Halloween might seem like a useless annual tradition to some. But I have to say that my church—and probably yours too—has turned an arguably non-holiday holiday into a positive and fruitful community outreach with our annual trunk-or-treat.
In rural Virginia, my local church struggles to attract young families although we have a large and active congregation. The majority of our members are retired or nearly so. We do have lively children’s and youth ministries, but this is mostly thanks to engaged grandparents and a weekly bus route.
Getting twenty and thirty-somethings to visit our church is hard. But on the Saturday before Halloween, nearly one hundred show up in our church gym with their small kids dressed up as adorable unicorns and Spidermen. They get an upfront introduction to our church, and we pray, the Gospel.
We do trunk-or-treat a little differently than most. For one thing, we host our trunk-or-treat in our gym where kids are warm, dry and safely contained. Each Sunday school class is responsible for a booth, or trunk, and each has their own way of ministering to kids as they skip through our elaborate constructions (this year my Sunday school recreated both Candy Land and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory booths, including a giant ice cream castle and a chocolate fountain.)
To ensure that families go home with more than candy, our church ensures the Good News is shared in ways large and small. One church-sponsored booth always hands out small New Testament Bibles while another passes out trick-or-treat bags filled with church materials (these bags also double as candy bags for any kids who don’t have one.) This year our senior citizen class handed out hand-made bookmarks with handwritten Scripture versus alongside candy.
My local church isn’t alone, I know. It’s not hard to find a local church trunk-or-treat these days, even in some of America’s most rural regions.
In 2016 Lifeway Research survey asked America’s Protestant pastors what they encourage their church members to do on Halloween. Interestingly, 67 percent of pastors said they encourage congregants to invite friends or neighbors to a church-hosted event such as trunk-or-treat or festivals. Only eight percent encouraged their congregants to avoid the holiday altogether.
The trunk-or-treat approach seems like a relatively new church concept, but it is working. When I was a kid, our church hosted annual “Hallelujah parties.” No costumes. No candy, from what I remember. Just a bouncy house, hay rides, and potluck. Needless to say, it was difficult convincing friends that they should forego dress-up and trick-or-treating for a bouncy house and casserole.
This year, my parents’ church took a unique and inspiring approach. The pastor decided not to host their annual trunk-or-treat but instead challenged his congregants to get to know their neighbors and invite them to go trick-or-treating together in the neighborhood or at another church. What a great idea! This way, the focus is not on inviting, but investing in relationship-building.
I’m so thankful for the churches that are approaching Halloween with positivity and creativity, all to share the Good News with our neighbors. If that includes you tonight, may God bless your efforts as you actively show care and compassion for your community.