Have you ever wanted to host a women’s conference (or any event, really) at your church, but it just wasn’t in the budget?
My husband and I have served a lot of small churches, so those tight-knit fellowships and their pastors hold a special place in my heart – especially the ones who want to give their ladies a doctrinally sound alternative to those expensive mega-conferences whose doctrine can be questionable at best.
I’ve spoken at some absolutely wonderful conferences hosted by small churches, so I know it can be done with excellence if you’re not afraid to think creatively and work efficiently.
Here are a few suggestions to prayerfully consider if you’re putting together an event on a shoestring budget. And readers, I want to hear from you too – what has your church done to support and finance special events that has worked well? Add your comment in the comments section at the end of the article.
I’m going to start with a principle that applies to anyone doing professional work for your church, from conference speakers, to the band playing a concert at your youth event, to the plumber fixing the pipes in the bathroom, to the accountant who does your church’s bookkeeping:
You must pay workers, and you must pay them a fair wage or fee in addition to their expenses (travel, lodging, etc.).
I’ve been blessed that every host church I’ve ever spoken at has understood this and has been very generous with me, but I’ve heard that there are Christians out there who expect anyone doing anything for their church to do it for free because it’s “ministry”. Some even begrudge paying their pastor a salary! This is not biblical. In fact, the Bible says just the opposite.
It often takes many hours of hard work to properly prepare for a speaking engagement, concert, etc. (And don’t get me started on how much time pastors put into their jobs compared to the salaries most of them earn.) This pre-event work as well as the event itself may take the worker away from her family or cause her to have to cancel other activities. She may even have to take time off from her regular job to work at your event. What she’s doing for you is work and she deserves to be fairly compensated for it. This is one aspect of your event that you can’t cut corners on.
Sometimes it is hard to know what a fair wage is for the worker you’re hiring. And, indeed, it will vary from worker to worker. Ask her for a number. Figure out whether or not that amount is feasible on your end. Then, be honest with her and let her know whether or not you can guarantee (not try to raise, not “take up a love offering at the conference and hope for the best” – guarantee) that amount. If you can’t, it is then up to her to decide whether or not she can afford to work at your event. Being honest and transparent from the get go helps remove a lot of the awkwardness that comes with talking about money. I know I always appreciate it.
A super resource on paying guest speakers for retreats, conferences, and other events Melissa Kruger’s wonderfully helpful article What Your Retreat Speaker Needs from You. (Melissa also covers other important details of hosting a guest speaker, including travel, accommodations, and more!)
Now that you know one of the expenses for the event, it will be easier to estimate a budget to cover it and the rest of the expenditures. Sit down with your planning committee and prayerfully discuss the purchases you’ll need to make for food, decorations, and any other materials, and come up with a reasonable budget for your particular venue. Use godly wisdom and exercise good stewardship.
Don’t try to compete with the expensive glitz, glam, and giveaways of mega-conferences. You do you, your church or host organization. I’ve seen many churches go with a “simple elegance” or “homestyle” or “local charm” level of theme and decor that has turned out perfectly lovely and welcoming (Check out some of the church events I’ve spoken at for some great ideas!). And remember, it’s the caring and hospitality of the hosts that will make the greatest impact on your attendees, not the swanky food, decorations and swag bags.
Plan your event as far in advance as possible. Not only will this give you plenty of time to raise funds, but some expenses – plane tickets for your speaker, for example – go up as time goes by.
While some speakers need to stay in a hotel for various reasons, others are perfectly willing to be fed and housed by church members, which can cut your expenses considerably. Ask your speaker which she prefers and be ready to graciously provide either type of accommodation.
Go local. If you can find an appropriate speaker who lives in or near your town, it will cut down on your travel and accommodation expenses for her.
Ask your pastor or elders if there is any money set aside in your church’s budget for the women’s ministry or special events. Find out whether or not you can use it and if there are any requirements for how it must or must not be spent.
Put the word out to your whole church and ask for help. Make a list of the things you’ll need that people can donate or lend: fresh flowers from members’ gardens for centerpieces, table cloths, paper plates, small gift bag items like pens and notepads, snack items, etc.
You could even have some fun with it and throw a women’s conference “shower,” registering for the items you need (even WalMart and Target have registries these days) and inviting the whole congregation to bring their gifts and come fellowship together. And don’t forget the “money tree” (or some other receptacle) for people who would rather give cash or a check.
Take up a love offering from your congregation for conference expenses. If your conference is far enough ahead in the future, you might be able to take up two or three over time.
Consider a crowdfunding campaign for event expenses such as Go Fund Me or Kickstarter (there are even Christian crowdfunding sites), or set up a PayPal account specifically for donations for the event. (Some Christians feel it is biblically inappropriate to ask non-Christians to donate to a Christian cause. You will need to find out where your church stands on this issue when deciding who to share the crowdfunding information with.)
Have a good, old fashioned fundraiser at church, such as a church-wide “garage sale,” bake sale, or car wash.
