Over the past ten years, I have had the honor of planning and being a part of over ten different Jesus Prom type gatherings for adults with IDD. Here is the short list of things that I have learned and wanted to pass along to you. I could’ve come up with a 100 but you don’t have time for that, and everyone loves a good Top 10 List! Let’s go!
#1 What is the purpose?
Dumb questions, right? Wrong! Churches do proms for a lot of reasons. Few really consider all the different reasons before getting in too deep.
If you are doing a prom because it seems like the hip thing to do it probably isn’t the right reason. Yes, lots of churches are doing proms! Don’t just play copycat and try to keep up with the Joneses.
If you are doing a prom because it is a feel-good event for your church it probably isn’t the right reason. It is okay, to be honest here. There are churches that do a prom once a year for their disability community and don’t do anything else the other 364 days of the year. This would be a perfect example of a church that does it because it is a feel-good event. Everyone can pat themselves on the back and mark it off the list until next year. Don’t be that church. Your community needs more than one night a year. If people from your prom return afterward and find nothing for them how do you think that makes them feel?
So, what is the purpose behind doing a prom? Let me make it real simple for you. It is obedience. Churches that do proms do so because they desire to be obedient to the commands of Jesus Christ. Jesus makes himself clear in Luke 14:13 when he says, “When you throw a party invite the poor and those affected by disability.” He doesn’t say “if,” he says “when.”
#2 Catalyst for growth
Another great reason for planning a prom at church is to use it as a catalyst for growth. This makes the assumption that your prom is not a standalone event. Your prom should be at the very least an introduction to your church and all its programming options. Every guest should leave with a bag full of information about your church in print. Intentionality is key here if you want to use your prom to spark growth for your church and your disability ministry. Below are a few quick examples of how you can be intentional.
Make sure to already have a follow up even planned. Take an element from your prom, like karaoke, and have a karaoke night already scheduled. In the information that they receive, you could include an invitation to karaoke night.
If your church has a café or serves breakfast on Sunday morning include a coupon for free coffee and donut.
Follow up the prom by staying in contact with all your guests. You did a great job of gathering their information when they registered so utilize that information to remind your guests that you care about them. Send them emails, text messages, cards in the mail, invitations to upcoming events, gifts in the mail, etc. Or take it to the next level! Since you have their addresses what if you dropped off a plate of cookies with a note that said it was “sweet” having you at our prom. Enjoy this “sweet” treat on us.
Whatever you decide to do make sure to stay in constant contact throughout the year between the proms.
#3 Blessing for your community
Okay, this is one of those no-brainer things to consider. You are probably reading it saying, “Duh, I can skip over this one.” Stop! Don’t read ahead.
What I want you to consider is the fact that the blessing for your community is prioritized. What do I mean by that? Here is the deal. If you are not intentional the priority of who you are blessing can get lost or out of whack. Let me make it clear.
Priority #1 in your blessing hierarchy are your guests, your adults with disabilities.
Okay, another “duh” moment. Not so fast. If you aren’t careful this event is so much fun for all involved the blessing scales can get tipped toward the church and its members instead. Remember this is not a feel-good event for you. This is for the guests.
Priority #2 in your blessing hierarchy is for the caregivers.
Caregivers are any of the following: parents, guardians, providers, staff, etc. Anyone who provides care for the guests of honor the other 364 days and 21 hours of the year. The caregivers are the heroes that often go unnoticed and underappreciated. Your prom is an awesome opportunity to bless the socks off the caregivers. Don’t miss the opportunity to bless them. Consider having a special room just for caregivers where they can be pampered and wined and dined.
Priority #3 in your blessing hierarchy is the volunteers.
They are the bottom of the blessing totem pole. That doesn’t mean they are left out that just means that they are not the primary focus. Proms have an uncanny ability to change the perspective and life trajectory of those who serve. When proms are done right they truly are a snapshot of what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. It is purer than just about anything you will find inside the walls of a church or otherwise. When volunteers walk on this holy ground God has the tendency to do some amazing things within the hearts and minds of volunteers. Many will walk away more blessed than they ever imagined.
That being said… Just a not so subtle reminder, however… The night is about the guests!
#4 Formal or casual?
Consider whether your prom will be a formal or casual event. Having a clear set of expectations for a dress code helps everyone involved. There is not a right or wrong answer to this question. Both have their advantages. My encouragement would be to mix it up and enjoy the best of both worlds. It will help to keep things fresh.
People love an excuse to get all dressed up and bush off those old formal outfits for a night. There is something special about doing a formal event. Having said that some people don’t have formal dresses or suits and ties. In this case, the church has an extra special opportunity to provide free prom dress and suits. This takes extra effort but also displays extra care and blessing to the guests.
If you aren’t going the formal route, consider doing a “themed” casual event. This will add an extra level of fun and excitement. Beach, western, 80s, superhero, out-of-this-world, winter, masquerade, Mardi Gras, under the sea, etc. are all fun themes.
