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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Trunk or Treat Planning for Churches: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated: 1 day ago

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on mastering the art of trunk or treat planning for churches!


I'm a pastor for the last 20 years. I've been doing Trunk or Treat events at our church for over 10 years, with thousands of people coming through. It's our biggest outreach of the year! Out of our extensive experience, I've created the Gospel Trunk or Treat Planning System, used by many churches nationwide.


In this guide, I'll share the secrets we've discovered over more than a decade of effective Trunk or Treat church events, and help you plan your own -- while saving a ton of time! Whether you are a seasoned event planner or a first-time organizer, this step-by-step guide will provide you with the tools and tips to organize and execute a memorable, Gospel-centered, Jesus-sharing trunk or treat experience!


In this guide, we'll talk about:

  • choosing your trunk or treat theme

  • creating appropriate decorations

  • selecting the best candy for your participants

  • promotion strategies to ensure a high turnout

  • activity ideas for maximum fun for all attendees.


Think it through... and you'll be able to create a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for children and adults alike, fostering a sense of community spirit and celebration -- and best of all, sharing the Gospel with your community. Get ready to transform your parking lot into a Halloween wonderland and become the go-to Trunk or Treat planner in your neighborhood. Let's dive in and make your trunk or treat event a resounding success!


Why Should Churches Do A Trunk Or Treat?

OK, I'll be the first to admit it. I'm not really a fan of Halloween.

I'm not a scaredy-cat, it's just that I don't think there's anything that great about fear, gore, vampires, zombies, and witches!

But sometimes it seems as though churches only know 2 kinds of responses:

  • Reject It - Hate on everyone who "celebrates" Halloween. Make a point of rebuking it. Call it "Hell-oween." You know the drill.

  • Receive It - Some churches just join in with whatever practices the world does. "Let's do a vampire series! Let's hang cobwebs on the church shrubs!" etc.

​I'd like to suggest a 3rd approach churches can take to Halloween:

  • REDEEM IT - Take a holiday everyone's talking about anyway, but do a vastly different approach, an approach filled with Good News.

That's what we'll plan on doing in this guide: Helping churches figure out how to REDEEM Halloween by doing a Gospel-Centered event that focuses on Jesus!


That's what we call a Gospel Trunk or Treat.

trick or treaters at a church trunk or treat

Let's talk about Trunk or Treat events that redeem the holiday instead of rejecting it.


What is a Trunk or Treat event for churches?

Trunk or treat is a popular Halloween tradition that provides a safe and controlled environment for children to trick-or-treat. Instead of going door-to-door, participants gather in a designated area, usually a parking lot, where vehicles are decorated in various themes and filled with treats. This allows children to move from car to car, collecting candy in a fun and secure setting.


Trunk or treat events have gained popularity in the last few years due to their ability to bring communities together and offer a unique twist on traditional trick-or-treating. These events often include additional activities such as games, costume contests, and food vendors, creating a festive atmosphere for all attendees.


Organizing a trunk or treat event requires careful planning and attention to detail. The success of the event hinges on factors such as location, theme, participant engagement, and safety measures. Let's explore each of these aspects in detail to ensure your trunk or treat event is a hit!


Benefits of Organizing a Trunk or Treat Event

Organizing a trunk or treat event offers numerous benefits for both the local church and the neighborhood. For churches, it provides an opportunity to bring the community together, showcase creativity, create lasting memories... and proclaim the Gospel in a fun and creative way!


What if your church could get all these results:

  1. Increase Community Engagement?

  2. Provide a Safe Environment for worried parents?

  3. Show creativity and expression?

  4. Share your core message with the neighborhood?

  5. Start a Gospel-based conversation with your neighbors?

  6. Broaden your base of volunteers?

  7. Give your church a clear "Gospel win" to rally around?

I think you can do each of these!


A wise pastor once told me, "Nothing succeeds like success." A WIN for your church will create momentum that can help you keep your church family aligned with the mission of making disciples in your community! It can truly build excitement in a church.


A short case study on a church trunk or treat

One example of this is Pastor Jay and Wesley from a church in North Carolina. They used our planning system, and it was a smashing success! After their trunk or treat event, they said, "We think we had at least 1,000 people last night. It was beautiful to see our whole church working together..." You can click to read more of their Trunk or Treat case study and what they did, and watch an interview between me and the pastor and key leaders of that church.


I could go on and share stories of the community impact that Pastor Jeffrey had at Hamilton God's Missionary Church. In this small community, they had an outsized impact as members of their community laughed, celebrated, and listened attentively to the stories of Jesus that they told.


Here are some photos of their event:


hamilton god's missionary church trunk or treat event

Get the idea? This is something that YOUR church can do, regardless of whether you've done it before, or not!


