Let’s Stop Pretending!

As leaders in our congregations, we are responsible for what happens when the services start. That is a serious responsibility and is an integral component of Facility Stewardship. Well-run programs do not just happen by chance. They all take planning. Proper planning can help facilitate a good event; bad planning will always lead to issues. So, why should we stop pretending? When we consider event planning in the church, we need to stop pretending that it is OK to excuse poor planning by claiming we want to do it this way for “ministerial” reasons.

Whenever you invite individuals into your facility, you are taking on some responsibility for their safety. There are rules you follow that have nothing to do with religious tradition and everything to do with local, state, and federal laws/ordinances. That is a reality when we choose to operate a dedicated facility for religious use. It is not wrong, from a spiritual perspective, to follow these guidelines. Willfully ignoring them is a negative representation of your witness.

How does this relate to event planning? Simple. Planning an event in church represents two essential and separate things. The two aspects are the potential for ministering through the event and the actual execution of the setup of the event. One has spiritual connotations; one does not. One is concerned with the subjective response of the participants; one is concerned with the physical needs to provide the framework of the event. Conflating these two purposes diminishes the effectiveness of both operations.

Perhaps you have heard this before; “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Unfortunately, for many facility teams they face several avoidable emergencies each week resulting from poor planning. The more this occurs, the harder it is to recognize real emergencies or failures within the system. If everything is an emergency, then nothing is. I may have a shortage of chairs to support all the events I need to…but if I never know how many chairs I need for all my events I have a challenging time proving it. So, what can you do?

I am going to assume you accept that planning an event is an objective exercise. With that, there are essential pieces of information that need detailed and shared. When (time and date), where (location), what (required resources), how (it needs set), and who (who, if anyone, do you need to assist). Do you notice what is missing? Why. As a facility steward, I am willing to trust the ministerial team and accepting that the vetting of the “why” of the event is in line with ministerial efforts. I need to know all the rest so that I can support the event effectively. Let’s look at the essential components of event planning.

When. This is important for obvious reasons. To plan we need to know the date and time the event is occurring (and if it recurs as well). However, clarity in when is important. Yes, I need to know that the service starts at 11. I also need to know if there is an expectation of being in the space starting at 8. Or, perhaps an intent to decorate the day before. All these data points can impact an aspect of the facility that you, as an event planner/owner, are not aware of nor do you necessarily need to be. I do not need my pastor to understand the complexity of staging HVAC to minimize demand charges…I need them to tell me their required parameters so I can schedule appropriately.

Where. It seems obvious, I know. However, when determining a location do not neglect to include the additional support areas that you may need or are expecting to have. Assuming it will be available, or not utilized as a storage room for displaced items due to your event needs, can create drama. In the planning stage it is helpful also to consider if you will need different spaces at various times throughout the event. This has a real potential monetary impact. Specificity on the when for your where allows for the facility steward to only run HVAC, or turn on lights, or send staff over when required.

What. What do you need? Spoiler alert. Facility stewards are awesome, but they are not mind-readers. Sure, we may have done this event in the past…along with the five-thousand other events (which, by the way, is a pretty common average for the number of event setups/year for churches). If you make me guess what you need, and I mess up, the fault remains on you. I want to know everything you want. Telling me everything beforehand allows me to support you better, and to plan my staff efficiently. Having more than you need already present is preferable than having to scramble when the event starts.

How. This goes hand in hand with “what.” How do you need everything setup? Unless your desired setup would lead to a high likelihood of death and destruction, I am willing to set it how you request. If you tell me “just do what makes the most sense” mean it. Facility stewards know their facilities, they know what has worked and what has not regarding setups. If they offer a suggestion, it is not a negative towards you; it is merely a subject matter expert offering guidance learned over time. Again, a facility team wants your event to run smoothly; it makes our lives more enjoyable.

Who. Do you require a subject matter expert to assist you? Perhaps you need sound, maybe IT support. Maybe you need a specific coffee and tea spread. When you are planning your event identify all those individuals you may need assistance from. When you do, let them help determine the best way and manner to assist as well. If you are going to give a presentation, bring your gear into the IT team BEFORE the event, like a day or two, to give them time to make sure everything is compatible. If you are serving food, let the kitchen team know what you want in enough time for them to prepare.

These are the basics of event planning. By the way, your worship service is an event too, and the planning of it should follow the same approach. Can you do this with pen and paper or shared documents and spreadsheets? Sure…if you want to be ineffective and inefficient. There is affordable event scheduling software available for all church sizes. Size does not matter. When you have a facility and events, you need to be intentional in how you plan.

A thoughtfully planned event helps remove potential distractions from the attendees. This, in turn, increases the opportunity to impact folks in a spiritually meaningful way. Proper planning also creates a type of memorandum of understanding between the event planners (typically ministerial staff) and the event support team (usually facility staff). When you, as an event planner, commit to provide me all the information and desired setup needs before the event, I, as the event support team, commit to supporting your event in the exact manner and time you requested. I will do whatever it takes to respect your event because you have appreciated my contribution. We are all one Body, with distinct functions. Let’s celebrate that and do all we can for each other.

By Nathan Parr, Facility Specialist, Cool Solutions Group