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It’s no small production when Jim Caviezel comes to church

More churches may turn to ‘events directors’ for producing successful outreach occasions in their communities.

Ronald E. Keener

It was no small undertaking in bringing Hollywood actor Jim Caviezel to the campus of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship earlier this year, but the effort for the church was worth it. More churches are reaching their communities through special events, performances, and services focused to unbelievers who wouldn’t otherwise step foot in a church.

But when invited by a friend or family member, what might have been unthinkable for some becomes an attraction hard to resist. Grammy award winner and Christian pop rock singer Rebecca St. James appeared at the Chandler, AZ church this year, as did NFL Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, and actors Candice Cameron (“Growing Pains”) and Judge Reinholdt (“Beverly Hills Cop”).

But getting Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” four years ago, put the church in the big leagues. “We kind of crossed the line,” says the church’s Jill Lindquist. “Jim Caviezel is the ‘biggest’ guy we’ve had.”

Cornerstone, a 5,800-member megachurch, has been using “events” as a means of reaching its community. Special occasions, invited artists, celebrities who embrace the Christian faith and give testimonies to their faith, holiday observances, Christian athletes — all are a means of bringing visitors and seekers to the church in a non-threatening context that might lead them to rethink their faith, or lack of one.

One-person department

The number and extent of events at Cornerstone requires more than just an “all hands on deck” approach to making these occasions successful. Asked about the church’s events department, Lindquist laughs and says: “You’re looking at the events department right now. I’m it.”

But behind her is a core group of five volunteers she can count on who do the close-in and hands-on logistics and liaison with the guest speaker, artist or interviewee. In fact, none of what she does as the church’s events and resource director could happen without some 300 volunteers who support every aspect of the church’s ministry and outreach.

Depending on the event, she might put from 30 to 90 people into support roles for parking, traffic, food, ushering, publicity, and the like. Other churches are doing events too, but Cornerstone has done it in a more organized and sophisticated way that helps insure that the events come off well while using volunteers appropriately. And more churches may be taking Cornerstone’s example in assigning a staffer to event 
management.

“I do anything that falls out of the normal weekly activities of the church, anything that you see that happens outside the auditorium,” she says. It includes Easter, Christmas, Harvest Festival, an outreach event at Halloween, and Friend Day, which was the event that brought Caviezel to the church.

Lindquist had experience for the Cornerstone job when she moved to Arizona from Spokane, WA earlier this year. She and her husband, a church architect, have two children at Arizona State University, where she attended, and her parents have been winter snowbirds near Phoenix for 30 years.

Position a good fit

When they’d come to Arizona, the family attended Cornerstone. Lindquist and her family “were ready to be out of the cold weather and just knew that we had a church home at Cornerstone,” she says. She found her job at Cornerstone was a good fit given her work in Spokane as executive administrator of 1,200-member Mt. Spokane Church, a multi-site, bible-based church that does a lot of outreach events.

At Mt. Spokane the church partnered with the community through Wishing Star, and the church was engaged with Bloomsday, “which is big up there, one of the largest marathons in the country,” she says.

The church takes a booth to “almost anywhere community was happening,” she says.  The men’s group built a beautiful playhouse decorated with furniture on the inside. They’d sell raffle tickets that brought in $15,000 to $20,000 that was given to Wishing Star, where kids’ wishes were fulfilled.

The church had a worship band that went to car shows — so mething big in Spokane — and played both secular and sacred music while people looked at cars.

They handed out information on the church. “The church always had a big footprint in the city of Spokane,” she says.

Mt. Spokane built a new building and Lindquist headed up that campaign. Good experience since Cornerstone is building a grades K-6 center, which will devote the second floor to classrooms and conference facilities for up to 1,000 people. An administration building follows that campaign — and Lindquist is directing both.

Finding faith safely

Cornerstone is more a seeker friendly than seeker-driven church. The approach is to allow people to come and hang out, have fun, and allow them to take their time figuring out their faith. “We try to create a safe environment for people to come and figure out Jesus,” she says.

If events were categorized into Gold, Silver and Bronze occasions, the presence of Jim Caviezel was definitely a Gold event. On those occasions senior pastor Linn Winters is likely to interview the celebrity or professional athlete, rather than ask them to present or preach. “When it’s someone who’s big in the secular world, we try and make it easy for our folks to grab an unsaved friend and come to that event,” Lindquist says.

Caviezel has been to 18 churches and will likely visit another 15 before June of next year. Scheduled events depend on his availability; this fall some rescheduling was required when Caviezel was called to South Africa to do a film.

The tour is the product of a partnership of Caviezel, his best friend Brad Damon, who together founded Sound Productions a year ago, and Rodney Hatfield, senior executive for sales and marketing. The business is a family and faith-based entertainment venture for products such as movies, music, games, books and audio books, Hatfield says.

