‘Oh, I get it,’ she said, ‘it’s like a Fresher’s Fair for the church!’ Exactly. Yes.
It was an idea I’d heard about from several churches in the States, and which I liked – but I’d never seen a church in the UK try it. As far I understood it, it seemed simple and obvious, but a ton of work to pull off. The clearest model I’d heard about was at Saddleback, but that was where they had acres of space, and Californian weather. We needed to reinvent it.
It’s called a Ministry Fair, and here’s what we did.
First, we needed to create some space in the Sunday diary, so we pulled our two morning services into one for that day. Changing everyone’s timings for one day meant we had to do a lot of communicate to make sure that no-one turned up at the wrong time.
The plan was that we’d have a crisp and engaging services for all ages, and then all the ministries at church (I’ll qualify that in a moment) would each have a stall set up around the building so people could browse over coffee and find out more about what the various areas are, and how they might get involved.
We arranged some entertainment for the children during this time so that parents could enjoy the Fair without having to be distracted.
And we laid on lunch as well, so that people didn’t have to rush off.
The service was heaving (well, do the maths), and people stayed for ages.
The key value at stake is that we want as many people in the church as possible actively involved in serving. The barrier we experience is that most of our ministries happen during the week, and many happen off-site. So they are invisible to the keenest of our Sunday attenders.
So the idea of making those ministries visible, all in one place, on one day, in a relaxed setting when people are already on site seemed to make perfect sense. Logistically, someone needed to brief each of the teams, encourage them to create their stalls, and make sure the logistics all worked smoothly.
And the simple phrase ‘A Freshers’ Fair for the Church’ hit the bullseye. (If that phrase doesn’t make sense to you, it’s what happens during the opening week of the academic year at a British University, when all the student societies try to get the new students (‘freshers’) signed up).
Now, the qualifications: not every ministry is open to everyone. Some require a level of spiritual maturity, and we want to vet people before putting them in post. Others need to have background checks done, for child protection. Again, not a simple sign-up. for roles like that, we recruit.
But the result on that Sunday was an enormously positive response, both for people signing up for things, and for the general awareness of what actually goes on outside the Sunday morning.