Big Banquet

In a nutshell
In Bradford, the HOPE team decided to put on a high profile event to back up what the churches were already doing in the autumn. They wanted to support churches and attract more people to courses like Alpha and Start (see Resources) through the event so they knew they needed a big venue, some food and an interesting speaker who could deliver the goods in a non-cringy way. They were also keen to make sure that as many non-Christians were there as possible and it wasn’t just a nice event for the churches!
Who has done it?
the HOPE team, Bradford
Contact
HOPE Bradford Co-ordinator, Marianne Clough
Why do it?
They wanted to support churches and attract more people to courses like Alpha and Start
How did it work?
So using their contacts at Bradford City Football Club (namely the chaplain) they negotiated for the hire of the banqueting suite on an otherwise quiet weekday evening. The hope was that the venue would appeal to people who liked football . . . or food . . . or a cheap night out . . . and especially to men. With seats for 600 they knew the club would make good money on the bar if the place was full. The food was to be prepared and served by club staff as part of the cost, leaving the team to concentrate on the rest of the evening. Bradford City's former player-turned-coach Wayne Jacobs is a Christian and agreed to share his story and, as he is really well-known in the area, it was clear he would be a draw. Comic evangelist Mark Greenwood from the Forty Three Trust (www.fortythreetrust.com) went along, too, to provide some light entertainment for the evening. Musicians were arranged to sing some familiar songs (no hymns or worship songs) as people came in and waited to be served, to help make people feel at ease.
HOPE Bradford Co-ordinator, Marianne Clough said, ‘The next bit of the operation was inspired – I'd like to say it was my idea but I'd be lying – we asked churches to book whole tables of ten, selling tickets as cheaply as we could at just £10 a head. It meant churches could look after the people they brought and be in charge of the seating plan etc. We stressed to them that at worst we wanted half Christians and half searchers at each table. The churches that really got the bit between their teeth were the ones who gave the responsibility to cell groups/house groups to book a table each, which definitely brought out the competitive element in some people! Some individual churches booked as many as six tables. Others just brought a few people along and ended up sharing a table with a neighbouring church. In all, more than 30 churches brought guests resulting in 57 full tables. It was a real mix of people including couples, singles, older people, ex-addicts, businessmen, members of church walking groups, passion play actors and a few people who had simply read about it in the local paper and wanted tickets.’ of ten, selling tickets as cheaply as we could at just £10 a head. It meant churches could look after the people they brought and be in charge of the seating plan etc. We stressed to them that at worst we wanted half Christians and half searchers at each table. The churches that really got the bit between their teeth were the ones who gave the responsibility to cell groups/house groups to book a table each, which definitely brought out the competitive element in some people! Some individual churches booked as many as six tables. Others just brought a few people along and ended up sharing a table with a neighbouring church. In all, more than 30 churches brought guests resulting in 57 full tables. It was a real mix of people including couples, singles, older people, ex-addicts, businessmen, members of church walking groups, passion play actors and a few people who had simply read about it in the local paper and wanted tickets.’
 
The Outcome
Our speaker, Wayne, was amazing. We had not expected him to generate the warmth of support in the room that he did. He spoke between courses and one wonderful moment was seeing the serving staff (maybe 15 of them) all young people, lined up waiting to serve the dessert, all agog at Wayne's words. He had a clear testimony of how God's love had been there in the good times and the bad times. The applause for him went on for ages.

Mark did exactly as we'd asked, too, with some great jokes, finishing up with the unforgettable line: "afford the luxury of finding out about Jesus for yourself". Wonderfully, a member of his family was in the crowd that night and gave his life to Jesus the following Sunday!
 
Typical comments on the night from non-churchgoers were, “It’s really made me think,” “It’s really nice to come along even though we don’t usually go to church,” and another person said that afterwards they couldn’t stop thinking about what Wayne had said. One church guy told us they hadn’t planned on holding a course but after chatting with their guests found there was a great demand for one!
 
The downside was that it cost more than we had anticipated (hence some of the advice below) but God is good and we’ve been able to cover the costs thanks to some wonderful donations.’
 
Top tips
·          If at all possible, use a central venue to sell tickets and make them available on-line.
·          Be ready for people to get cold feet at the last minute and also for some to decide to come at the last minute!
·          Be clear about what you're doing so the guests are clear about what they are coming to.
·          Have a clear cut-off point for churches to pay up, the date determined by the venue and their requirements of notice re catering.
·          Make it clear churches will still pay for a full table if their guests don't come.
·          Have a dedicated prayer team to cover you throughout. 
·          Have something ready for people to take away with them. For us, churches did their own follow up, most with courses. Each table also had a list of all the courses going on around Bradford, including those of churches not represented on the night. It was a pretty impressive list!