In my role at the Summit, one of my hats is to help run point for some of our larger-scale events. Things like Church at the Ballpark, The Gospel Summit, and Christmas at DPAC fall to a team of us who are responsible for executing everything from publicity to registration to guest services to worship to Advil that’s passed out like M&Ms on the day after the event.

Now I’ll lay all my cards on the table: I’m a big event guy. I love ’em. I love the intensity, the excitement, the planning, the process. But I’m also a perfectionist and a procrastinator, meaning that I hate pulling the trigger on a system before I know it’s going to be flawless. And that’s the death knell for event planning.

That’s why I’ve spent a lot of my nearly twenty years of ministry tweaking and refining systems to help pull off events of this nature. Working through what works and laying aside what doesn’t has been incredibly helpful to making each event run a little smoother, and each planning process go a little easier.

So for the next few days, I’d like to share with you some of the resources that have assisted in eating the elephant of large scale events. For this particular context I’ll be specifically dealing with the guest services piece of the puzzle, and using our recent Christmas at DPAC event as the practical model. (WARNING: if you’re not a logistics nerd like me, you’re not going to enjoy this. Spend the next three days watching this video of a basset hound puppy instead.)

Step one: define your win.

I mentioned that I’m one of the members of the large events team. I’m not the team. That means that I have peers and superiors that I start communicating with months before the event. And in those initial meetings, I do everything I can to figure out what the scope of my role will be. Am I solely responsible for guest services? Am I responding to a pre-defined environment, or am I designing the environment? Will there be other hats I’ll wear on the day of the event (emcee, etc)?

Knowing what I’m responsible for and what my team will be in charge of goes a long way in planning for all contingencies. There are three primary factors that guide my questions:

  1. What is the nature of the event? In August, I didn’t know if Christmas at DPAC would be primarily a congregational worship service, a band-led musical performance, or an hour long dance recital of performers dressed like Frosty and Rudolph. Getting feedback and intention from our worship team helped to inform what the “feel” of our guest services team should be.
  2. What is my budget for the event? Dollars drive design. I need to know if I’m working on a shoestring budget that will buy a few sandwich trays for our volunteer team, or a massive budget that will bring in a pastry chef to make personalized monogrammed homemade cinnamon rolls for every attendee. Example: our 2011 Christmas Eve service was held at our main campus, which meets in a warehouse. It was overly familiar to our people and very non-Christmasy. So we opted to rent some artificial snow machines to make it feel a little more festive as people came in. For 2012, the event was at the Durham Performing Arts Center, a very sleek, modern, fancy-schmancy facility downtown. Snow machines – though nice – would have been complete overkill. So we said no to snow and used that money elsewhere.
  3. What are the mechanics of the event? When we did Church at the Ballpark, it was one massive service for 7200 people. Christmas at DPAC, however, covered two days’ worth of five services with 1800-2000 people each. One event required one large guest services team. The other required multiple teams with multiple schedules. in addition, every venue requires different needs. The ballpark featured our largest to date baptism services, which meant we needed to have hundreds of baptism counselors available. But DPAC required multiple levels of seaters and door greeters for a multiple-level facility.

There are probably dozens of other smaller scale questions that I’ll also ask: Food or no, and am I responsible? Are we feeding volunteers who serve a several-hour stretch? How many attendees are we expecting? Where does our nose end and our venue hosts’ nose begin? How much time do we have for set up and tear down? If we’re renting a facility, what parts of the facility will be off limits? Is it theoretically possible that I could theoretically be late for the Christmas Eve service because I theoretically have to make a mad dash to a theoretical store and buy one more theoretical last minute Christmas present for my theoretical wife?

Defining the win at the very beginning goes a long way to making sure your piece of the puzzle fits into the overall event picture. I’d love to hear some of the other questions you ask when defining your win. Please take a moment and comment below.

Other posts in this series: