Running events in an external venue may be an occasional thing for your church, or you may run church events every single week in locations you don’t own. Either way, managing your use of external venues well is key in running events that hit your objectives. For us at One Church, it’s becoming increasingly common as we outgrow existing buildings, or look to buildings we don’t own as we plant new expressions.
Here are some of the things we’ve learnt:
1. Choose carefully
Work out what the key criteria are for you (dates, location, capacity, parking, style, budget etc.) then get researching. You may end up having to compromise if there’s nothing that fits all your criteria, but know what you really want from the start.
Don’t be afraid to barter on the price! Plenty of venues will consider discounts for charities, and even if they don’t, you lose nothing by asking. Also, make sure you’ve thought through exactly what you need from the venue – additional rooms, catering, staff to move equipment etc. will all add costs, so make sure you plan well before agreeing the final price, otherwise you’ll end up blowing the budget!
3. Look and feel
Make sure you think through how you can give the venue your own feel, so visitors feel at home even if it’s a new venue. This could be through portable décor such as pull-up banners, vinyl banners that you can hang on walls etc. or maybe more creative with your own artwork and designs. If you’re holding services in the venue, then good lighting can be money well spent as it can help transform any venue into a look and feel you are hoping to create.
Where possible, we use an online booking system for our events, even if the event is free – this allows us to get a better idea of how many people are planning to come. We can use that info to arrange seating tighter or more spread out, and to plan refreshments. Also, remember that not everyone who books in will actually turn up. For us, an event with a large number of visitors will typically see a drop-off of around 30% compared to the booking number; it’s a far smaller drop-off for events which are mainly people from church. It feels scary, and also lacking in faith, setting less chairs than have booked in, but for us, we’ve got used to it enough to be fairly confident. Your stats may vary, but keep track and it’ll help you planning for next time.
5. Team visits
Aim to give your team leaders who’ll be serving at the venue, and your creative teams, an opportunity to visit the venue and see all the rooms you’ll be using. Your stewards and car parking teams will be able to plan their strategy for getting people in and out, your creative teams will be able to develop ideas for styling the venue, your kids team can plan room set-up and decor etc. Without this, you are far more likely to have confusion on the day you set up, with the sudden realisation that you’ve not got the kit or space that your teams needed, which all generate pressure you can do without.
6. Set-up and set-down
Come up with a plan for both so you know what’s going up when, and importantly, when and how it’s all coming down – set-down is incredibly easy for people to forget, and if you don’t plan it in well, you’ll be doing it on your own! Also, if it takes a long time to get up, make sure you’ve thought about how to keep your teams fed and watered while they’re doing it – they’ll thank you for it!
7. Signage and stewards
Remember in a new venue, no-one knows where anything is! So, make sure you’ve got plenty of signs and stewards to help people get around. Printing signs with your logo and branding is a relatively cheap way of putting your stamp on the venue.
8. Insurance & security
Make sure your insurers are aware. Without this, you could find yourself in trouble if a claim is made. We arrange extra all-risks cover where necessary, to ensure we’re protected in case of any loss of equipment. If you’re leaving expensive kit in someone else’s venue, make sure you’ve thought about how that kit can be safely stored there, especially if it’s a building that’s partly used by the public at the same as as your kit’s there.
9. Risk assessments
Dull but true, you need to make sure you look at the venue and activities planned for any risks your teams aren’t used to.
10. Selling the event
Most of the time, an external venue for us means persuading people it’s worth getting out of the venue we’re in week in week out. We promote the address early, show pictures and get our teams excited first (they enjoy a change of scene and a challenge). Taking One Church ‘into the city’ or ‘on the road’ are phrases that help us build the enthusiasm and ensure we sell the vision of the event as much as the postcode.