did this, I had over 140 kids come to my house alone – our Student Ministries pastor had about 180 at his house, and people in our congregation had similar results. Now…we were blessing thousands of kids and families – in our own neighborhoods…where we could not only be a light, but also build relationships.

    As a church, we provide business cards to our members that advertise our children’s and student ministries – they put them in the bags of candy they hand out on Halloween.

    Last year, we re-started a Fall Family Festival at our church on the weekend before Halloween. It’s become the bridge-building event that our church family wanted after we canceled the Trunk-or-Treat event. And it’s growing – Praise God.

  4. I have never been a fan of anything concerning Halloween, but the church wants a “Fall Festival”. So to appease my conviction we have handed out hundreds of English and Spanish Bibles, had a booth asking for visitor’s information so they could be invited to the church’s events for children, and even had a band that would present the gospel between songs. There were children that became a part of our bus ministry through the event, but I still cant stand scary costumes and jack-o-lanterns!!

  5. After 25 years of children’s ministry I have concluded that doing an alternative event does not reap the results intended by “us” who put them on. Now I simply equip our congregation with a high quality 4″ x 8″ card that advertises our church and ministries. We encourage our people to hand them out with a treat to those who come to their door.

    I did “Fall Festivals” for 22 years because I thought that was what I was supposed to do as a Children’s Pastor. Certainly not doing a “Fall Festival” would be anti-children’s ministry…right?

    I have nothing against doing them, however they are a lot of work, volunteer extensive and do not really (at least from my experience) result in adding others to the church. I think a better method is equipping the people in our church to share the truth on the one day the entire neighborhood shows up at their front door – what better opportunity is there than that!

  6. I am a church planter as of Jan. 2012. However previous to that my wife and I were on staff at a large church where we have had Fall Festivals that have drawn thousands. Last year the church that we planted held our first “Halloweenie Roast”. We set up a grill and a pop up tent in our neighborhood at our community pool house and gave away hotdogs, juice boxes, candy and asked people if they needed prayer. It was a great event for our church people to participate in and a great way to re-insert the church into the local neighborhood. This year we hope to have 3 set up in 3 different neighborhoods to reach more people. Thanks for your honesty Brian and for beginning this discussion.

  7. Great thoughts with a powerful opening question: are church fall festivals counter productive? I love how you took the most important step and defined productive as “to know Christ, make Him known…” I think that this predefined goal for your event is crucial. We need to know why we are hosting an event before we can evaluate its merit.

  8. Our congregation has not done a Fall Fest during the time I have been there (since summer ’05). I have been the Children’s Director since ’07. About three years ago we began doing “Light Up the Night” carnival type activities on what our town calls Beggar’s Night (usually 10/31) at one or two yards in the town. This year we are simplifying by having one location with Christian music playing and puppets “singing” along as kids come by. We will have goodie bags (with a prize, candy, tract, and church info) to pass out.

    We got the “Light Up the NIght” idea from a children/youth pastor in a close by town (Irma Chon) who had some to speak to our kids church volunteers on the spiritual capacity of children. We thought it was a great idea!

  9. I started “Fallapalooza” at New Life the year I became the Children & Family Pastor. We have never held it on Halloween, and from day one I have marketed it as our “Non-Halloween Halloween Event.” As a paid event, we now have 2,000 parents and kids attending a big night that helps families enjoy being at church together. We do a big show that incorporates worship, Bible teaching, sketch comedy, and a lot of laughs (and reinforces exactly what we’ve been talking about at our weekend gatherings). We then send families out to use our whole campus for hayrides, food trucks, live bluegrass music, inflatables, costume contests, and more.

    For me, “Fallapalooza” is a perfect time to create a time for families to share an experience at church together. We do it to create a sense of community for families, for parents/kids to create memories. We have a huge amount of goodwill with our community who has come to check out the fun and returned for weekend services time and again. And, by making it clear that if you like Halloween, we are GREAT with that, we make it very friendly for people who might get the idea that churches hate all those costumes and candy every year. (Not an attack on churches that don’t like them, but nothing is going to turn away non-believeing families faster than making it clear you dislike Harry Potter and Zombies and Vampires and you shouldn’t wear those costumes to your church’s “alternative to Halloween”.)

    Walking around our Fallapalooza event, we see exactly the target demographic we are trying to reach in our community: young families, young dads and moms, and their kids. And because we make it something that involves all the fun of Halloween (including costumes, candy, pumpkin carving, etc.,), the people we want to encourage to invite friends with kids are doing just that. It’s a lot of work, but by making it happen NOT on Halloween, but always the Friday before, we make clear: we are not asking you to choose between church or going trick-or-treating. You can be a light in your neighborhood on Halloween, AND you can expose your friends to a great church that cares about families.

    So–personally–I love doing my (non) Halloween event. For those who don’t like Halloween, it’s a (non) celebration of the holiday and an alternative, a “harvest party,” if you will. For those who do (which tends to be my target audience), it’s a whole bunch of fun that exposes families to some amazing things about Jesus and worshipping Him, all while wearing costumes and eating candy.

