Trunk or Treat 101: Helping Your Church Meet The Neighbors

It’s still summer time, but all across the nation, churches trying to do a good job of meeting their neighbors are starting to plan their fall activities. Generally speaking, if you provide an activity that is a slam-dunk at pleasing kids, you’ll have NO problem getting parents to bring their kids. There’s no time in the fall that is MORE pleasing to kids than Halloween.

Do you remember the first time you experienced Halloween as a kid? Jerry Seinfeld puts it best, “Hold on, the WHOLE neighborhood is just giving out candy? I’ve got to be a part of this wonderful event, I’ll do anything, please…I can wear that!”

At our church, we have chosen to capitalize on this great fall event for kids, by planning what has become known across the county as a Trunk or Treat. For the last 6 years, the Sunday prior to Halloween has seen our church parking lot transformed into a mini “fairgrounds” of fun, as our event has grown.

This Trunk or Treat 101 is intended to give you some specific starting points and action steps, not tell you how to do everything that our church has done. Kids may be similar in their love of free candy, but all of our churches operate in very different settings. Also, I don’t see myself as some kind of expert, but maybe some of the things we’ve learned can be of some assistance to you and your church as you try to reach your community.

The Basics

1.  Know who you want to attract

Using this event as an outreach and hopefully evangelistic event is kinda the point of this ‘101, so we invite the whole church and encourage every member from the stage during our main services to be proactive to invite friends and neighbors, with a special emphasis on those friends and neighbors who do not attend church regularly.

If you want to attract people who aren’t in church already, you don’t want to spend a lot of money advertising in Christian classified papers, or on Christian radio stations.  Use as many “non-religious” methods as you possibly can to get the word out about your event.  Create colorful handouts to send with children to their schools, make posters and ask to post them in areas that get lots of community traffic like banks and grocery stores.  Form a team and go out together one week before your event and canvas a neighborhood.  Visit every home and leave a flyer inviting them as close to their front door handle as possible.

2.  Establish a Budget

This is the kind of event that can get out of control cost wise if you don’t plan.  Our church attracts around 2000 people every year.  The thing to remember is that the free candy in decorated trunks is the MAIN attraction.   The money we spend goes to making the event as a whole look like the kind of event people will be drawn to.  Also, since this is a community event, we give everything away for free.  We run out of candy, food and drinks every year, but have enough that everyone gets something free and goes away happy.   Secondly, we always spend money on inflatable games and slides, as these have such a fun factor to them, but also are colorful and larger than life.  They help give your event a carnival feel that is only positive.  Here’s some basic budget categories you can use to get you started:

Food & Drink

Inflatable Games

Generators (for the inflatable games)

Portable Lighting


Entertainment ( we often have special visitors who attend and perform on a small stage.  Music, illusions guys and such.  If you’re near Nashville, TN, there is even a cool science guy available)

Give-Aways (You don’t have to spend much to make a big impact…we often give a couple of iPods or digital cameras alongside, community donated items like gift certificates to local businesses.  We also give away a couple of registrations to our church sponsored sports leagues as well)

3.  Encourage Creativity

Start talking up your Trunk or Treat in September and cast the vision to your church in as many ways as you can.  Appeal to the wild side in people by encouraging them to decorate a trunk in some crazy way.  We’ve had pirate ships, Star Wars themes, construction themes, and each year the creative people in our church do more and more.  We are even having a “Best Trunk” award this year.  

4.  Have a Plan for Registration and Follow-up

Every year we create a very short registration form that people must complete to be included in the drawings we will do at the end of the evening.  This form only asks for the basics; name, family members, address and email address.   Then for demographics purposes, we ask how they found out about our event and if they have a church home.  We include check boxes for our guests to be added to our mailing list.  If you don’t have any way to track who attended your event, then you have no way to even try to establish a connection with them for the future.  The week after the event (we always do our Trunk or Treat on the Sunday evening before Halloween) a couple of other staff members and I will go through and process the registration forms.  We are always able to easily separate the forms into groups of people who go to church somewhere else and thus are not prospects, and to create a group of families who we regard as prospects.  Each of these families receive a letter from our church thanking them for attending our event and in the letter we invite them to come again or to call on us if they are in need of assistance.  

