Special Events: Fellowship

This week’s entry is the first of four that look at Special Events in the life of the parish.  Special Events are special because they touch the five elements of ParishAdvancement.  It goes without saying that the Initiation of new members of the Church at their Baptism or at the Easter Vigil Mass is a Special Event.

But what about Fellowship, Revenue Generation, Evangelization, and Stewardship?  These next four articles will examine some exemplars that demonstrate Special Events which touch on four of the five FIRES elements simultaneously.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Irwin, PA has held its “Almost Famous” Burger Bash for quite some time now.  It starts in the Spring and goes until Fall.  From  11 AM to 2 PM on Saturdays, members of the parish grill hamburgers (with or without grilled onions) and have added other grilled food items over the past couple of years.

Prior to the pandemic, you could eat there, but now it’s a take home service.  A few years ago, the Burger Bash was able to proudly state “Over 100,000 burgers served.”

It’s a great example of Fellowship, since members of the Church community come together for something else other than Worship.  Remember the song, “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

While that’s been challenging during the pandemic, the special event strengthens the parish community by not only praising together, but by being together AND eating together.

Sharing a meal is one of the most significant ways to build community, further demonstrated by the heavenly banquet and communion at Mass!  It’s not that families today don’t eat together because they are so busy; it’s that families are easily pulled apart and get so busy today because they don’t eat together.

As an aside, ever since “Field of Dreams” was released, some Development professionals I know have stuck to the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.”

Newsflash – “build”ing doesn’t work most of the time.  If it did, people would be filling your parish’s worship space (what’s known as a “church,” but more correctly, the Church is the people of God…NOT the buildings they build).

With that in mind, I’ve tweaked the phrase to reflect the success of dinners and foods in the word of fund raising (note the space between those two words, too): “If you cook it, they will come.”

And they will.  Such is the mindset behind the popularity of food trucks today!

And if it’s good food (like the Fish Frys that happen during Lent, or spaghetti dinners that happen before Parent/Teacher Association meetings), those planning on attending will tell their friends, and they’ll come too.

The parish my parents belong to clears over $10,000 every week on their Lenten fish dinners, and now they’ve expanded to lunches (with reduced hours and some higher prices this year).   The parish just up the street from us served 800 people on the first Friday of Lent in 2016 after significantly changing food providers to offer better quality meals, and only held the event on the first three weeks of Lent.

Prices increased, but, it was for the church.  The news spread, and the following year, 1,100 people were served on the first week!

We went to get food to go from the first one of the season in 2018, and they had run out of almost everything!  In 2019, we went for the for the first one again, but got there early for a seat…and it was crazy busy right off the bat!

In 2000, things were a bit different because the pandemic just hit, and everything came to a standstill.  In 2021, however, with take out only and drive up service, they served over 1,500 people on the first day!

And six months ago, they expanded it from only three weeks of Lent to all 6 – still with only drive up service, but Chik-Fil-A could take lessons from how they do their drive-thru service!  Wouldn’t it be great if that many people showed up for Sunday Mass just a couple of days later?

But back to the Burger Bash.  Why could this even be considered to be a “Development” activity too, rather than just “Stewardship?”

Stewardship is the usage of the parish members’ time, talent and treasure, which they certainly put forth to make this event a success, and members of the parish offer their time, talent and treasure by cooking, taking orders, serving, cleaning up when the day is done and getting folks lined up for the next one.

However, the event also generates revenue for the parish which comes from people OUTSIDE the parish community.  Anyone who likes a good burger on a Saturday afternoon can come by.

It’s also a way for people of the parish to meet members of the community who may not be members of the parish, offering a great opportunity for evangelization too!

What makes it a very Special Event is that it’s now associated with the parish.

Other churches and organizations aren’t copying it (even the volunteer fire departments have copied fish frys), so it has become a “signature” event in the community, and it’s held repetitively to continue to establish the brand.  It’s not just a “one shot” deal, and then next year there will hopefully be another one, or some other type of event.

Consistent events such as this one serve to build the identity of the parish, rather than the annual “festival” that’s typical of many parishes.  A festival is not necessarily a differentiator, because, in the minds of most people, many parishes have an annual festival.

This parish has certainly differentiated itself,  making it a vibrant and unique place.

By the way, I’ve mentioned this parish quite a bit on this site, and provided some detail in this article about the parish just up the road from us.  Please keep both of the pastors of these parishes in your prayers for healing.

Untied through prayer, though physically distanced, it’s another very powerful way we can all “get together.”


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