Jim Caviezel co-produced the audio New Testament, The Word of Promise, with Thomas Nelson Publishers that’s available at his appearances. “It’s part of our business plan to be a trusted source for churches and the Christian and family-based market,” Hatfield says. For church tours, the host church works with a production team until a week before the event, when Hatfield is engaged with the church for staging the event.

Usual attendance at Cornerstone is from 5,800 people on a weekend to 6,200 last Easter. The Caviezel appearance at six services in one day brought 8,500 people on campus, and following each service Caviezel autographed copies of The Word of Promise sold on site. Sound Productions tithes back 10 percent of the charge made for the audio New Testament.

But the purpose of the event was outreach and evangelism, not product sales, and first time families numbered 160, according to response cards handed in. Cards and emails from those who received Christ were shared with Caviezel the next day. “I think that meant a lot to Jim, it was a paycheck for him that lives were deeply affected, and you could see that in him,” Lindquist says.

“We know for sure that 31 people accepted Christ and that 60 recommitted their lives,” she says. Working events is really a matter of organization, coordination and control.

“The first thing I did was tap into a group of new folks who weren’t serving anywhere else in the church, those who had hectic schedules and weren’t able to serve every week in a ministry,” Lindquist says. “Join the Events Team and sign up to work when you can at these specific events,” was the appeal she made.

She has more than 200 persons she can count on and 30 core people who work nearly every event with her. In this way she’s not tapping the same people every event, and she’s not pulling them from other commitments.

Branding the team

She gave her volunteers shirts that say “Events Team” and using that logo has “branded” the team and given them a group identity.

All volunteers are encouraged to take a Connecting Point Ministries’ “Prepare” training class. There is a core curriculum for anyone volunteering and what they need to know about Cornerstone. People are put to work where they fit — whether behind the scenes stuffing bulletins or at the front of the house for those with outgoing personalities. “We want bubbly greeters, friendly people out front working with folks,” she says.

“For me, the key to a successful event is getting the right folks in the right seats on the bus,” she says, using the illusion from the Jim Collins book, Good to Great. Once an event is underway there is a high premium on being flexible, and knowing what can change and what can’t. Lindquist is the only one who can make a call to alter the plan.

Preplanning is the key to a large event like Caviezel’s appearance. Lindquist cased out the hotel at least four times where Caviezel would be staying, knew which route he would be taking and the time it would take in transit, visited the golf course where he golfed nine holes the day before, and arranged for the lunch he ate Sunday between services.

“Jim’s kind of a health food nut, and we organized the meals so that he was getting healthy stuff, but not eating the same thing all day,” she says. Food was brought in from Paradise Bakery for the volunteers and production crew.

Threw opening pitch

She arranged for Caviezel to throw out the opening pitch Saturday night at the Arizona Diamondbacks game. Lindquist knew where they would be sitting and the route he would walk. For the game appearance she had an advantage because one of the group sales personnel attends the church. She met with security at the ball park. She arranged for the script that would be used by the announcer when Caviezel was 
introduced to fans.

For that Sunday Lindquist spent three hours going over the day with the church’s security and ushers on how they would move Caviezel through the buildings, and where overflow seating would be used — “and we had this thing timed honestly to the minute.”

“He worked hard that day,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to do what he did that day.”

Caviezel had security with him at all times during his visit, not because he asked for it, but because Lindquist saw it as part of her responsibility to the church and the success of the event. One of the 12 commanders for the Arizona Department of Public Safety attends the church and coordinated that role.

“He was able to get in the airport all of the way up to Jim’s gate and greet them almost immediately and take them to a holding room until the rest of the team flew in on another plane,” she says. Lindquist had a driver all weekend for Caviezel, and seven security people who were all radioed together, people who do the same thing for a living in their regular jobs. They stayed with him when he worked out in a gym at 5:00 in the morning.

Lindquist reiterates that “Jim didn’t ask for that. They expect when he is signing the CD that the church would have a couple big guys standing around, but not the level we did at our event,” she says. There was a volunteer coordinator for the product table, who secured the workers, and gave them training in the event responsibilities.

Working with the traffic and parking situation was crucial, and with the neighbors adjacent to the church. Additional exits and entrances were cut into the property. Signage and some fencing were put up to keep people off neighbors’ lots.

It was the parking team that got to shake Caviezel’s hand first thing Sunday. “These people weren’t going to make it into the service, and meeting Jim was sort of a paycheck for them,” she says.

Liked the trailer

It was the church that prepared a video introduction of Caviezel before every service, one that showed scenes from several of his films, and concluded with INTRODUCING JIM CAVIEZEL. “Jim really liked our trailer,” Lindquist says, so much so that his crew makes it available to other churches where Jim appears.

Marketing the event, 120,000 mailers went out to the neighborhoods, and another 12,000 were used by members to share with their friends. Movie theater ads were used on the screens at five of the local Harkins theaters, utilizing some 60 screens in the week prior.