    Fun and faith are not diametrically opposed. 🙂

  10. We team up with a few other churches in our area and hold an event on 10/31 each year at the local arena. We usually have about 4,000 in attendance and it is a way to reach families and share Christ with them in an “neutral” environment and in a way where they do not feel like we are trying to “recruit” them to our specific church. It takes a lot of teamwork with the other churches to put on an event like this but we do it because of a shared passion for reaching the families in our community.

  11. I think you have a valid point. However, there have been several families at my church whose first contact with the church was through a Fall Festival. They decided to come back for a service and the whole family decided to follow Christ! Now they are active members of the church. Or at least now they send their children to church and hopefully one day we will get the whole family! So I think churches just need to be mindful of the purpose of these outreaches. Instead of making it just another fun event for the community, make sure there are greeters to connect with the families that come in and then also do some follow up. But I do like some of the other events everyone else has shared! Great ideas!

  12. This is such an ignited topic. I can see value in having an opportunity for church kids and families to have a connection time. I can see reaching through our homes to those who don’t know Christ a way to relate to us. I can see having neighborhood events that open the conversation. My town is small, and Halloween is HUGE in it! It’s so huge that our church people just can’t see anything wrong with the entire event, even after much teaching about spiritual warfare, the risks of dabbling in darkness and opening the door for our thoughts to be tricked into seeing nothing wrong with enjoying the holiday. In fact, most would say it’s the kick-off to the entire holiday season. (That one really gets me). Our main road is monitored by police for safety, so the kids can have freedom to run across the street from house to house, from one candy-giving stranger to the next. Since my early 20s, I have not participated in the celebration of Halloween in it’s accepted form, but I struggle every year to see my role in it. Some years I’ve pulled the curtains, got out the candy and watched the latest Veggie Tales. Other years, I’ve given candy and a kids ministry invitation to trick or treaters. I’ve made it a family celebration day with my kids, opting out of the costume party and parade at school, instead going to the zoo and making it all about us. We pray for the kids who would be out at night, not knowing the best is in the Light… but that’s a fight I just don’t want any more. I’ve known churches that had events, tried to reach the unchurched, shifted gears when they saw it didn’t work like they hoped, etc. I just don’t know if God wants us in on it at all. Do we make a difference, sharing in “the” dark holiday? Do we really buy the church’s alternative is really All Saint’s Day, so it’s actually about honoring our loved ones who have passed on? Are we really convinced that joining in all that “harmless fun”, dressing in cute costumes, showing off our pumpkin-clad babies, enticing our preschoolers with candy to trust a perfect stranger, but then not eat their goodies till they’re properly checked is really God-honoring in some form? I just don’t get it. I’m ready for heaven. I’m convinced that we will not be asked to celebrate this dark holiday when we get there. I hope God says He overlooked the confusion, and He’s proud of those who didn’t deny the dark truth, but held to the Light. I’m anxious to hear what others do about this quandary. I have no idea how I’ll approach it this year, but as Children’s Minister at my church, we can’t compete with what this town offers, so we won’t try. We’ll just love the people we encounter in our own homes, neighborhoods, or at the zoo. Thanks for opening this discussion. ~ Shawn Parker, Vision Ministries, Eddy, Texas

  13. We are to be SEPARATE to Him, we are not to be conformed to the world. Any time the church mimics the world, it says it is willing to compromise. You cannot lift Jesus up through worldly ways, it must be done through His Spirit.

  14. Brian,
    My wife wrote a program that takes people on an interactive adventure through whatever themed adventure we chose. The first year was an Indiana Jones theme and the years after that were medieval adventures where the King sends the people on a quest to save the Princess from the dragon. All of this to have kids quoting scripture at each room and experiencing opportunities for them to hear the reason Christ came to earth. We originally did it because we didn’t want to do a “cheesy” fall festival while the teens were doing “He’ll House”. We would actually be interested in packaging it and selling it if you know anyone interested. We had medieval games and turkey legs and stuff like that for people to do while the waited for their turn to go through the adventure tour. It was a lot of fun and we did charge for the event. I also think that doing block parties that people from anywhere around could trick or treat through while all the neighbors hung out outside together so that we could get to know people and invite them to some event after Halloween.

  15. Thanks for weighing in, everyone! This has been a valuable discussion! I love hearing how creative you all are being in your respective communities!

    I think it is worth noting that in now way was I bagging on EVERY outreach event. This post was specifically regarding a “Halloween alternative” event. And, in many communities it is obvious that these types of events are working. AWESOME! Keep it up!

    I just wanted to share our thinking and get a conversation started to see if others were experiencing the same thing. We realized that what we were trying to accomplish was not happening – AND we were missing HUGE opportunities to connect with our neighbors right where they are! So, we made some changes.

