Bring in the Harvest with a Fall Fest

When back-to-school fever is dying down, the days grow noticeably shorter and pumpkins start appearing on front porches – it’s time for your major fall outreach event – a Harvest Festival!

Many churches around the country host alternative “family fun” events on or near Halloween. These events are promoted as “safe” options for families, ideal for those concerned about having their children wander dark neighborhoods at night. Some provide a clear spiritual focus for their events, while others take the opportunity simply to connect with their communities in a positive way. New Venture Christian Fellowship of Oceanside, California hosts an Autumn Fest featuring four music stages, food vendor booths and carnival rides. Approximately 7,000 people attend this festival annually on the church’s 19-acre campus, most from outside their church family.*

“Under the Big Top” is the theme of a carnival hosted by Kenosha First Assembly of God in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Some 2,000 people attend the evening event featuring games, candy and a 20-minute presentation of the Gospel with puppets, drama and songs.*

Regardless of the size of your church, you can easily host a harvest event. Consider offering it as a Halloween alternative for your community – or hold it during the Thanksgiving holidays.

First, check school and community calendars, and set your date. Next, choose your location – either your church site or on the grounds of a nearby elementary school or park – and obtain permission to use those sites, if necessary.

Recruit teams and leaders responsible for each of the following areas:

* Publicity
* Tickets & sales
* Donations from area businesses
* Game booths & amusements
* Food
* Music
* Drama, puppets and/or Gospel presentation
* Decorations
* Set-up and clean-up

Publicity. Your team will need to consider how to spread the message to your community. Ask permission at local schools to provide them with fliers that go home to parents. Post posters at nearby parks, store windows at merchant donors, and community bulletin boards. Click here to see Harvest Festival postcardsdoor hangersinvitationbanners and more. Send press releases and public service announcements to local radio, television and newspaper media.

Tickets and sales. This team is responsible for purchasing rolls of tickets, for setting ticket prices, and having a couple of booths set up and staffed for ticket sales. Also consider attaching promotional tickets to fliers and door hangers, to entice kids to come.

Donations. This group will utilize the sales talents of your church. They’ll create a list of merchants and business managers/owners in the area and then visit them, asking for food donations for food booths, prize donations, larger raffle prize donations, and cash donations. Provide them with a letter from your church that includes your tax ID number, showing your church’s tax-exempt status, so that they can use their donations as a write-off. Give this committee plenty of help. Remember, the more successful they are, the less your church has to spend!

Game booths & amusements. This team creates the booths and games, enlists staff to run them, and obtains prizes to be given away.  Booths can include face painting, spin art, ring toss, cupcake walks, pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples or Go Fish; amusements include pony rides, bounce houses, rock climbing walls, dunk tanks, bungee runs…the sky’s the limit. Check your yellow pages under “party rentals” for more options.

Food. Remember carnival food when you were a kid? Nothing too healthy – we’re talking hot dogs, sodas, chips, cotton candy, popcorn, etc. Again, you can rent popcorn and cotton candy machines – just look in your yellow pages. Another great idea is to host a Chili Cookoff and have local chefs come – after judges award prizes, the leftovers can be served with hot dogs or in bowls.

Music. Live or canned – music is important: it helps set a festive atmosphere. Play a medley of Christian and popular but clean secular songs. Perhaps your youth are involved in various bands – use them after they’ve auditioned. Your worship team is also perfect for this job. Consider a variety of bands.

Drama, puppets and Gospel presentation. Your drama team and children’s pastor are your best resources for this committee. This group will also need to decide if the presentation will happen all at one time (and therefore, figure out how to get the whole crowd into one spot to listen) or whether it will happen once an hour. Or hire a professional “clean comedian” or magician to entertain the crowd. Visit to view clips of performers online.

Decorations. Bring in bales of hay, homemade scarecrows, lots of lights. Set up a “floorplan” of where all booths and activities will be located, so that traffic flows evenly.

Set-up & clean-up. Get everyone at church involved in this activity – kids and adults. You’ll need plenty of hands – and plenty of team leaders to make sure everything’s ready to go and then completely restored. Contact local scout troops – often their members can help with these types of events on their way to earning merit badges.

Lastly, use this prime opportunity to publicize what’s going on at church this fall: your current and upcoming message series, opportunities for kids and teens (and their parents), and holiday events. Have plenty of fliers or invitations to hand out all evening.

*Excerpts from “Shining the Light”, in Outreach Magazine, Fall 2002. Reprinted with permission.