The only kickback for the event was when a few folks with prior Catholic backgrounds, who attend Cornerstone, asked if Caviezel really had a personal relationship with Jesus. A few wanted a public announcement that Caviezel would denounce Catholicism. “We really get into dangerous territory when we start judging some one else’s walk in faith,” she says, observing that no negative comments were received on the communication cards.

Events are likely to drive the outreach and evangelism plans of megachurches in coming years, and event management by congregations is likely to be a growing field in making those venues successful.

Appearances by Jim Caviezel are limited to congregations of 5,000 or more in weekend attendance. Contact with Rodney Hatfield can be made at rhatfield@thewordofpromise.com.

Getting an Edge for spiritual growth

When senior pastor Linn Winters said he wanted to develop a year-long spiritual growth campaign called “The Year of the Word,” in which church members would immerse themselves in the Scriptures during 2008, the idea of using a small car as the incentive immediately came to mind.

“How much of a car can you get me?” Winters asked Jill Lindquist.

One of the church’s volunteers was controller at a local Ford dealership and Lindquist immediately liked the Edge model, a family friendly car.

The volunteer got with her general manager and the go-ahead came through the next day. The church and the dealership partnered to provide the funds for an Edge model.

Entries for the drawing are obtained by memorizing Scriptures from an assigned CS list of verses, or reading books of the Bible. If a member reads all 66 chapters of the Bible they would have 66 entries, but could not repeat their readings. People are on their honor in submitting their entries.

Members are encouraged to be engaged in one of the CS sponsored adult Bible studies. The more entrees people qualify for the greater the chance they have of winning. The staff tracks the progress of the readers and testimonies are given during the year about their excitement in being more deeply in the Word.

“We wanted to make the drawing fun and work on our spiritual maturity,” Lindquist says. She notes that the car didn’t cost as much as giving away free coffee in the café for a year. The drawing for the car will be held in January 2009.

Photographers’ group records church events

Tom Stone is pastor of Life Groups at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, and in forming up new small groups for the church, he put one together for photography, a personal interest of his.

The group is intended to appeal to photographers of any expertise or photographic interest area. They meet for devotions and then cover a topic for training and coordinate efforts to cover upcoming church events.

But the interesting twist was when the group went to the church and volunteered their services for events of the congregation. They asked how they can serve the various ministries for such events as holiday observances, dedications, baptisms, and other planned activities.

They went a step further and put up a Web site called CSPhotographers.com where their work is displayed and available to anyone who wishes to take them. What couldn’t be more dynamic than taking a photo of a child dedication and providing a copy of the photo to the parents right after the service?

Stone says the next step is to improve the Web site to provide high resolution photos to those who want to download directly from the Web site. He notes that many churches have aspiring photographers who would enjoy the fellowship of meeting and learning from each other — while at the same time providing a ministry to the church and congregants.

Further information: Contact Tom Stone at tom@cornerstonechandler.com.

How a Texas church uses its facility for outreach events

Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, Carrolton, TX, exists, says its mission statement, “to be used by God as He transforms people into disciples of Jesus Christ both here and around the world.” With a new facility in the last year, how is that mission implemented in the use of its building?

Our first step was to define both external and internal metrics for the size of events and how we as event planners would respond to requests based on the size and scope of the event. We decided to look at events in three distinct ways:  Presenters, Co-presenters, and Venue.

Presenters: Our church would be the owner of the event. We would take on all financial, logistical and promotional issues, as well as liability for those events. Typical events might be concerts, a family comedy night, or events that promote ministry to both our church body and people outside the walls of our church as outreach. We are hosting an outreach opportunity — the ART-MUSIC-JUSTICE Concert — this fall in conjunction with our Outreach Ministry. In January we are hosting a community opportunity with comedian Tim Hawkins. In these cases we partner with the host ministry internally to make sure all of the logistics and execution happen so that our pastors and staff are freed up to do the ministry they are called to do.

Co-presenters: Here we align with external groups with whom we have a ministry affinity.  We allow those groups to come in and host their event using our facility. These could range from concerts like the SHE Event we co-presented earlier this year with Rebecca St. James or the upcoming Leadership Network and Catalyst events in early 2009. With these groups, we try to develop a partnership and keep the cost for using our facilities to a minimum. We do have hard costs every time we open our doors, but we want to keep those as low as possible in order to see ministry happen.

Venue: We see our role as opening our doors to outside groups that we want to reach out to and make them feel welcome, such as civic groups and schools. We try to recoup the cost of our actual expenses and resources.

No matter the size of the event or which category it falls into, we’ve learned that it takes a well-organized, well-planned system and team in order to facilitate and execute a great event.

— Dennis Richards, Lead Director of Connections, Bent Tree Bible Fellowship

Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship.

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