I heard it again just the other day, “People don’t come out for training anymore.” I have heard it a hundred times. Then, I drive down the road to another church and another Association and another DOM and we have wall to wall people. What gives?

Someone knows how to get a standing room only crowd. I want to show you as well.

Develop a track record of good events

The first thing you need to ask yourself when planning an event is, “How was the last event?” It the answer is “not so hot” you have a problem.

Here is something everyone knows but no one talks about: denominational meetings are not that interesting. Sunday School training is not that exciting. When we start planning a Sunday School training event, we have to start by acknowledging that we are working in a less-than-exciting category. Which would you rather go to:

  • A ball game?
  • A concert?
  • A Bible Study Conference?
  • A magic show?
  • A revival service?
  • A Sunday School training event?

Did anyone besides me put Sunday School training last?

One of the things we are trying to do with All Star Sunday School Training Events is to make Sunday School training exciting. We have the best Sunday school speakers—most of them authors who have conducted hundreds of Sunday School training events. Then, we ask the best people to give us their best stuff. We throw in some robust, soul-stirring music and walla! We have an incredible event. An event that will inspire as well as inform. An event that will be fun and uplifting as well as educational.

But, we have to acknowledge we are not working in the most interesting category. Be patient with people who are not that excited about attending. We did this to them!

So, if the church or Association has had some boring meetings, what are we to do? Love covers a multitude of sins. . .

Love the people

It is not uncommon for me to conduct a training meeting where there are two or three hundred eager participants—most of who never heard of me before about two weeks earlier. They are not coming because they know me or my message or my dream. They are coming because someone they respect told them to come. There was a trusted DOM who told a faithful pastor that this would be good. The faithful pastor told his people and the people follow.

It all comes down to leadership, doesn’t it? When I hear a DOM say, “People don’t come to training anymore.” I hear, “I am not leading these people; they are not following.”

I think of a DOM in East Texas, Randel Trull. I have been with Randel a half dozen times or so. We have an All Star Sunday School Training meeting with him in September. Randel always gets a good crowd. He has a long history of bringing quality events to his association and people know if he puts something on it will be good.

Leadership is mostly about loving people. People follow leaders when they know the leader loves them. Love is spelled TIME. When the leader hangs out with the pastor and loves him and pays attention to him and remembers his birthday and helps him through the rough waters, the pastor follows. Leadership is relational. It is not just about writing vision statements and making plans and setting budgets and organizing calendars. It is about knowing and being known. It is personal. Leadership is always personal.

I love John Maxwell’s famous maxim, “If you think you lead and no one is following, you are only just taking a walk.”

Well, what if everyone is not following, what are you to do? There is an answer.

Get a team

If one leader is good, two are better. Half a dozen is even better. I recommend putting a planning team together to help promote the event. Give everyone a job. Have one person in charge of ethnic churches. Someone else in charge of small churches. Someone else in charge of email. Still another person in charge of social networking. Meet once a month. Serve burgers. Brainstorm. Pray. Get them fired up.

WIIFM? Factor

Everyone is listening attentively to radio station WIIFM: What’s in it for me?

Tell people specifically how the event will help them accomplish goals that are meaningful to them.

I saw this recently after I did a talk on Technology and the Sunday School. It was a last minute change and the people did not know about the topic ahead of time. There were told it was a Sunday School conference, “Please come.” Come for what? What is in it for me?

If we could have gotten the message out ahead of time: “Come hear how you can use modern technology to win our world to Christ. There has never been a time to be a Sunday School Teacher. How to use Facebook, Email, Logos Bible Software, and other tools to reach people, study the Bible effectively, worship and do all things Sunday School better because of technology.” (Is that a run-on sentence? I get a little that way when I get fired up!)

The conference was on a Saturday and I stayed over Sunday to preach. One lady heard what I had spoken on and came running up to me afterwards—pen and legal pad in hand. “I got to know what you said. Give me the bullet points” If only she had known ahead of time she would have been on the front row with her legal pad taking notes.”

This is one mistake we are correcting with our All Star Sunday School Training Events. I thought with such a how powered list of speaker we wouldn’t need to tell people the topics. We could work that out last minute and people would come just because of the name recognition of the personalities. Name recognition is important, as we will see in a moment. But, it is also important to tell them specifically what benefit they will derive from attending.

Time is the new currency. Time is the most precious commodity of the people we serve. They will only give it up if they know they are going to get something useful in exchange.

Familiarity

I have noticed a consistent pattern in attendance at conferences over the years. Before I tell about that, I need to mention what I do for a day job. I think people think of me as a conference speaker and Sunday School trainer, and I am. But, there is a lot a down time in between conferences. In that down time, I write Sunday School lessons called Good Questions Have Groups Talking. They correspond with Lifeway’s outlines and are usually used supplementally to Lifeway material. I have been doing this for years; I started way back when I was a Minister of Education at a local church. I have written thousands of lessons. I would argue I have written more lessons than any human—living or dead.

