A Participant’s Story
In 1998, Tom Scott and his wife were looking for a church home. “We visited Immanuel Lutheran Church [in Batavia, Illinois] first,” Tom explains. “As we shook hands with Pastor Weidler after the service, he said, ‘We just so happen to have a ministry fair going on in our fellowship hall today.’ So we went down there.”
“A woman, Sara Harms*, introduced herself, started talking to us and led us around the room. I’m interested in evangelism, so I talked to people at the evangelism table. This is exactly what I was looking for. We joined the church a few months later. And I’m still attending a Wednesday Bible study that I also got connected to at that first ministry fair.”
Ministry fairs are not the first thing you think of for bringing in new members, but the connections they create can be as powerful for visitors as for long time members. A ministry fair is a collection of manned tables, each featuring a ministry of the church. It’s meant to connect people with ministry opportunities, and the goal is reached by connecting people.
A Planner’s Ideas
Immanuel has had ministry fairs “off and on for many years,” says Lori St. Vincent. Lori leads the ministry fair planning team and has learned a lot about creating an effective ministry fair.
- The last weekend in August, when ministries are gearing up for the fall, is the best time for their ministry fair.
- Some ministry leaders tended to simply put flyers on their table and stand or sit there. Instead, Lori encourages them to intentionally engage people in conversation. See “Visual and Interactive,” right.
- During worship that Sunday, a flyer with a map (Batavia_map) of the ministry fair was distributed.
- The ministry tables are grouped: the music ones in one corner, education ones in another, etc. Serving cards (Batavia_serving) are also available at each table. People can use these cards to indicate their interest in a particular ministry or ministry area.
- Bright red table skirts gave a festive air to the event, held in the gym.
- Table signs identifying the ministry need to be seen above the crowd. For sign-holders, they glued a small clothespin to one end of a wooden dowel, and put the other end through the hole in an upside-down flower pot resting on the table. Spray painting the clothespin/dowel/flower pot makes it look quite classy!
- Coffee and bagels were available in the gym, as were small tables where people could sit and eat and visit.
- This year, the team “punched things up” by adding a children’s activity, based on their summer VBS program. Each child was given an answer sheet. They had to visit each table to find out the questions. Any child who at least attempted to answer the questions received a prize. “The kids dragged their parents through the whole ministry fair.”
- Each ministry leader does their own follow-up.
A Ministry Leader’s Results
“The ministry fair is well organized,” reports Dan Gatz. “Lori and her team do a great job setting up. I just walk in the night before and set up my stuff.” Dan, head of Immanuel’s Trustees board, looks for volunteers for ministries that help maintain the church property, and also for a newer ministry, Hart2Hearts [The church is located on Hart Road], which comes of a partnership between Immanuel and the city of Batavia. When city inspectors find code violations on a resident’s property, but the resident is unable to afford repairs, church volunteers go fix the problem.
“The ministry fair has always helped me with volunteers,” says Dan. “It’s wonderful to be at the ministry fair and talk to people. We are blessed. Right now, I have more volunteers than I have jobs, so at the most recent ministry fair I was looking for site coordinators, so I can expand to nearby cities.”
“I think the people who walk into the gym are the people who are looking for somewhere they can volunteer. Even if their life is really full and they can’t, it’s nice for them to know all the things Immanuel does.”
Ministry fairs connect people to opportunities to serve. Lori sums it up perfectly. “I get excited about helping others get excited about what’s going on.”
*Tom says of Sara, “This is her gift: spotting a new face, introducing herself, and asking questions. Sara has used her gift of outreach to touch many lives.” Ask the “Sara’s” in your congregation to mingle at your ministry fair!
Visual & Interactive: What catches your eye? A hammer and a saw? Or a mixing bowl and set of cake pans? As they enter a ministry fair, people gravitate to their interests. Those interests often indicate their abilities, the gifts God has given them to use in serving others. At your ministry table, display objects that tell the story of your ministry.And be interactive. At Immanuel’s most recent ministry fair, principal Glenn Steinbrenner demonstrated the electronic “smart board” that day school teachers use for teaching. People were fascinated.
How can you catch people’s eye and create interest? Put some real creative types on your ministry fair planning team to help those of us who are less creative!
Serving Cards: Batavia_serving
Ministry Fair map: Batavia_map
Bible Trivia children’s activity: Batavia_activity