A few weeks ago, we hosted Michael Franzese as a guest speaker during our Sunday morning service. Michael is a former mob captain with the Colombo crime family who now travels the country sharing the story of how he came to Christ. It was an amazing weekend for us. Thanks to God's blessing, we had 1,000 guests join us for the weekend. Every service was filled to capacity, including our overflow room. Every time Michael preached, people came to Christ, and approximately 50 salvations resulted from the event. Michael ministered and prayed with people for over an hour after every service.
The weekend was such a success that it has forced us to think at a new level. We've had other guest speakers, but never one with such wide appeal, and the results were hard to dismiss as an accidental success. God orchestrated many factors leading up to the event. Our Management Team debriefed afterward. Here's what we learned:
What This Outreach Event Did For Us
1. It gave us an opportunity to raise the value of evangelism and reduce the fear of evangelism.
For several weeks leading up to the event, I mentioned Michael in each service and played preview videos of him speaking. For four weeks running, I asked listeners to write down four to six names of people they would pray for and invite to the event. We've done this before, and people have responded fairly well to the opportunities, but Michael's story was so unusual that it lowered all the usual barriers. Instead of trying to turn casual conversations into an invitation to church, we found ourselves comfortable to start conversations with an invitation. We would say to people we barely knew, "Hey, have you ever thought about going to church? Because two weeks from now, we have a guy coming that I think you'd like to hear..."
For example, while visiting with the manager of my gym, I said, "Chris, we've talked about you coming to church someday. I think I found the day." Then I handed him an invitation and told him about Michael. I said, "In fact, I've got a whole stack of these cards. Would you mind if I put them on your front desk?"
He responded, "No, the corporate office wouldn't allow me to do that, but if you give them to me, I'll pass them out." And he did. In fact, I met a guy at the event who came because of an invitation he received from the gym manager!
Our staff agreed that our Michael Franzese weekend was a win, even if very few of our guests returned, because of what it did for our members. The event raised the value of outreach for them while lowering their threshold of fear of inviting friends. Evangelism suddenly became more comfortable for the average church member, and any church would call that a win.
2. It built momentum for the next big event.
The weekend was such a success that now we are all excited about the next one. Currently, we're looking for another unique speaker with wide appeal to come for a weekend in January. I'm confident our people will rise to the occasion again because this was such a good experience.
3. It put us on many people's maps.
After 18 years of mailing invitations, you'd think everyone would know who and where our church is. But they don't. Hundreds of our guests had never heard of New Song before, and hundreds more had heard of us but had never thought about checking us out. It's so cool that many of these people will return—maybe even cooler is the number of people who didn't attend last weekend but now know we exist. If 1,000 newcomers attended, we believe there are potentially tens of thousands who now know of us and may attend in the future.
4. It gave us new volunteers.
Every Easter, we ask all our people to step forward and serve somewhere. Some do it just that one time, but many first-time volunteers get permanently assimilated into ministry. Because of the size of this event, we were able to again make the "big ask" of our whole congregation. Dozens volunteered for the first time, and many of them will continue serving, so the number of regular volunteers in our church grew to a new level.
5. It increased our leaders' status.
Following the event, dozens of our people posted on Facebook how proud they were of their church and leaders. The truth is, we didn't do all that much. God, Michael, and our inviters get the credit for the number of our guests. But the overspray of a great event has put a new shine on the status of every pastor and leader in our church. With it, we'll be able to leverage more change, advancement, and growth in the future.
As you can see, we experienced a miracle. But even so, we openly admit that some of the things we prayed about didn't happen, and some issues arose that we'll be more careful about in the future.
What the Outreach Event Didn't Do
1. It didn't make life easier.
Before the event, our staff was stretched with all their regular weekly responsibilities. Those responsibilities weren't eased by our success—they were compounded. Normally, I write a few dozen first-time guest letters; that week, I didn't finish the letters until Wednesday at midnight. Normally, our weekly Management Team meeting lasts an hour; that week, we went two hours working on solutions to new issues the rapid growth created.
2. It didn't help us financially.
We spent thousands of dollars on postcards, door hangers, a newspaper ad, and Michael's speaking fee. It will take months to recoup the cost of this event. The cost was more than worth it, but it's a cost we will have to absorb until our newcomers grow and learn about stewardship.
3. It didn't endear us to our tenant neighbors.
New Song sits at the end of a commercial parking lot. One hundred yards from us is a newer, smaller church. We were careful to ask our regular attendees to park past that church so as not to take their spaces. But even with an active parking team, some of our guests couldn't imagine one church not letting them park to attend another church a few yards away. Needless to say, our surge of activity was a hassle to our neighbors. If it wasn't a church, it could have been a business that was disrupted.
