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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Interview About Successful Trunk or Treat Event

Updated: Jul 1

A friend of mine did the Gospel Trunk or Treat and preached the Gospel to 1,000 people in 3 hours. Most impressively, it was a small church of around 100 people! I asked if I could interview them about it, and they said YES!


Here's the video of this interview. Below, you'll find the complete transcript. To see my post of takeaways from this interview, click here.

 



Darrell Stetler II: Hey, it's Pastor Darrell. So glad you're here. I'm talking today with a couple of friends of mine who I've gotten to know for the last number of years, and they did a really neat event at their church, and it was the Gospel Trunk or Treat, which some of you guys are familiar with, that our church did a few, has been doing for about 12 years. And they heard about it, we started talking about it, they decided to try to do it at their church, and they had fantastic results. So when my friend Wesley got in touch with me and said, ‘Hey, this is what we did, and this is what turned out.” I said, “Oh, would you mind sharing this story with other pastors?” And honestly, in the process, I hope that you have a window into here's how our church could do some outreach, and I hope that you will have a window into… maybe feel inspired that you don't have to be a giant church to do something meaningful and spread the gospel message. So I'm here today with Pastor Jonathan Slagenweit, and with a friend, Wesley Wilson, one of the key leaders in his church. So we're going to talk about that. So guys, welcome. Glad you're here.


Pastor Jonathan: Thanks for having us.


Darrell Stetler II: So Pastor Jonathan, you are a church of-- what do you guys average roughly on a Sunday?


Pastor Jonathan: Which Sunday? So as church ministry rolls, we probably average anywhere from 100 to 115, somewhere in there.


Darrell Stetler II: Fantastic, yeah. So we're not talking about a giant church, we're not talking about a mega church, we're talking about one of those average size churches in America in that 100, 150 size range. So the reason I wanted to clarify that is because some churches feel a lot of that. Some pastors have an inferiority complex and they feel like, “Oh, unless I have this or that, I can't make a difference.” So Wesley, you were the one, I think, that reached out first and said, “Hey, what is it you guys are doing with this trunk or treat?” Is this something that would work for us? Is this something you guys had done before, or was it something that you were doing for the very first time?


Wesley Wilson: I think we did it for the first time in 2022. Pastor Jonathan had the vision. He knew what you guys had done. And we talked about it a little bit. So I reached out to you and said, hey, “What are your materials we want to make this happen?” So Pastor Jonathan sold it to the board, sold it to the church, said, “Hey, this is a way to do what Paul did at Mars did,” And meet the culture where they are and share the gospel with them. And for the most part, people really got on board and said, “Hey, how can I help?” And I know you had a lot of materials available and wanted to take advantage of what you had and start with your package. And then we made it our own from there.


Darrell Stetler II: Sure, yeah. Customization, and figuring out how to make it work for the local church. That's fantastic. So can you describe to me what you guys did beforehand? We'll get into, if you want, you can talk about Gospel Trunk or Treat Package, but I'm really just curious, what did you guys do beforehand as you were prepping out your Gospel Trunk or Treat, your event? What did that look like for you? What are some of the key action steps you took ahead of time to be ready for that day?





Pastor Jonathan: So I'll start with the gospel. I'll start on some of that. Wesley was key in the background in putting some of that together. So I think one of the things that I want to be clear to people is that I hate Halloween. I have no sympathetic feelings to the holiday at all. So initially, as we were talking as a board, the idea initially had been I wanted to do some form of a… almost like a fall festival. And I believe, Wesley, you may have been the one that threw the idea out. And I said, “Look, I don't even like Trunk or Treats, but if it's gospel-centered, then I can get on board with that.” So that's when Wesley started doing some digging around on some material about it. And the more that I looked at it, the more I was attracted to the idea. Again, I'm not interested in a trunk or treat that just says, “Hey, come to our church, here's some candy. If you don't have a church, come.” And Wesley referenced some of this. To me, Halloween is, in essence, it is the Athens. It's all the false gods that are on display. But in the middle of that, here's Paul comes in and he sees all of this stuff and he says, “Wait a second, here's an unknown God. Here's an opportunity.” And he talks to them about Jesus, gives them the gospel. And I'm like, “You know what? I can do that. I can see that. I can get on board with that.” So I think from my perspective, I knew some of the sell was going to be to our people in saying, “Hey, listen, you may not like Halloween, I don't either.” Don't have any part of it. Don't want to have any part of it. But if this can be the catalyst to spreading the gospel in our culture, meeting the culture where they're at, then I'm okay with that. So that was the framework. And then I think, Wesley, you could probably take it from here as far as once we started working some with you and some of your material, that's where Wesley really kicked in and started doing just a massive amount of work in getting stuff ready.