    I think this is healthy for ALL of us to do for ALL of our events. Evaluate often! Are you still achieving the goals that you set out to accomplish? Or, has the event itself become the purpose? These are questions that are worth asking – because they could lead you to the next big outreach opportunity. After all, our goal is not to put on great events, but to “know Christ and make Him known!”

    Thanks for joining in the conversation! I appreciate each of you!

  16. We do our “Fear Not Festival” on the Sunday before Halloween and make it a 2-hour event through both the Sunday School and Children’s Church time. The first hour is all about having fun. All the classrooms are bible story based gamerooms with prizes and candy and everyone, including the workers, wears non-scary costumes. It’s just for fun with biblical themes. The second hour we bring them all back together and do a great children’s service for about 30 minutes and then feed them all a fall-themed lunch until church is out.

  17. Everything that you are saying about fall festivals is spot on and I couldn’t agree more. I have said the same thing about why do we hole ourselves up in our fort (church) and expect others to visit us?. The Lord gave me an idea one year about being a light in the darkness. For lack of a better term we call it Reverse Trick or Treat. As most of us have done we have went door to door witnessing with little to no results. Reverse Trick or Treat is designed to get the church out on a night where people are already expecting visitors. Instead of force feeding the Gospel we show Christ’s love by going to houses that are giving candy to trick or treaters a bag of family sized popcorn. Of course the bag has a sticker with all of the church info on it and we just simply encourage them to stay faithful to their church or they are certainly welcome to ours. This year will mark our fifth year and we have had several families visit. With each year we always add a new element to it and the church always looks forward to it. I have had my criticisms but after giving out 500 bags of popcorn in an hour the criticism has been drowned out. Please bear in mind that we also give out popcorn to those we come in contact with on the street we just don’t limit it to the homeowners. We market this event as a family event not just a kids church event and our people have really caught the vision.

  18. We take our Hallelujah Carnival (held on a Sunday before Halloween) out into the community by having it at a park. Church members wear a church t-shirt. My thought is if we’re trying to reach the unchurched many are not even going to come to an event at a church. To me it’s all about sharing the message of the Good News and Christ’s love with others.

  19. We do a fall festival. I am in my 2nd year at the church so this Halloween will be my 2nd. It’s a great tradition in our community, I am told. Last year we had 228 people from our community show up. Kids. Parents, who knows how many. It’s an easy simple event. 3 years ago I think, our former children’s pastor here canceled the event b/c it landed on a Sunday night. Well apparently you would have thought he said Jesus isn’t God, the way some reacted. They genuinely believe this is outreach, and providing a safe, alternative. We live in an 8,000 person town. There really isn’t anything else to do here, but get in trouble. The former children’s pastor here was asked to step down after just two years. There were several large issues. But it seems that they began when people began to question weather or not he really had children’s best interests at heart, after he cancelled that event. It’s weird cause our church has very few things we would consider, ” sacred” but I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.
    I’m not canceling the event. But I’m not calling it an outreach either. I don’t think it it helping us. But I don’t think it’s hurting us either.

  20. After several years of doing Trunk-r-Treat in the churches we have pastored,(2 in 15 years), we finally decided to quit taking part in our version of the holiday. This is our 2nd year at our new position. We thought like many others that we were reaching out in a dark world to show the Light of world. When no one really wanted “the Light”… they seem to enjoy the darkness and scariness of the Holiday. But after my husband, the pastor, had done a Cult series last February, he said,
    ” NO MORE!” That was the final straw. God told him we should not be “celebrating” a holiday that does not honor Him.. Instead we took part in the towns’ Fall Harvest Festival early in the month. We helped give out free potatoes and onions from the farmers, gave hayrides and did a game booth with candy. It was still “community outreach” without the costumes and ” spiritual darkness”. It went farther in ministering to people than any Trunk-r-treat we have ever done. So we have found, ministering to peoples needs helps more than feeding into their desires. So for Christmas and Easter we will do the same, meet the need, with little fun, too!

    • Kudos for the godly wake up call.
      You cannot mix holy with the unholy. I have no idea why churches do this, trying to adapt the message of the cross with those who have no idea what transgression they are doing. You cannot attract the unholy to the Cross with secular methods. You must lift up the unblemished, pure, and holy Jesus up, not an image that will bring forth repentance.

      • Thank you, Nellie, for standing firm in the Truth.

        Brothers and sisters, it’s not a matter of what WE think about it. It’s what God thinks about it. It is wrong to rely on the opinion and/or creativity of men for answers, when we, as the Lord’s Body, should be turning to Him for direction. We are His servants; thus, we are to serve Him the way He wants to be served. It is not about how we would like to serve Him, or how we would prefer it to be. Where can we find His direction? In His Word. And what does God’s Word say?

        To be separate from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), to have NOTHING to do with the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), to not love the world or ANYTHING in the world (1 John 2:15-17) and so not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2), just to name a few.

        In short, God’s Word has authority to decide what we should and shouldn’t do. Not us.

        By the way, sorry about the caps – I would italicize if I could! 😛

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