Reaching Younger and Unchurched People: Special Events

by Warren Bird

One of the key ways to reach an unchurched audience is through special events. Warren Bird writes:

“For church leaders who are trying to crack the code on more effectively reaching younger generations and those not connected to church, my friend Dr. Scott Thumma has published a report with great insights about the impact of special events on these groups.

Scott worked with online event signup company, Eventbrite, to survey 1,000 people who attended religious special events (conferences, seminars, parties, dinners) in 2013-2014. The data clearly shows a positive relationship between involvement in religious special events and greater faith development (find the full report here:

Roughly 70% of respondents said participation in special events inside and outside the local church strengthens their faith, helps them feel more connected and meet others of their faith. Nearly half of those surveyed said special events make it easier for them to reach out to others.

Perhaps the most significant finding of the study is that special events have significant appeal to respondents who are 18 to 45 years of age, who attend at significantly higher rates than older people.

It may be one of the reasons megachurches are attracting more young people. Those larger congregations focus on events that were most popular with this age group and with those not affiliated with organized religious groups—especially events with special speakers or volunteer community service activities that include food/drink and music/entertainment.

While 50-60% of the group uninvolved or marginally involved with a religious group occasionally or often attend religious events, about 25% of these unattached folks have a serious interest in such events.  Not surprisingly, they were more likely to be spectators or occasional participants rather than members of a faith community.
These findings are important because they tell us that holding special events—often—is an alternative way of connecting people and helping them grow in their faith. Given the trend that fewer people are attending weekly worship services, special events could be a significant strategy for churches.

A large percentage of people say they want more special events because the gatherings strengthen their faith, connect them to the faith community and people of like faith, make them more likely to give, and give them an easy avenue to invite unchurched friends.

By analyzing Eventbrite’s database, Scott also gleaned some interesting information about event planning by different religious groups, and for metro areas around the country.

For Buddhist groups, over half of ticketed events are classes and seminars, with most being meditation classes and retreats. Islamic events are fairly diverse, with nearly equal proportions of classes, conferences, dinners, and seminars. Jewish special events are largely dinners and parties, while 30% of Christian events are conferences for women, ministry/leadership, and Bible events. New Age/Mystic groups focused over 50% of their events on classes and workshops about healing and meditation.

It is also interesting to note that San Francisco was the fastest-growing city for events, with 83% growth.  That city also boasts the most religious classes, with 38% of the events being classes. Dallas-Fort Worth had the largest proportion of religious conferences relative to other events. New York City had the largest number of religious concerts and parties, and Washington D.C. had the highest proportion of dinners at 18%.” Used by permission.

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