Darrell Stetler II: Sure. Yeah, Wesley, tell me about that.


Wesley Wilson: So I think we had to decide what we wanted to… what parts of the story we wanted to tell. So your package had provided some scripts, some station ideas and candy to go with them. So that was our starting point. And some of it, as we talked it over, we said, “Let's do a theme.” So we came up with a theme that would connect all the stories. And in each story, we'd be looking forward to the next story. So we're telling parts of the lineage of Christ and the promised deliverer and how God delivered his people at various stages. And then there's the candy that goes with it to remind them.


Darrell Stetler II: So can you give me real quick some examples of some of the stations and candies that you guys used?


Wesley Wilson: Yeah. So, several of them came straight from your ideas, like using Milky Way for creation. And we do a candy apple of some kind for the fall. We did some Laffy Taffy for Isaac, the birth of Isaac. And lifesavers went with the cross. We did some Snickers along with Laffy Taffy. So just different ones where you could work the name in.


Darrell Stetler II: Sure. Just making that creative connection to what you're talking about with something that people are already, and what the kids wanted anyway, so.


Pastor Jonathan: What was really neat with that is as they're leaving, you get to tell them, like, the first station that we've done the last few years has been the Bible and connecting it with Psalms. The word of God is sweeter than honey. Here's a honey. So when you think this, think about that the Bible is sweeter than honey. So you're connecting that candy, trying to connect that candy with the story that they heard.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah, absolutely.


Wesley Wilson: They come in the Bible station being the first. Then when they leave, we have some Gideons in our church. So we offer them a New Testament on the way out to them and their parents.


Darrell Stetler II: Okay. Yeah, neat. So you get a chance to literally send the Bible home with them as well. That's neat.


Wesley Wilson: So a lot of the work was just getting the scripts where we wanted them. So we wanted to have the connecting theme. Mention the candy that we're giving them and keep it short enough to tell the most important part. And it's so tempting, you want to tell all the details like in Sunday school. But it's not because if you spend three minutes telling the story, there's no way you're getting a thousand people through that station in two hours.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah, absolutely. So how long do you do the kids? So if I'm understanding it right, you guys set up the stations around. And instead of just being something scary or something funny or whatever, it's you're telling Bible stories, you're telling a unified story that's connected. You're breaking down the gospel into little historical vignettes connected to a candy theme. And how many stations approximately were you using?


Wesley Wilson: About 11.


Darrell Stetler II: So you mentioned the number of thousand. So a thousand people coming through for a church of 100. You couldn't church of 150. You couldn't even fit all those people into your. How many services would you have to do to be able to preach the gospel to that many people? That's fantastic. My pastor heart leaps with joy. So beautiful, beautiful job. What's something that you learned in the process that really helped you tweak it and be like, oh, we got to get ready in this way, we need to make sure that this thing is happening?


Wesley Wilson: Well, we knew up front that we wanted people to have some food along the way, so while they're waiting, we had hot dogs and stuff like that. And then the biggest tweak, the first time, was just we were overwhelmed by how many people came. So we ran out of candy, we were in the process of running out of candy, so we sent some people to run to the store and get some more candy, it doesn't matter what it is. You have to be flexible, but you can't have people wait an hour for a treat and run out of candy.


Darrell Stetler II: Exactly.


Wesley Wilson: So last year, we just said we've got to have enough candy, we've got to have more hot dogs, more everything. So I think scaling it up, and then the tweak we tried to do and we're going to be continuing to do going forward is, how do you get this many people through? And it doesn't really matter how many stations you have, because that may add a little bit of time, but what we would do is put people, take one group into the first station, and then by the time they're ready to go to the third station, put our next group in the first station. So you have a little bit of gap, so that your groups aren't running together and the groups can each hear well, but then as long as you can get a group started… if you're getting a group started every six minutes, then that's 10 groups per hour. And if you've got 100 people waiting and 10 people per group, 100 people an hour, that's not bad. If you've got 1,000 people waiting, you've got to bring the time down or you've got to just find a way to possibly occupy them while they're waiting in line, so it's not just a big wait. But we're working on some ideas for what can we do next time to keep people engaged productively instead of just waiting.