What We Learned from the Event
1. Think through every system ahead of time.
Our ushers were primed for a larger group. They performed beautifully, as did our children's, tech, and music teams. Our office staff printed plenty of extra programs. But we forgot to order extra donuts, and even our beefed-up parking team wasn't able to handle the additional cars as well as we'd hoped.
2. Think bigger.
Our normal video feed works well for a small group in our overflow room. We found that a bigger crowd creates the expectation of a better video presentation. To accommodate a bigger crowd, we need to think bigger. The upside of this is that we now have a vision of what we need to do as New Song grows into its new size. The downside: We wish we'd thought bigger ahead of time, since you only get one chance to make a great first impression.
3. Forget normal.
Michael spoke for us on the first weekend of the month. Our normal pattern is to celebrate Communion on the first weekend of the month, so we did. It didn't work well at all. Lesson: When you're doing exceptional things, remember that you might have to rearrange the normal things. In our case, next time we'll move Communion to another weekend.
4. Keep the service typical.
On the other hand, I tried to keep my participation as "normal" as possible without doing the preaching. I spent a few minutes welcoming the crowd. I emceed the service and "preached" for three minutes during Communion. Our worship band did their usual part of the service. We think these elements were crucial for us. If we are going to persuade visitors to return, they need to sample the preacher and the music of a typical weekend—even during an atypical event—so they can see if they like it.
5. Expect your guest to speak too long.
Every guest speaker we've ever had has struggled to stay within our 35-minute speaking slot. Fortunately, our children's team anticipated this, so our kids were okay. Still, our speaker going 20 minutes overtime narrowed our transition time between services, so our ability to prepare for the next service was stretched. Our rule of thumb from now on is to expect guest speakers to go long, and we'll prepare accordingly in advance.
6. Celebrate the victory.
Michael spoke for us on Labor Day weekend. Monday was a holiday for us. Because of this, not only did we have more to do as a result of the great turnout, but we had less time in which to do it. Fortunately, years ago I learned from Bill Hybels and Nehemiah about the value of celebration. So we took an hour Wednesday morning to share victory stories as a staff, an hour Wednesday night to share victories with our Board, and we wrote tons of posts on Facebook to let our people know what God had done through the event. It's funny how stories can become more precious than the event itself. A story told is a distillation of the event into its poignant essence. I will remember the feeling of God's Spirit in our packed auditorium for years, but I suspect the memory of hearing how our Video Coordinator led her neighbor to Christ after the service will remain sweet and strong, and maybe grow sweeter and stronger as the years go by.
7. Share the victory.
I recently began mentoring a group of nearby pastors. Admittedly, I'm fanatical about New Song's growth, but I'm also passionate about seeing other churches reach their communities, as well. So I spent some time encouraging these pastors to think about hosting Michael and others like him.
I wrote this article for the very same reason. I'm hoping you'll take the risk of thinking bigger than you've ever thought before in terms of outreach to your community. I'm not saying you have to host Michael Franzese, although I do recommend him. But try something outrageously beyond what you've done before. Take a risk; think outside your box. Jesus wants to reach your community more than you do. Give him a chance to use you and your church to do it. Even if you don't succeed, you'll learn a ton. The Lord looks on the heart more than on the size, so he'll be as honored by your efforts as he is by your victories. Try something ridiculous, and then share the victory with the rest of us, so we can celebrate and learn from it, too!
8. Find a speaker with wide appeal.
Years ago, we hosted a former Mrs. United States in our services. Dozens of tween-age girls showed up and mobbed her. A few months later, we hosted a retired NFL quarterback. Several jocks showed up with memorabilia for him to autograph. Once we hosted an aging former rock-star, and aged hippies attended.
All of these events were fruitful, but what we learned from hosting Michael Franzese is that there are a few special speakers out there who appeal to a very wide audience. A reformed mob boss appeals to men. A former mob boss who left a life of crime because of his love for a beautiful woman appeals to women. Couple that with Michael's first-class communication gift and a story of redemption straight from heaven, and you've got a volatile mixture for explosive growth.
Years ago, Gatorade did a Michael Jordan commercial with a punchline of, "I wanna be like Mike." My greatest lesson learned from our big weekend is that I want to find more unique speakers like "Mike," because I want to see more people become like Jesus.
Michael Franzese is represented by Outreach Events. Outreach Events and SermonCentral.com are sister subsidiaries of Outreach, Inc.