Our congregation has hosted several appreciation days for groups in our community. An Appreciation Day can be a great experience for a church and the community. You might want to consider hosting one. Below are some questions and answers you might have.
How do we host an Appreciation Day?
You simply select a group from the community to invite to a service and have a meal afterward in their honor. For example, churches I have served in Florida, Wyoming and Kansas have all had Appreciation Days. Groups we have invited have been the Law Enforcement agencies, Emergency Medical Service, Fire Department and schools. Every person in the organization or agency is invited along with their families. For example, if you invite a police department, then the officers, jailers and dispatchers and all of their families are invited.
What is the benefit of doing this?
It is healthy for churches to be concerned about how the community perceives them. Since we are the light of Christ, it is important that the community recognizes His light in us. That light shines by our care, concern and ministry in the community. An Appreciation Day is one way to let our light shine.
An Appreciation Day provides an opportunity to overcome some of the negative impressions that a community might have for a church, and to actually develop positive impressions. Visitors from the town that might not ever associate with a particular body of Christians are invited for a service, are given sincere expressions of thanks, and are treated to a meal.
Does it work?
Yes! Communities often identify their churches by the fights and splits that have occurred within them over the years. They don’t soon forget when the preacher and a deacon got into a shouting (or even shoving) match in the very building where they claim to preach truth and love!
Fellowship with community members in worship and with an enjoyable meal afterwards can soften some of the harsh and painful memories people harbor. Long term friendships often develop.
Can we get new members from hosting an Appreciation Day?
Not often, but sometimes. The real purpose is not to "recruit" new church members. It is to show sincere appreciation to involved members of your community with no strings attached.
What are some of the exact steps in hosting an Appreciation Day?
1) Decide what group in your community you want to recognize.If there has been a terrible accident in your community, that might be a good time to recognize the EMS.
2) Talk personally to the leaders of the groups you want to honor.Speak to the Sheriff, Chief of Police, Head of the EMS, principal of a school, etc. Let them know you appreciate their work and service and want to honor them.
3) Follow your personal visit with a letter from the church office. Every police and sheriff’s department I have ever invited to an Appreciation Day provided us with personal addresses of the officers to send them letters. Stress that family members are invited. Also, if an officer is on duty that morning and can’t attend the service, stress that he can stop by during the potluck and have lunch, even if he has to take it with him.
4) You can follow the church letter with a handwritten one from a group within the church, such as the ladies group. This letter does two things. One, it reinforces your invitation. Two, it involves more folks from the church, allowing them to feel some ownership in the project.
5) Encourage the church members to make their usual amount of food plus plenty of extras!
6) Preach a sermon that morning on a topic that will resonate with your visitors: Respect for authority (Romans 13), appreciation, gratitude, service, etc.
7) Allow your visitors to be the first in the serving line.
8) Encourage your members to mix and mingle with the guests during the meal.
9) You may or may not do personal recognitions of the guests. I typically have chosen not to so as to not embarrass anyone.
Do people actually come to these Appreciation days?
We’ve had as few as 5 and as many as 55. In Cody, WY we actually had a couple of times where we had more visitors than we had members on an Appreciation Day!
Any closing suggestions?
Just this: an Appreciation Day is not an occasion to "recruit" new members. It is a day to open yourself up to serve others simply for the joy of service. Many of your visitors will already be members of other churches and are not interested in leaving where they are. The purpose of an Appreciation Day is to show appreciation and develop relationships. God is free to do what he wants to with that in his time.
If your congregation hosts an Appreciation Day, please revisit this blog and leave a comment on how it went.