Darrell Stetler II: Sure, yeah.


Pastor Jonathan: Some of what we've done both years, so we put bounce houses out front of the church right along, now we're right along a four-lane highway, so we have a measure of good visual sight for passersby. So we've got bounce houses out front, we wrap the line around our church, we have registration booths set up so that as they come through, we're able to collect information about the people, how many come through. We do that real well the first year in collecting material. This year we did, you could scan a QR code, register online, you could fill it out by paperwork. We did giveaways to really encourage people to sign up, say, “If you register, you're in the line to be able to receive.” And we had different stair-step gifts that enabled them. We had food, we had drinks. One of the things Wesley mentioned we're looking at is, what can we do that as they're moving through the line, they're staying engaged, obviously. We had people... Wesley, how long do you think our line was, 150, 200 feet long?


Wesley Wilson: At least, yeah.


Pastor Jonathan: We'd have people waiting for 45 minutes to an hour. But when they got to the end, they were like, “It was well worth the wait.” And the other thing we did is, because sometimes when you've got just 12 stations and you're given one piece of candy, it can be easy to say, “Boy, I walked away, I only got 12 pieces of candy.” So what we've done is, in the vestibule, this last year, we had one of these big washtub basins filled with candy. And as they go out, they get their bag topped off, and they get an opportunity for the gospel. And I think this year we handed out, what was it, 480 some, or 405? Do you remember? It was over 400 copies of the scriptures from Gideon. So, excellent opportunity to be able to reach people that way.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah, fantastic. So, you mentioned getting people's contact information. So you're trying to view this as not just an event, but the start of a conversation, if you will. Like, okay, we want to be able to continue to talk to these people. We want to continue to let them know about future events. We want to be able to invite them to church. That's something that our church is trying to work on this coming year, is putting together... Like I thought about, what is this audience? Well, we know that they've got kids. We know that they value time with their kids. And then thirdly, we know they want something fun, and they're probably at least low-key... They're at least not against biblical... They're not against religion, they're showing up at this thing. So we're in the process of trying to figure out how to launch a little tool that lets people read the Bible with their kids for the two or three times a week for the next 30 days. Like, “Hey, you could do this. If you want to know exactly what your kids could read in the Bible, what you could read with them, this is this thing.” So we're putting together a set of resources to start that this coming year. So I'm looking forward to that, because I want to create that ongoing Bible engagement. And I love that you're sending a copy of the New Testament home with them. That would be a huge thing to be like, “Here's this thing.” And you know, when you get this, you're going to get a text message tomorrow that's going to tell you exactly where you can read with your kid. So anyway, that's...


Pastor Jonathan: That's a great idea. So the one thing we did do this year versus last year, when they left, we had a card that went home with them. And it said, “If you want to read more about each of the stories that you heard about tonight or the Bible accounts you heard tonight, here's where you can read those.” So we gave them places they could turn to read. But I love that idea of encouraging people to engage. Now, we had all sorts of people that came through. The first year, we had a girl. My wife and I were doing Noah's Ark. And that would have been the fourth station in, I think. Yeah, would have been the fourth station in. And when she gets done, she's starting to walk away. She's like, “Man, this is so good. And we don't even go to church.” She was like drinking this up, it was stuff that kids get to the end. And some of them, they don't even have the basic concept of the gospel. So this last year, my wife and I did the heaven. The final trunk was heaven, the accompanying candy was payday. These kids get-- we get to that point, they've just heard about the resurrection. So I'd ask him, “So where's Jesus now?” One kid was like, “In the ground?” He doesn't even have the basic concept of the gospel. You get to tell him, “The same serpent that tempted Adam and Eve all the way back at that station earlier, he's still trying to tempt you today. Christ is provided for your salvation so that you can go to heaven.” So you get to just wrap that gospel all up for these kids in a way that some of them have never even heard. They've never heard the basic gospel.


Darrell Stetler II: Love that. Love that.


Wesley Wilson: The parents love it as much as the kids, the parents who… Maybe they have some church background, maybe they don't, but they're not too in doubt. They are listening just as intently as the kids.


Pastor Jonathan: That is true. That is true.


