Events can be excellent tools for ministry. They involve serving the local community, attracting people to church who don’t typically attend, strengthening marriages, and much more. However, the efforts leading up to the event day, plus all the work the day of, can take a toll on staff and volunteers. To avoid last-minute chaos, and to ensure everyone has a great experience, it’s wise to take some strategic steps ahead of time to make the big day run smoothly.

Here are six strategic steps to make the next event day run smoothly:

#1 – Start Planning Early

One of the biggest issues with church events is starting the planning process only a few weeks (or a couple of months) ahead of time. This sets your team up for unnecessary stress and late nights at the church. Instead, create an annual church event calendar when you develop next year’s budget. Put every event you intend to host onto the schedule and decide which ones to approve. I recommend doing this in conjunction with the budgeting process since each event will need it’s own budget anyway.

As you decide which events to host, watch out for too many events within a four to six-week timeframe. Even if none of those are church-wide events, you run the risk of wearing out your supporting departments (Finance, Communications, Facilities) and volunteers by having so many events in a short period. Space events out and don’t be afraid to remove events from the calendar. It’s better to do fewer events with excellence and a fresh team than try to cram several in with more stress and less success.

Once you decide which events to host, assign an event planner to each and start developing those plans at least three months before the day of the event. For events involving a few hundred attendees or getting an in-demand guest speaker, six months is best.

#2 – Agree on the Decision-Makers

The day of the event is a flurry of activity. This is not the time to figure out who can decide to cancel an outdoor event due to inclement weather or who has the authority to make changes to seating arrangements. Well before the day of the event, determine the critical decisions you might need to make and who can make them.

Key decisions may include:

  • What to do in case of inclement weather
  • Seating assignment changes
  • Rearranging the schedule
  • Speaking with the media
  • Whether to cancel or postpone the event

#3 – Establish a Command Center

A Command Center is the place for all staff and volunteers to go for answers during the event. This is where the event planner will stay throughout the day to answer questions and make decisions (or talk with the person who is authorized to make a particular decision). In addition to the event planner, you’ll want a couple of runners assigned to the Command Center to retrieve items or communicate information. Put their table in an out-of-the-way area that’s still easily accessible for staff and volunteers.

#4 – Put Essential Documents in a Central Location

The event planner will need certain documents at the Command Center to reference as needed. These include:

  • Vendor and speaker contracts
  • Materials given to staff and volunteers about the event
  • Promotional materials about the event
  • Seating chart (if applicable)
  • Venue maps
  • List of staff and volunteers serving at the event and in what role
  • Event schedule
  • Event project plan
  • Emergency procedures (see #6)

The best way to manage all of these files is to save them in a central location. If you’ve used an online project management tool to plan the event, that’s the first place to consider. Asana, Basecamp, and many other project management tools enable you to save files within the system. Another option is Google Drive. Create a folder for the event and organize key documents within that folder.

#5 – Organize Staff and Volunteers

Most events require a significant number of staff and volunteers to pull off successfully. When you invite people to serve, provide them with clear instructions for what to do the day of the event. This includes telling them what time they should arrive, where they should check-in, where to go afterward, who to meet with for final instructions, what to wear, and what to bring (or not to bring).

Use an online system to make volunteer check-in easier. Most childcare check-in systems are designed to allow for volunteer check-in as well, so that’s the first place to look for a technical solution.

After checking in, volunteers should meet with their team captain for final instructions and prayer before going to their post for the day.

#6 – Plan for Emergencies

No one wants to think about something terrible happening at their upcoming church event. However, it’s best to consider what could go wrong and plan for how to handle various scenarios. This makes taking action in the event of an emergency happen sooner and with greater effectiveness.

Develop response plans for these types of emergencies:

  • A parent attending the event gets separated from his/her child
  • Natural disasters such as tornados, floods, blizzards, and more
  • What to do in the event of a fire
  • How to handle a violent or disruptive individual
  • How to respond in the event of an active shooter situation
  • How best to handle dealing with protestors
  • What to do if someone has a medical emergency (heart attack, stroke, heat stroke, seizure, etc.)

Once you’ve developed these plans, include the documentation at the Command Center and train key staff and volunteers on the appropriate procedures. Create “cheat-sheet” versions of each emergency response plan and provide these to the applicable staff and volunteers. Make sure all staff and volunteers know who to contact in the event of an emergency.

Events have many benefits for your congregation and community. Planning months in advance and thinking through all the seemingly tiny details leads to more successful and less stressful events.