Here is what I have found. When I come to a church that has been using my lessons for a few years, I always get a good crowd. Always. People have gotten to know me through my lessons and they want to see the man behind the lessons. (They have actually said those words to me.) If churches don’t use my lessons, I will make them available for free for 4 months or so before the conference, just to build attendance. (If you are a host, email me at [email protected] ) I also always give free trials of my lessons to anyone who asks.

People like to hear people they have heard of. Think of the opposite. If you to promote a preacher, a singer or a Sunday School trainer and people have never heard of that preacher, singer or Sunday School trainer, promotion is going to be difficult.

Here is the rule: build familiarity slowly long before the event.

If it is a singer you are promoting and he has written anything, sing some of his songs. Then, when you get ready to promote the concert tell them they will be coming to hear the writer of that song they like. They may not know the name Darlene Zschech but if you tell them the writer of Shout to the Lord is coming, they will be interested.

If the preacher has written a book, try to make the book available for sale as soon as you can. If I am coming to your church, get your teachers using Good Questions. Build familiarity long before the event.

In this book, Thinking Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman writes, “People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”  This is a fancy way of saying that people tend to think they already know about everything that is really important. If they have not heard of it, it must not be important because they already know about everything that is really important.

This is why political candidates put out bumper stickers, yard signs and billboard with nothing but their name. People like to vote for people they have heard of. They also like to attend conferences of people they have heard of and they hate attending conferences of people they have not heard of.

So, what are we to do if people have not heard of the person you are trying to promote? Technology can help.

Technology and promotion

There has never been a better time to spread the gospel. Because of technology we have an unprecedented opportunity to get our message out.

This is why I send out an e-newsletter and have done so for years. (I am currently on issue #568) Currently I am using this to build the awareness of all of the All Star Sunday School Trainers by sending out short excerpts from their writings. If you have an All Star Meeting in your area, I’d encourage you to sign up all the pastors in your area and all the teachers in your church. If they regularly hear about speakers that are coming it will make promotion a whole lot easier when it comes time to promote the event.

I’d encourage you to use Facebook to build awareness. I encourage classes to do this to build awareness among their friends of their group and their church. I encourage every class to have a Facebook moment during every class where the pause and allow people to post things to Facebook such as. . .

  • Great to see my friends in Bible Study today.
  • What a great lesson my teacher had in Bible Study this week!
  • Fantastic discussion in Bible Study!
  • I rejoiced with those who said unto me, “Let us go unto the house of the Lord!”

I’d encourage you and your team to post regularly in Facebook things like:

  • We look forward to hosting Steve Parr and the All Star Team Jul 21, 22
  • Only 2 more weeks till the All Star Team with Ken Hemphill is here to encourage and inspire.
  • I can’t wait to hear Dr. Elmer Towns tell how he came to faith in Christ through the Sunday School.

To make this easier, I suggest you use Tweetdeck or something like it. It allows you to automate your posts. You can sit down and in one setting create a bunch of posts that will update every day until the event.

I’d recommend you get a long list of email addresses and send them relevant articles with a note that this author is coming to town. (I have a gazillion such posts on my web page that can be copied and pasted for your use.)

I get an email from a friend every Monday about a Bible Study he is doing in his home on Monday night. Every Monday I will get a reminder with info on the topic, time and place.  I am never offended because it is from a friend and he knows I am interested. One of these days I am going to show up. Multiple emails will get me there. Multiple emails will get your people there as well.

Don’t abandon old fashioned methods

One of the most proven methods of getting a crowd is the phone. Get on the phone and call every pastor it town. Get your team to help. Pretty low tech, but very effective.

We also have poster and graphics you can use online and in PowerPoint to promote your events.

Summary

In summary, here are eight things you can do to get a standing room only crowd:

  1. Develop a habit of consistently putting on quality events. Develop a system for evaluating your events so you know they are quality. Where you fall short, acknowledge it and promise to do better. Deliver on that promise.
  2. Work on your leadership and people skills. Love the people. People follow people they like. As Maxwell says, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” People buy into you before they buy into the conference you are promoting.
  3. Get a team of people to help with promotion. If they don’t buy into you, perhaps they will buy into someone else on the team. Get everyone a job.
  4. Tell people why they should come. Tell them specifically how it will benefit them.
  5. Build familiarity over time. People like to hear from people they have heard of. Start to familiarize people with you speakers long before it is time to promote the event.
  6. Use technology to promote your event. Sent lots of helpful emails that will inform and build familiarity. Facebook.
  7. Phone. Who ya going to call? Every pastor in town. Get a team to help. Don’t ignore traditional print media. Use graphics for PowerPoint and the web.
  8. Pray. Situation is desperate. Pray.