Over the years, our church has gained new families from this event and we expect to gain more each and every year.  We also can know without a doubt that there are also many families who may think of us when they do decide to try church or to give this God thing another look.  We can only be faithful to plant seeds and water them in as many ways as we can, and we trust God for the increase.  I hope you’re church can have as much fun with a Trunk or Treat as we have.  If you’re in the neighborhood on October 26th, come by and see us from 4:00-7:00 pm.

Oh, one more basic guideline…

5.  Have Fun!

15 thoughts on “Trunk or Treat 101: Helping Your Church Meet The Neighbors

  1. I wish my Church understood this. I would love for us to do something like this! Touch our community… Good for you guys! Blessings

  2. Thank you for taking the time to help others with such a grat article. This is our first year putting on an Trunk-N-Treat event and this article gives us a great start. San Antonio, Texas

    • That’s great! I’m glad you found it helpful. I am anxious to serve local churches like mine. Call me at 615-871-4769 if I you think I could help you out as you plan. We’re starting to get our plans in motion too. Have a great weekend.

  3. Hi! We are planning our first event this year. Is it necessary to provide bags to the trick or treaters? I am afraid that we have waited to long to order them now and wonder if this would be wasted expense since most kids have their own trick or treat bags. We will be handing out flyers to all the trick or treaters to tell them more about our church. So what do you think? Do you hand out bags or can we forego this? Thanks.

    • It’s fun to order bags that have your logo and address on them but i don’t think it’s a crucial issue. We have decided to save money and just have a box of cheap plastic bags for kids who don’t bring something.

      As long as you’re providing them with info about your church and the gospel and a simple inexpensive candy collection receptacle (love that word!) you will be doing well for the church and serving kids.

      God bless you and your team as you plan!

      • So…you think just having some grocery bags to hand out would be okay? Not to cheesy? Is that what you mean by a box of cheap plastic bags?

      • I definitely feel like it’s cool to have custom bags, but all kids are thinking about is…CANDY!

        We buy a box of what are called “t-shirt bags” and you get a ton of bags for less than $10-15. Check at Sams or Costco. We have bought ours at Sams.

        I feel like there are other items I want to use the budget for. More candy, an extra bounce house, more food. Those take a higher priority to me. I don’t think anyone will be so blown away in a positive way that the custom bag becomes the item that tips the scale for a family to come to your church the Sunday following your event. However, I do think there’s a chance someone gets put out if you don’t have anything to hand them, even if it is a cheap grocery style bag. Personally, I think it’s okay to use those.

  4. Happy to come across your article as we may change our (small) church family harvest party (held inside but too crowded) into a trunk or treat. I am curious if you have any kind of schedule? For instance, if someone is performing at a stage area, are people milling about or all at that central location at that time? Do you have any guidelines for how many times the children can visit the trunks? And, last but certainly not least, how and when do you present the Gospel?

    • Thanks for the comment and hope the post can help you have a successful event. Ours has become a big, community tradition! We have a schedule for the event that helps us control kids visiting and revisiting the trunks. We also ask for candy donations and budget for candy too, to ensure kids get tons of sweet stuff. Ultimately, we don’t mind if a kid repeats, although we do talk about it.

      Our schedule is from 3:30-6:00 this year, as we’re making some changes. We are doing a really fun stage show indoors at two different times during the event. We’re hoping we will be able to get the new schedule communicated well. We’ll present the Gospel at the end of that show, as well as distribute NTs and a special handout for kids that contains the Gospel as well.

      May God bless your efforts!

  5. This is our first Trunk or Treat that I am organizing for our church. I would love any ideas on how to get the parishioners involved and signed up to use their car? Bulletins, flyers? any other ideas?

    • Thanks for the comment! Our awesome team has created a fun way to illustrate the need for trunks and signing people up by creating a model of an overhead shot of the parking lot on poster board. They number the parking spots and use little paper “cars” with the family name. Those cars are parked in the slots and it gives a great visual of how things are coming together. It also helps people by letting them pick their spot. This also helps if they want to be grouped together with other families to do trunks together. We also promote the need for trunks each week in as many ways as we can. I hope you’re event is awesome.

  6. I can’t find any pictures of the board, but we used black poster board. We marked off the parking spots with some light colored tape and numbered the spots 1-50. We have a goal for 50 trunks. The little cars were something our team leader bought at a teacher supply store. If I can find a picture I will post it. Good luck to you and your team.

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