How to Plan an Anniversary or Milestone Celebration
Anniversaries are exciting times of life. They make us look back to where we’ve been, and compel us to look forward to the path ahead, and each participant brings their own perspective to the remembrances. A church’s anniversary can be a time of uniting to celebrate the growth of God’s kingdom.
When properly done, an anniversary can be a bonding experience for the church, and can have many lasting benefits for the congregation. A church anniversary celebration is a lot of work, and should be headed up by a very organized person. The church should allow at least a year to complete the task with maximum results.
Many things happen in connection with anniversary celebrations. Many churches use this opportunity to spruce up their facilities for homecoming gatherings. Others use these celebrations to springboard into special projects in the church.
Organizing an anniversary celebration involves the 3 P’s: Prepare, Plan, and Pull it together.
- Appoint a committee. This special committee should be created at least a year before the celebration. All the major areas of the church should be represented by a member on the committee: chair of deacons, chair of the finance committee, Sunday School director, WMU director, Church Training director, children’s committee chair, music committee chair. The pastor should serve ex officio, and while the committee need not be chaired by the history committee chair or church historian, both those people need to be on the committee. While these are only suggestions as to the makeup of the committee, the essential things in selecting committee members is that they should have an interest in this activity, and that they should be capable of giving input into the process. If the chair of a committee is either unable or unwilling to take on this commitment, they should appoint someone to serve in their stead who fits the essential criteria.Subcommittees may need to be broken out of the larger group to focus on plans as they develop. Larger churches may wish to enlist representative staff members to add input into specific areas.
- Get the event on the church calendar. Often activities can be scheduled to enhance the celebration. The earlier the event is calendared, the more activities can be planned around it. While the observances may be scheduled for a single day, or a week or month, it needs to come to the attention of the full church as soon as possible to make sure that other activities do not get scheduled against it that might take volunteer energy away from the anniversary.
- Decide the objective. Is this celebration intended to look back only, or to provide a springboard into the future? If you want your congregation to come away from the celebration invigorated, it is important to show them how far the church has come. Preparing a timeline may be helpful in this; having a church history will make this step easier. If there is no church history available, one will be necessary for the celebration, and the anniversary program may help to interest church members in preparing one.
- Decide on the program. The type of program a church chooses to use in commemorating the anniversary will determine the number of days for the celebration. Some churches may wish to observe only one day; usually the Sunday nearest to the actual anniversary date is selected. Other churches may wish to start activities on Wednesday evening to culminate on Sunday. Larger or older churches may use a full week, Sunday through Sunday, to commemorate the event.
Once these four points have been established, it is time to set to the real work of planning. To do this, the scope of the anniversary program will need to be decided.
- Church history. A church history is crucial to the success of an anniversary celebration. If no up-to-date history exists in a church, one should be prepared, either by the history committee or the church historian, or by a subcommittee of the anniversary committee. If a church does not have a history committee or historian, this may be an opportune time to get them in place. If a history is already prepared, copies should be available for church members who do not have one. If a new printing is being published, be sure to have enough to give to all church members, and save enough for new church members.Funding the printing. If there is no church history published and the history committee or church wishes to have one published, this will be an expense that may not have been figured into a budget. If funding is a problem, start ahead of the year lead-time usually allotted for an anniversary event, and begin a special fund-raising project. Often churches will print a cookbook as a fund-raiser. This is an excellent way to promote the theme of the church’s past by getting recipes handed down from generations of church members, or including small pieces of church history in the cookbook.Plan a service highlighting the church history, as a way to bring attention to the history and the fund-raising project, and to introduce thoughts about the anniversary celebration to the congregation.
- Prepare a brochure or booklet. If your church history has recently been updated, preparing a brochure or booklet giving the historical outline of the church may be enough to distribute during the anniversary observance. Pictures of historical interest could be used for illustration. Think about including programs from the anniversary services as part of the booklet.
- Plan the activities for the observance. These may include a pageant depicting historical events from the history of the church, a banquet or reception to honor special guests from the church’s past, or a reenactment of early services in the church. One congregation celebrated their centennial by having an outdoor service, where the minister arrived on horseback, in the manner of the circuit-riding preacher who helped start the church. Some churches create a time capsule. There are many ideas for the actual celebration. Contact the Historical Commission or your association for churches that have had celebrations, or contact the Historical Commission or MBC liaison for ideas.
PULL IT TOGETHER:
Once the preparation and planning are done, it is time to pull together the last details, and to get visiting dignitaries invited to the occasion. These activities should start about one month before the celebration.
- Send the invitations. Usually churches invite former pastors who are still living, or their children to represent the family. Often people raised in the church who have gone on to become ministers or work in church-related vocations are invited as well. Be sure to include a portion of the celebration to recognize those guests, and some may even be included in the program. If the church plans to defray the costs of travel and other expenses for these guests, that should be clearly stated in the letter of invitation.
- Promote the event in the church. Put up historical exhibits in the weeks before the celebration, to raise awareness of the event. If the church does not have an archives or history room, this celebration can spark interest in starting one.
- Gather and display a visual history. Display pictures of former pastors, church buildings, charter members, and other photos of interest. These will create interest in the celebration. If the church does not have any of these pictures, this interest may cause the members to come forward and donate any materials they may have.
- Spread the word. Publicize the event locally to encourage former members to come, and to spread word-of-mouth to others who may have moved away.