Let's do this!.... but will anyone actually Show Up?
It had been a long time since I was this nervous.
Hours and hours of work have been poured into getting the building ready to go. I had put blood, sweat and tears into the whole process of getting a building ready for church services, had invested into local communities as best as I could, and did my best to get the word out about a church opening up in town.
I had no idea what it was opening day was going to be like. I knew that some people were going to be there - even just for curiosity's sake - but what would the reception be like? Would another church actually be wanted, attended or welcome into a small town?
You can read all you want about what it is like to launch a new church plant, but until you are actually ready to launch and put into that situation, you can never really appreciate all the different emotions that go through heart and head.
On launch day, I had been commuting to Neepawa for a year and been involved in the local MJHL Junior A hockey club, Neepawa Natives as a chaplain for the last part of the season, had refereed a few high school basketball tournaments, and been playing in the local mens Filipino Basketball League with a team put together from Portage la Prairie. Our family had made the move to Neepawa earlier in the year and our children were in school making some friends - so we weren't really strangers to the town... but we were definitely new.
People new that our family had moved here to start a church - it came up in every conversation:
"So, what brings you to Neepawa?"
"I'm a pastor and we're launching a new church in town."
"Oh..." [silence] "So, nice weather we're having..."
But we decided it would be good to run a social media campaign to help raise awareness about what kind of church was coming to town. We started with a Family Movie Night at the local, historic, community owned, Roxy Theatre.
We paid for everyone's movie tickets to come out and take in Disney Pixar's, Inside Out. We promoted it through Facebook, and had the theatre also promote it through their channels. The results were AMAZING and totally took the community by surprise!
The lineup for the movie began at 7:15 - 45 minutes before showtime! The Roxy hadn't had to open up the balcony for a movie in a long time and were really expecting to open it up this night either. That changed when at 7:40, the lower level was full and the lineup was still along the sidewalk!
We ended up opening the balcony and, unfortunately, having to begin turing people away because there were zero seats available. While a sold-out movie is nothing new in a city, a packed house is more of a rarity in a rural community.
When we were organizing this event, we wanted to help raise awareness of our church in the community, but really wanted to bless families in the town with no strings attached.
Our volunteers wore PAC Neepawa shirts that had our logo on the front and "We are #forNeepawa" on the back, but we made the ver conscious decision NOT to say anything at the showing.
Whenever a church holds an event, there is a nagging sense that something must be said that lets people know about church or Jesus. Internally, I had to fight against this. I mean, I had 240 people there as a captive audience - I could tell them about how PAC is for families and that's why we're hosting a family movie. I could tell them about how our church is a place that is welcoming to people interested in spirituality but who might not be religious. Or about how "different" we are.
Instead, we chose not to say or do anything. We wanted this night to be a blessing for a family, not a commercial for our church under the guise of blessing families.
When talking with some people who have since attended our church, I've asked them, "how did you hear about PAC" and some of their responses are that they attended the Family Movie Night.
What has been really neat to see is that since our covering the cost of a movie at the Roxy, there have been two other businesses that have done the same for other movies throughout the past year. I don't know if this was done before us, but it seems to have created a ripple effect where the town is being made better by other people following in our example - and THAT is absolutely part of our mission - make the town better.
Part two will continue our journey to launch day...
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.