Darrell Stetler II: We found the same thing here in OKC. The creativity of it and the short attention span of it and the fact that it keeps moving, helps the whole group stay engaged if you're willing to tell the story with a little bit of drama and pizzazz. And then the creativity of the candy thing, for us, we do Jonah running from God and we say, “What a dumb, dumb thing to do.” And we give him a dumb, dumb sucker. And the parents all like, “Ahaa” But it's a good natured engagement. Wesley, when you wrote me an email about the first time you guys did this, I loved it. You said, “I have no explanation for the turnout except God sent them to us. And one of our tour guides, one of our group guides told me our nets break. I was like, “Aaa, yaa.” What a beautiful thing. So the system that I provided, it was helpful. It saved you time in terms of preparation, fast forwarded where you were at and made it possible to get further down the road in a shorter time. How would you describe how that helped you?


Wesley Wilson: It really gave us a structure and we could have used your scripts verbatim. We could have done the exact candies and it would have worked. There were just a few things where we said, “No, we want to adapt it here and adapt it there.” And then the next year, we didn't reference your package as much because, hey, we know what we're doing a little bit more.


Darrell Stetler II: You've done it. Exactly.


Wesley Wilson: But you've also got some outreach ideas in there or some follow up ideas in there, I mean, for what to do after the fact. So that's some of the stuff that I still look back at and say, “Hmm, we need to do more of this, more of the follow up.”


Darrell Stetler II: Sure, sure.


Wesley Wilson: And Pastor Jonathan mentioned that we did a registration form with a QR code this time and that sounds daunting to people, but it's just a Google form. So it's talk to one of the teenagers or college students in your church and they can probably whip it together for you.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah, absolutely.


Pastor Jonathan: If a QR code was up to me, it wouldn't happen. But listen, here's one of the beautiful things to me about this: one, what you what you provided right out of the box can be used exactly like it is, if you want. But it also gives a great framework that… So one of the things that we've decided is each year we want to do something, a different story somewhere throughout it. There will be some that will be consistent. That way they're getting bits and pieces and they don't come one year and be like, “Come the next year. We already heard all of this.” It keeps bringing them back because it's something new, it's something fresh out of there. So it's usable right out of the box, adaptable right out of the box. If you look at it, you're like, “Hey, we need to make this adjustment, this change.” The framework is all there. The other element to all of this: great opportunity to get your church together, to work together. And here's where, I want to say to some people even that may say, “We don't agree with Halloween.” I get that. Where else are you going to be able to share the gospel with a thousand people in one night? What are you going to replace it with to go share the gospel with a thousand people? You actually get to turn the light on in the darkest of holidays that's celebrated in America. You can turn the light of the gospel on to some people who literally-- I mean, we had some of this last year, talked to Wesley and they're like, “We're pagans,” but they're there. And they get the gospel.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah, absolutely. That's beautiful. So, yeah, let me just for one split second here, I'm going to share my screen. So this is what they're referring to is the Trunk or Treat system. So there's a lot of different slides. Like station ideas that basically can give you direction on creation and the fall and God's love and Noah and Abraham and Sarah and David and Goliath and Rahab and a lot of different things that can basically help churches get a set of ideas. Okay, now we've got a set of ideas we can… And from there, yeah, customize it, make it better. You probably do better than we can. Just let me fast forward. Your prep is the way I look at that. Then there's advertisements that I can use for Facebook ads and banners and stuff like that. There is audio versions of the stories that we tell. And each one of those is basically a little over… basically, it's a minute and 15 is how long we have those stories planned out. So you get the idea. There's sign up sheets and things like that that will let you save some of the administrative time, things like that. And all of that can be purchased at gospeltrunkortreat.com. So that whole package there can be picked up at that description of everything that I just showed you and videos on how that works. So if it's something that you are interested in doing as a pastor, there's an easy way to make that happen. So gospeltrunkortreat.com is the way you can get a hold of that. So anything else that you guys like, “Hey, this is also something that was really helpful for us or we learned in the process.” What surprised you or do you need something else that they needed now?


Wesley Wilson: Well, so like Pastor mentioned, to get in the whole church together, we had a guy in his 80s doing a trunk. We had a youth group doing a trunk. My kids were doing a trunk. The whole church, every age working together, you get to see the creativity as people design the different trunks. And it's really neat. But one thing I would like to say about, well, how did we get this many people? We asked people, “Well, how did you hear about it?” And there were a few that just were driving by and said, “Hey, we'll stop in.” But mostly it was Facebook. So for those who don't do a whole lot on Facebook, I would say create a Facebook event, not just a post, create an event on your church Facebook page and then invite all your local church family, your local friends, because when they click going, it shows to their friends and increases the number of people who see it. And then people are a lot more likely to want to come to something that has a couple hundred people going than something that has six people.