Consider partnering with another doctrinally sound local church (or two or three!) to co-host the event and split the expenses. (Check out their doctrine first. You can’t biblically partner with churches that teach false doctrine.)
To recoup your expenses (don’t depend on these to cover expenses) and maybe set some money aside for your next event, consider selling tickets at a nominal price, suggesting a voluntary donation amount, or “pay what you can,” for tickets, and/or taking up a love offering at the event.
Most attendees could afford, say, a $5 ticket, and if you have 100 attendees, that’s $500 to start off next year’s event budget. You could also offer the option of sponsoring tickets. People who want to support the conference (even men or other church members who won’t be attending) could give enough money to cover a certain number of tickets, which could then be given away to women who would like to attend but can’t afford to.
It should go without saying, but be sure to get your pastor’s, elders’, or other leadership’s approval every step of the way.
With plenty of prayer, wisdom, organized planning, and good stewardship, it is possible for small churches to host an awesome event that will glorify God and be a blessing to the women of your church and community.
Here’s a question a few readers asked
in response to the article above.
I loved your article Women’s Events on a Shoestring Budget. The funding tips encouraged me to put on an event for our ladies, but our small church has never done anything like this before. What kind of event should we have and how should we get started?
I was so encouraged to get a couple of questions like this in response to my article. Even at a small church (and sometimes especially at a small church) a women’s event can really help refresh and build up the ladies of your church. It can be a great outreach to the ladies of your community, too.
I would recommend starting small and then growing year by year. For example, if I were in a church with an attendance of 50-150, I would start with an in-house (only ladies from your own church) mini-conference. A Saturday morning simple breakfast (coffee, doughnuts, fruit – food that’s easy to get, serve, and handle), followed by a local speaker (maybe the pastor’s wife at a sister church, or even one of the ladies in your own church) and a couple of songs. You could end there, or possibly have a time of discussion around the tables afterward, or just allow the ladies to hang around and fellowship with each other.
The next year, you could build on that. Maybe the speaker does two sessions with a break between, and you invite/publicize to other local churches. The following year, you could do an overnight retreat or you could expand the conference to an all day thing and have more than one speaker. If you start small and grow your event each year, you’ll learn things you should and shouldn’t do differently along the way, and you won’t be biting off more than you can chew the first time out.
Another thing that might be a good idea is to have a meeting with all of your ladies and ask them what kind of event they’d like. You might be thinking “conference” and they might be thinking “movie night”. It’s good to brainstorm and take the pulse of your ladies on what they’d prefer.
You could also get the men of your church involved in putting together and serving at your conference or event. I spoke at one conference where the men of the church actually put on the conference for their ladies – to honor and thank them. That was one happy bunch of ladies!
Just remember what I said in the article: Don’t try to compete with the expensive glitz, glam, and giveaways of mega-conferences. You do you, your church or host organization…And remember, it’s the caring and hospitality of the hosts that will make the greatest impact on your attendees, not the swanky food, decorations and swag bags.
Random Tips from My Own Event Experiences…
(These are all things my event hosts have done well that I’ve really appreciated. I’ll keep adding to this list as I think of things.)
There’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Check out previous events I’ve spoken at, and gather some great ideas for your own event!
When you plan an event, you need somebody who’s a good detail person to do a final “look-see” before you open the doors. There are a lot of little tiny details to attend to in order to put on a polished event. For example, if attendees need to write their own names on their name tags, you need to provide pens and ample table space for them to do so. If your event program is on a folded piece(s) of paper, it’s sweet that the 4-year-old class wants to help, but folding the programs probably isn’t the best job for them. Four-year-olds don’t tend to fold things very evenly, and they often leave 4-year-old grunge on everything they touch. (By the way, I had to make up these examples because all the conferences I’ve spoken at were super attentive to detail!)
Be sure to ask your speaker what she will need while speaking. A microphone is a given, as is some sort of lectern that’s large and sturdy enough to hold her notes (I say “sturdy enough,” because I use my laptop for my speaking notes, and some music stands are notorious for sliding down if anything heavier than a sheet of paper is put on them). I don’t personally use any sort of PowerPoint or slides, but other speakers do, and they’ll need the appropriate tools and connections for that. A bottle of water is always helpful.
A few conferences I’ve spoken at have built into the conference schedule small group discussion time and/or unstructured fellowship time for attendees. It seemed like the ladies really enjoyed these times of interacting with each other.
One conference I spoke at included a craft time for attendees. The planners handled it very well, keeping the craft simple, with the materials pre-cut and laid out at each seat at the table, and allowing ample time to complete the project.
Your attendees may find a book table to be helpful. Make sure the books are doctrinally sound, by doctrinally sound authors (if I’m your speaker, I can provide a few suggestions if needed), and make it clear to attendees as to whether the books are free or for sale. If they’re for sale, clearly label the price of each book, and make sure someone is there to man the table during each break.