#5 Carefully pick a day
This one sounds like another from the no brainer category. Hold one the day and time that you pick will have a profound impact on the life of the church and it’s typical weekend patterns.
If you pick a Friday night:
- The guests will love it! It will feel more like a prom.
- The volunteers will struggle to get there on time because of work and school schedules. Not having volunteers in place and on time can cause a chaotic environment from the start.
If you pick a Saturday night:
- The volunteers will have a much easier time getting there and being on time. This will help you feel more prepared and ready to bless your guests.
- The church and its staff may stress over having everything put back together and ready for Sunday morning programming. This is no doubt the biggest drawback to a Saturday evening prom. Late nights getting everything done can cause sloppy Sunday mornings.
- Guests and their providers will love it! It will give caregivers more time helping their guests get ready too.
If you pick a Sunday night:
- It may be a struggle to get everything set up after Sunday morning programming and ready to go for your decorating committee.
- It may be a struggle to get the volunteers you need because many of them will have served already on Sunday morning.
- The guests and providers will still love it! They will have plenty of time to go get ready for the evening prom. The only drawback for them is not having much time to catch their breath before Monday morning. Nobody likes dragging their way into the workweek.
I hope you see my point. No matter what day and time you pick there will be pluses and minuses. The key object here is maximizing the pluses and minimizing the minuses by intentional planning.
#6 Enlist a cleanup crew
There really are only two wise options here. Either you create a Clean-Up Crew as an official volunteer position, or you set the expectation for ALL volunteers to stay and clean up after the event is over. Doing anything other than these two things is a mistake.
If you elect to go with having a Clean-Up Crew as an official volunteer position it is a great opportunity for people who may not feel comfortable volunteering at the event to still have a place in helping. Or it may be the case of not being able to get to the event because of other scheduling conflicts. My point is there is a place for everyone to volunteer!
#7 Ask for sponsors
It is not a matter of whether you feel comfortable asking for money or not. It is not a matter of whether you think you don’t have time to ask for sponsors. This is another must when planning a prom.
Make time! If you don’t personally feel comfortable asking for sponsors, find someone who does. Make it a volunteer position.
The fact of the matter is that businesses in your community want to be a part of events like this. Businesses are often required to make a certain percentage of charitable contributions a year. Why shouldn’t it be your prom? If a business isn’t able to give money to sponsor the event, they may very well be able to donate supplies, food, volunteers, etc.
There are likely local business owners in your congregation that are waiting to be asked.
The more sponsors you get the further your budget dollars stretch. The further your budget dollars stretch the greater blessing you can be for the Kingdom and your community.
#8 Ask outsiders to volunteer
What do I mean by the term “outsiders”? I mean people that are not a part of your church. As your prom grows, you will reach a point where you will not have enough volunteers internally to meet all your needs. Because you will at some point need to reach outside why not start from the beginning?
Whom from outside your church should you ask to help? There are a lot of great potential volunteer pools surrounding your church. Consider local college and high school students. Both sets of students likely need to fulfill community service hours. Consider other local youth groups. By reaching out and inviting others to volunteer you may grow your church in the process.
#9 Require pre-registration and (free) event tickets
Don’t apologize for requiring pre-registration of guests and event tickets. Some will inevitably complain about having to take the time to do this, but don’t let that stop you. The more information you can acquire prior to your event about those in attendance the more successful you will be. Unless you know how many will be in attendance how can you plan appropriately?
Event tickets can be handled in any of many different forms. They can be printed. They can be digital. But they can’t be imaginary! Requiring tickets is always a good thing. It helps you in planning and it gives some accountability to the guests in attendance. The only way to get into the event is by having a ticket. The only way to get a ticket is by completing the pre-registration process. No exceptions!
What if someone says they don’t have a computer or smartphone? Because they will! Kindly tell them that you would be more than happy to register them over the phone. Complete their registration for them and mail them their tickets in the mail.
What if someone shows up without a ticket? This is actually an easy solution. If they have pre-registered, you will have them on the guest list. Double-check the guest list and make sure they aren’t there trying to crash the party. If they have not registered for the event that is a horse of another color. There are several ways to handle that situation in a positive manner. Want to know how? Message me and I would be glad to help you with that can of worms.
#10 Volunteer requirements are not only okay but a must
Just like you need not apologize for requiring pre-registration and tickets for guests do not apologize for making volunteer requirements either. The minimum of what you require starts with background checks and training.
In order to keep everyone in attendance safe, a background check must be completed for all those volunteering. People who live with disabilities are abused and neglected at a higher rate than any other people group in the world. Don’t allow your prom to be a breeding ground for creepers because you don’t require background checks.
The requirement of training for volunteers is also for the good of everyone in attendance. Volunteer training not only helps volunteers, but it also helps the guests. Volunteer training may sound intimidating, but it need not be. If you need help with volunteer training, we would love to help you! Contact us by using our consulting form. Your volunteers will thank you for the training. Many people stand on the sidelines and never get involved because they are intimidated. They feel like they don’t know enough. Simple training and alleviate all those fears.