Darrell Stetler II: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.


Wesley Wilson: And then you can encourage your church family, share the event, invite their friends. You can post it in local community interest groups. And then what we did this last year, we paid $100 for a Facebook ad for the event. And we reached, I forget, 2,000 or 3,000. I think 2,000 or 3,000 people saw it. And most of the people said, “Yeah, I saw your ad on Facebook.” So Facebook is a pretty cheap, but powerful tool to get the word out and focus local. You don't care if somebody across the world sees it, but you want your local community.



Darrell Stetler II: Sure, yeah. So a quick word about the way that works. So what Facebook values is engagement on their platform because they want to keep people on there. They want people clicking things. They want people looking at things so they can see ads. So if you know what Facebook wants, you can try to hack that algorithm and make it work to your advantage. And one of the ways is by figuring out like getting the link to that Facebook event and then go in your phone and text everyone in your church and say, “Hey, here's a link. Could you click this link and then like, comment and share that and just click that you're going, click get as many people locally. And then would you share it with one other person in that same way? So that organic… I think of it as AstroTurf a little bit. It may not be grassroots, but it's AstroTurf. But if you can go and hack that thing, you can get a lot more engagement, a lot more organic engagement. And Facebook reads that as, “Oh, hey, look, people like this. Let's keep it, keeps them on here. Let's show this to more people.” So that's valuable.


Pastor Jonathan: One of the challenges is that we don't want like 5,000 to show up or we're in trouble. But I will say this, I will say this. So I think one of the learning-- my faith was probably small. Our first year we planned we were like, okay, maybe 200 people. So we had candy for 200 people, started at 6 o'clock. By about 6:45, we're looking around like, “Who can go get candy?” The back parking lot or grass field in our church was filled with cars. I mean, filled, and it stayed that way until about 8 o'clock. I think the last group finally finished about 8:30. This year we started at 6. And I think it was 9:40 when the last group went. But, one of the beautiful things of it is, it increases your faith part of it, because it's, one, you have to trust, Lord, you're going to have to send them in. But then as you see people coming in and you get the opportunity to share the gospel, I mean, there were people as soon as it was over. I mean, they were they were fired up. They were just excited about, “We just got to share the gospel with all these people.” So I think the things to be prepared for is for God to work. And, is it going to be true that everybody who does it, all of a sudden it's going to be 1,000 people may not be sure. But the point is, is who are you giving the gospel to? And think about the reality that some of these people have never heard the gospel, but they think because of it's a safe place, it's a church, their kids are going to get some candy, but they leave with a whole lot more than just candy, they leave with a life changing message.


Darrell Stetler II: Yeah. Man, love that. Thank you, Pastor Jonathan and Wesley. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for sharing your insights and tips. And I really appreciate it. And may God bless your outreach this year. And let's blow the doors off and share the gospel. Love it.


Pastor Jonathan: Amen. Amen.


Darrell Stetler II: Thank you, guys. Blessings to you. One more time to everybody else. If you are interested in getting a hold of the Gospel Trunk or Treat, you can do that at gospeltrunkortreat.com. So let's see, I'm trying to get this screen share. There we go. You can get it at gospeltrunkortreat.com. And if you click through right there where it says save me some time, you can purchase it right there. Everything's secure. And I don't see anybody's credit card information. It's all process third party. So if you want to fast forward your preparation, that's how you can do it and at least get it started. Even if it's like, “Hey, it's not going to be perfect this year.” Let me just encourage you. Don't worry about perfect, just worry about getting started because that it's so, so important. The fact of the matter is that that perfect is not really that achievable. You guys know your systems broke, like you planned for 200 and 1,000 showed up. It breaks everything. But what an exciting place to live when all your systems break, but you're preaching the gospel. I love that. I love that place. So if you want to fast forward your preparation, you can do that at gospeltrunkortreat.com. And guys, I really appreciate you taking the time.


Pastor Jonathan: Hey, thank you.


Darrell Stetler II: Have a great day.


Pastor Jonathan: You too.


Darrell Stetler II: Bye, bye.


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