If you’re providing lunch or dinner for your conference attendees, I’ve received some good humored input from women around the country about women’s events at their own churches that you might wish to take into consideration:
- First, consider these ladies’ lament: “When we have a women’s event, they feed us salads and finger sandwiches, and I always leave hungry. At the men’s events, they get steak! I like steak too!”. Steak may not be the direction you want to go, but just keep in mind that salad isn’t every woman’s cup of tea, and a “light” lunch at an all day event may leave some of your attendees hungry. Soups, tea sandwiches, and salads are a great option, but consider providing something a little more substantial in addition, such as sandwich rolls and lunch meat, a couple of frozen (cooked, of course) lasagnas, pizza, or fried chicken.
- Next, consider the type of food you offer. You may personally like beets chiffonade in a caviar reduction, but many women are not fond of fancy froo froo gourmet dishes. Keep it simple and try to offer something most people are used to and generally like (such as the aforementioned lasagnas, et al).
At one conference I spoke at, many of the dishes were labeled “gluten free,” “vegan,” etc. This could be very helpful for women with dietary restrictions.
At a few conferences I’ve spoken at, the event planner has asked me if I had any food allergies. Others (planning to take me out to eat) have asked if there are any cuisines (ex: Indian, Japanese) I don’t like so they can avoid those particular restaurants. As someone who tends to forget about little details like this, I have always found this very considerate. If you’re taking your speaker out to eat and you forget to ask about her preferences, you can always take her to a “general cuisine” type of restaurant (ex: Applebees, Chili’s, etc.) or suggest a few restaurant options for her to choose from.
Try to anticipate any needs your speaker might have. Ask at various points throughout her stay and the event if there’s anything she needs.
If your speaker’s teaching sessions aren’t back to back, try to offer her a quiet room for resting between sessions. Although I love fellowshipping with attendees between sessions, I’ve learned that if I’m teaching multiple sessions per day, I have to be disciplined to rest my voice between sessions, or it will fizzle out toward the end of the day.
If possible, try to let your speaker know the makeup of her audience. For example: “We invited the ladies from the Catholic church down the road,” or “Several unsaved ladies will be attending the event.” I can’t speak for other speakers, but for me, having this information helps me pray better for the attendees, and reminds me to, for example, spend a little longer on my gospel presentation, explain “Christianese” lingo some attendees might not be familiar with, etc.
I don’t know about other speakers – this might be just me – but when I travel, especially to somewhere I’ve never been before, I love to experience as much of the local culture and food as I can within the limited time I’m there. Is there a certain dish that’s iconic to your area? I probably want to try it (check with me first – there are certain foods and textures I just can’t handle). I loved having authentic deep dish pizza in Chicago and clam chowder in Cape Cod. Is there a particular natural wonder or historic site your area is known for? If there’s time, and it isn’t inconvenient, it would be great to at least drive past it so I could take a few pictures. This goes for hostess gifts, too. Not that I need or expect a hostess gift, but if you’re doing one anyway and are stumped for ideas, some of my favorite gifts have been those that remind me of your area – the sunflower dish towels from my Kansas hosts, caramel corn from the boardwalk from my New Jersey hosts, local honey from my Illinois hosts, etc. (Just keep in mind that if your speaker is flying, she may have limited space for packing gifts, and there may be certain items the airline won’t allow on the plane.)
Airlines now apparently feel it’s appropriate to change the departure/arrival times of flights on a whim. If you’re picking up or dropping off your speaker at the airport, be sure to check the arrival/departure time of her flight periodically to see if it has changed. Because if you have a speaker who’s as lame-brained as I am, she might think the airline informed you of the time change and forget to tell you about it until the day she’s arriving (oops!).
If you’re picking up your speaker from the airport, ask if she’s going to need to eat upon arrival. There’s often no time to eat a meal when changing planes, she may not have been offered a meal on the plane, and some airlines have now even discontinued in flight drinks and snacks.
If you’re booking your speaker’s flights and she has to change planes at a large airport (ex: DFW, Atlanta, O’Hare), I would suggest a minimum of a one hour (not 45 or 50 minutes- one hour, if humanly possible) layover. In my experience: the first flight is often delayed, cutting down on your speaker’s time to make her connection. She may have been forced to valet check her carry-on suitcase on the first flight, which means that, on arrival, she will have to wait for it to be unloaded – more connection time lost. The gate for her connecting flight will probably be on the other side of the airport, which could take a significant amount of time to walk/shuttle to. She will probably also need time to eat a meal during her layover, which necessitates locating and getting to an appropriate eatery (possibly not very close to her gate), standing in a long line to order, waiting for her food, and eating. And let’s not forget, she also needs time to visit the restroom. My personal preference is a 1 1/2 to 2 hour layover. Other speakers may differ.
Whether your speaker is staying in a hotel or a host home, she will probably need access to Wi-Fi. Be sure to provide her with any password or other info she might need.
If your budget will allow this expense, ask your speaker if she’d like to bring her husband or another companion with her. It’s not a necessity (and I’m not usually able to bring anybody with me anyway) but it’s a very gracious offer.