by Mike Jones Pastor, Lakes Baptist Church
I began serving at Lakes Baptist Church as the Pastor in May 2015 and we started to pray about ways to connect with the community and share God’s love. We wanted to take time to get to know the community and not only connect with the people on a whole new level, but to connect the people to God.
It was then we decided to explore the possibility of doing something big in our community for Halloween. The eldership recognised that more and more families on the Central Coast are participating in Halloween, but this is often done by unsupervised children going door to door to random stranger’s houses along darkened streets. This is unsafe for our children and something needed to be done.
Having moved to Australia in 2004 from the United States, where Halloween is more of a fun, festive, family event than its perception is in Australia, I’ve seen how churches can embrace this time and connect with the community. I challenged the elders to pray about how we might get involved and our church leadership began to plan for what we would call HopeFest 2015, a safe alternative to “Trick or Treating” and a time of connecting with our community. One of the Elders let me know that many churches in this area feel very strongly against Halloween and in fact, many pastors will be preaching against it. Still, we agreed this was something God wanted us to do to reach out with God’s love into our community, and so the planning continued.
We started encouraging the entire church, from the teenagers to the senior adults to get involved in various ways of volunteering for the day. We also encouraged the church family to donate lollies, toys and cookies for the big day. The closer we got to the event, the more volunteers we had. They just seemed to be coming from everywhere and joining into this ministry. As the volunteers increased, so did the excitement for the day.
Thanks to a number of volunteers, we were able to collect around 200 litres of lollies, distribute approximately 2,000 flyers around the community and in local schools and childcare facilities, and make signs and banners for our church property.
The Sunday preceding the event, some in our church family felt we should not allow children to come to our event if they are dressed as devils, witches or goblins, etc. They were concerned what others might think about our church if they were to drive by and see little witches hats or something like that on our church property. That Sunday morning I challenged the church with this: “Some of you may be concerned what we are going to do if some kids come dressed up as gruesome creatures, devils, vampires or witches. Well, if that’s the case, and it probably will be…we’re going to love them. We’re going to let them in and we’re going to love them and be gracious to them and care for them. Because you know what? That’s how God loves us! We may look like princesses and super heroes but inside God knows we are little devils and He loves us anyway and tries to lead us to what is best. And so we are going to love our community, no matter what they look like or smell like or act like.” From this time on the entire church family rallied behind the idea of offering this safe alternative for our community and using it as an opportunity to show God’s love.
On Saturday, 31 October, from 5-7pm we held HopeFest 2015. 12 cars participated in our Trunk or Treat, where the cars were decorated and families distributed lollies, cookies or toys from the boot (trunk) of their cars. Our play group leader cared for our under 5’s children in the church hall, while there were various games and activities for the older children outside. A BBQ was held throughout the event and many families stayed and talked with people from our church while the children played on the play equipment, stocked up on lollies and interacted with other children in the games/activities.
We are not a large church. On a Sunday morning we average 20-25 children in our Sunday school program. But on this night we were able to connect with approximately 180 children. On a Sunday morning we average just over 100 adults per Sunday morning. But on this night we were able to connect with 250-300 people from our community, the vast majority of who were unchurched. At the registration table, each child was given a bag to put their lollies and things in. This bag also contained information about each of our children, youth and family ministries, but overall it was not a pushy, religious focus to the night whatsoever. It was simply a time for us to connect with people and to care for them.
It was humbling to watch our church family rise to the occasion. From our youth to some of our eldest senior adults the church family volunteers chatted with kids, with parents and grandparents and just got to know them. Over and over the same message was communicated to our church, “Tell your church people, ‘Thank you!’”. One parent told me, “My wife and I are against Halloween and we didn’t want our kids to go out trick or treating because it’s just too dangerous. But this year we decided our kids were not going to let us get away with them not doing it. Thank you for providing a safe way for our kids to have lots of fun, get to know other kids, get loaded up on lollies and all in a safe environment.”
A grandparent of some of the kids present looked puzzled and said to me, “I just can’t believe the church just care for our families so much you would do all of this!” As a pastor it was sad to hear that the community are shocked to find out the church care, but at the same time I was so proud that for the first time this community member has been blown away by the love and care shown by the church.