the shape of leadership

How to Lead Your City, Not Just Your Church

Planning a citywide campaign

Chris Railey on September 7, 2018


One of the catalysts for growth in the church we started in Texas was a commitment to build trust with our community by aggressively meeting the needs around us. We made this commitment while our church was still small and before we had the resources to really make a sizeable impact. I believe God honored that commitment and opened doors for our church that led to dynamic growth spiritually and numerically, and sizable and sustained impact in our city.

Our heart and commitment turned into an annual citywide campaign that helped us meet needs, build trust and share the gospel.

Citywide campaigns can be a great way to promote the gospel, evangelize the lost, and strengthen the church while reaching out to the community. The goal is not to market your own church but to put a spotlight on Jesus while you care for those in your city.

The basic biblical principle behind a citywide campaign of this nature comes from Matthew 5. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against practicing religion so that others will think you’re a great person. But that doesn’t mean we hide our good deeds. In fact, Jesus says to “let your light shine before others” so that they can “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

The first step is to find a need that you as a church are uniquely qualified to meet. Don’t just look for the biggest need or the most prominent issue. Instead, leverage the strengths of your church, and find a way to use the talents you already have in house. Be intentional and authentic in your serving. Instead of just donating money, put your people to work on the problem.

Some ideas would be a back-to-school event where you hand out school supplies, backpacks, and uniforms and even offer free haircuts. You could do a toy drive or adopt several families each Christmas. Or maybe partner with the school district to serve the teachers, support the families, or provide after-school opportunities for kids. Each church has a unique context and opportunity to make a difference.

Most importantly, make sure there is an opportunity to share the gospel. Whether it’s a large-scale event that includes music and special speakers or just one-on-one serving, always find a way to share Jesus with those in need.

Planning the Event

The success or failure of any citywide campaign will be determined by how you plan and prepare for the event. Below is an easy outline for staying on track.

One year to six months out: First, determine the type of citywide campaign you will do. Keep in mind the importance of the need you’ll meet and the scope of the event. Make sure it’s something your church will be able to tackle.

Citywide campaigns can be a great way to promote the gospel, evangelize the lost, and strengthen the church while reaching out to the community.

Start looking at locations for the event. If you’re unable to use your own building because of size or geography, settle on a general location and the capacity you’ll need.

Next, start some broad-stroke planning, such as dates, target audience, start and stop times, and basic elements of the event.

Nine to six months out: Now that you’ve decided on the basics, it’s time to announce it to your church. Go all in on this. Get excited! Use a video or live announcement with lots of energy. This is the first time you’re letting your church know about it, so set the expectation high!

From an administrative standpoint, now is the time to select your team captains for each area. You may need a set-up and tear-down crew, distribution team, salvation counseling team, meal crew, etc. Once you’ve selected your team captains, they need to start planning their areas and suggesting budgets.

Six to three months out: At this point, your location is secured and any necessary deposit is made, if you’re holding the event off-site. You’ve also decided on the basic schedule. And you keep letting your church know what’s going on as well. Keep the excitement going!

As you continue to build hype, your team captains will need to finalize their plans at least three months in advance. That also means the individual and overall budgets are now set. Long-term planning in these areas is crucial to your final success.

Three months to six weeks out: Now that hype turns into recruitment as you get volunteer signup going. That means each team has decided on how many volunteers it will need and has submitted a job description. Pair up people with the areas in which they most want to serve, but keep them flexible so every area is filled.

Supplies should be ordered by now. That includes any nonperishable food items. Also, make sure you order T-shirts specific to the event but prominently featuring your church’s name and logo. Of course, these should be free for every volunteer.

You’re also ready to announce the event to the public. Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, you may need to offer registration. Online is best, but consider having volunteers work phone banks if you feel the response will be great.

Six to two weeks out: Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Volunteers have all been assigned to an area and trained by team captains. Registration is finalized, and all supplies are in. You’ve got a clear plan, and the day is starting to come together.

Now is also the time to have a big prayer rally! Of course, you’ve been praying with your church the whole time, but take every chance to worship and intercede together.

Week of the event: This is where all the planning and preparation pays off. If you’ve done a good job and led your team well, then all team captains are making it happen and every volunteer is in place. That way, each person attending will have a great time, see their physical needs met, and uncover spiritual needs they may not have ever thought of.

One final note: If you are able to present the gospel at your citywide event, consider how you will help people who respond connect with your church. Baptism is the best way I’ve seen. You may want to allow them to get baptized on that same day. Or better yet, host a baptism service a few weekends after the campaign. That way, they are more motivated to attend and bring friends and family with them.

If you’ve never done a citywide campaign because you thought it was too daunting, I hope this outline helps you see that it’s definitely doable. Just take it one step at a time, and, most importantly, keep asking God to show up!


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