Importance of Critical Mass (And Eight Steps To Achieve It)

Critical Mass is something to keep in mind as you are planning ministry events. Critical Mass is the minimum number or size of something in order to begin or to maintain it. Ministry leaders, pastors, student ministry leaders, and church planters all deal with critical mass issues whether they know it or not.

We just recently finished two large events at our church.  One was a middle school discipleship weekend and the other was a family ministry outreach event. Both were really fun, amazing and exhausting! And, thankfully, both were really well attended and full!

I have the privilege of participating in many special ministry events during the course of each year.  Some I attend as a participant, others I’m organizing and inviting people to come.  If you are a ministry leader, you no doubt have invited people to be a part of something in ministry: a class, an outreach, a retreat, etc. Additionally, you may have been a part of events that seemed to flop due to the lack of energy from poor attendance.

We’ve all been to the ministry event that wasn’t well attended. Pro speakers and presenters can typically keep the energy up even when attendance is low. Amateurs typically can’t help but talk about it, which in turn creates an awkward feeling. To be fair, every once in a while, you hit a bad date or some other situation that is beyond your control.

But, in all the ways we are able, it’s good to be aware of critical mass. For this post, I’m focusing on a critical mass for a one-time special ministry event or annual ministry event outside of your usual weekly schedule.

Here are a few thoughts on critical mass and how to achieve it:

The Right Event For The Right People At The Right Time

Is this something that people need to attend and will attend?  I often joke that when ministry leaders meet together, an event pops out. It always seems like people want to plan and host an event together. But the mission has to be greater than just a desire to work together to do an event. For sure, a ministry event task force experiences connection, purpose, and community, but if the larger vision isn’t there, it’s tough on folks and it’s difficult to sell.

Far Enough Out, But Not Too Far

One key to critical mass is the fine line of publicity – enough but not too much. If we pump too much information out too early, we will wear people out with the message before the window of time to respond even approaches. Saturation can set in and when the time comes, people won’t even remember it.  Generally speaking, if the event is a one-day event, people need about three – four months to know about the date and a big push about five to six weeks before.  For overnight or weekend event the time frame needs to be pushed back.

The Key Leader For Whom This Is A Passion

Critical mass at an event is typically tied to a person who has their heart, their passion and at times, their finances tied up in the thing. I know this is true because I have been to poorly attended events where I was fine with the crowd size, but I wasn’t the one responsible for putting the thing together. If no feels responsible (which can and does happen with events, especially if they have been happening for years) it will lack the energy to attract people.

A Committee Host Team / Task Force

One person can’t do it alone.  Pull in two or three others to join you in taking ownership for the event. A publicity person, a logistics person, a food/hospitality person, and administrative person.

Invite People 70% Work on Details 30%

I have been to really well-planned ministry events where the only small detail left out was inviting people. The booths were there, the food was great, the volunteers were limitless, but the publicity had either taken a back seat or hadn’t worked. Inviting people isn’t easy. It requires planting seeds, continual connections, driving around to visit with people, talking about it, setting up a core group who will attend for sure, etc.  It requires preplanning for promotional material. It’s best if a couple different people can work together – one on details and one on publicity.  But I’ve learned the main person must have their hand in the publicity plan and execution.

Gut Feeling Of Attendance / Ear To The Ground

Do you know from past experience how many people usually come to these things? Are you hearing that people are planning to attend?  You have to have an idea of who may be coming to the event.  If you are doing pre-registration that helps get an idea. But even if you are doing a come one come all event, you need to have some idea of who will be there.  You might even need to invite some “plants” to make sure there is a core group.  Just because you have seating for 300 people doesn’t mean they will show up. And just because you put it on the radio and on Facebook doesn’t mean they will come either. You need to publicize, but you also need to follow up with a few people to get an idea of who will be there for sure.

The Importance Of Room Size And Set Up

Room size and set up are a huge part of making it feel like there is a critical mass.  I am a big stickler about chairs. I typically will set up about 20% less chairs than needed, because when people come in, it looks full.  And if you have to set up more chairs, the energy really goes up! When we have larger events, I ask our teams to have several food lines to make serving quick and efficient. At other times, when the crowd is smaller than we wanted, we shrink back to less serving lines so time fills up the schedule, even with a smaller crowd. If you are setting up an outdoor outreach event, pack it all in… bands, food, inflatables, games, booths, all within close quarters.  The energy goes up, staff can participate over all and it makes it more energetic.  There is more of a critical mass in a smaller space. Room size and set up is critical to giving an energetic feeling with the size of the crowd.

If You Must Cancel, Do It Quietly

In the end, if it just isn’t happening and you have to cancel, do it quietly. Too often, I have not even heard an event was happening to begin with, but see on social media and other places that it’s canceled!  Canceling quietly means to tell those who were planning to attend that it’s not happening. You can put a sign on your door. You can take down the social media info. You can only cancel once or twice before people start questioning all your events in the future. READ: 3 Reasons you shouldn’t publicly cancel an event.

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