Planning your Trunk or Treat Event

Planning a trunk or treat event requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure its success. From choosing the right location to setting a budget and timeline, here's a step-by-step guide to help you plan your trunk or treat event effectively.


Choosing a Location for your Trunk or Treat Event

Selecting the appropriate location is crucial for the success of your trunk or treat event. Consider factors such as accessibility, parking space, and the size of the venue. Here are some key points to keep in mind when choosing a location:


1. Parking Lot:

Look for a spacious parking lot that can accommodate a large number of vehicles. Consider the layout and design of the parking lot to ensure smooth traffic flow and easy navigation for participants.


2. Accessibility:

Choose a location that is easily accessible to the community. Ideally, it should be centrally located or easily reachable by public transportation.


3. Safety:

Ensure that the location provides a safe environment for participants. Look for well-lit areas and consider any potential hazards that may need to be addressed, such as uneven surfaces or tripping hazards.


Once you have chosen the location, obtain any necessary permits or permissions from the relevant authorities or property owners. It's important to plan well in advance to secure the desired location and make any necessary arrangements.


Creating a Theme for your Trunk or Treat Event

Many churches have become a bit frustrated with their trunk or treat event, because it seems disconnected from their purpose or their main calling: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to those who have not responded to it.


And hey -- I agree. There's a limited benefit to just fueling up a group of neighborhood kids with high-fructose corn syrup and then sending them home to detox with their mom and dad. :)


But I think churches can fix this problem by just taking the time to creatively connect their main mission to whatever the culture is currently focused on.


Remember Paul in Acts 17, turning the "unknown God" idols of Athens into a conversation about the true and living God? That's what I'm talking about!


A Bible-Themed Trunk or Treat Plan

Choosing a theme adds excitement and cohesion to your trunk or treat event. A well-thought-out theme sets the tone and allows participants to get creative with their decorations and costumes. Here's how you can create a captivating theme:


1. Consider the Audience:

We love doing a Trunk or Treat that targets rich biblical truth to kids. There's no real need to make it scary... in fact, if you're not, I think you stand out. But definitely keep the stories high energy and dramatic.


If you need an example of storytelling, you can use the "teaching tour" tool in the Gospel Trunk or Treat system below.


2. Pick your Bible stories for your Trunk or Treat.

Which ones you choose will depend on how much space you have in your chosen venue (usually a parking lot!). Here are examples of stories our church in south Oklahoma City has included:

  • Creation

  • Adam and Eve - The Fall

  • Noah & The Ark

  • Abraham and Sarah

  • Rahab & Jericho

  • David & Goliath

  • Solomon

  • Jonah and the Big Fish

  • Daniel and the Lions Den

  • The 3 Hebrew Boys and the Fiery Furnace

  • The Nativity

  • The Cross

  • Heaven


3. Connect the Bible stories to the candy.

We've found that if you can connect the stories to the candy, people engage and chuckle at the creativity of the references. Here are some examples of what we've done in the past:

  • Creation - Milky Way ("God made everything, all the stars in the Milky Way!")

  • The Fall - Caramel Apple Suckers ("Sin broke God's law, and that broke God's heart, and broke the world!")

  • Noah's Ark - Skittles ("God sent a rainbow to remind us of his promises!")

  • Abraham and Sarah - Laffy Taffy ("Sarah laughed, but God kept his promise!")

  • The Nativity - Lifesavers ("God sent a lifesaver; a hero to fix everything that sin has broken!")

  • 3 Hebrew Boys - fireballs!

  • Daniel and the Lions' Den - KitKats!

  • Rahab - Red Twizzlers!

  • Heaven - A Giant chocolate bar!

The whole plan is available in a Gospel Trunk or Treat package you'll find at the bottom of the page.


4. Connect the stories into a whole Gospel narrative.

This is where the Gospel Trunk or Treat really has a chance to shine. A theme helps tie together the various trunks into a cohesive theme.


At our church, we do this: "Sin has broken God's law, and God's heart, and our world... But God promised to send a hero to fix everything that sin has broken!"


This is the theme to connect each of you trunks to:

  • Rahab: She was not one of God's people... but God's hero was coming, and he loves to take people who were not good, and make them HIS people.

  • 3 Hebrew Brothers: God's Hero comes to us when we are alone and scared and in danger!

You get the idea.


5. Communicate the theme clearly to your volunteers.

Once you have chosen a theme, make sure to communicate it clearly to your volunteers, leaders and storytellers. You can encourage them to incorporate it into their trunk decorations and costumes. This will enhance the overall visual impact and create a cohesive experience for attendees.


Helping volunteers understand this piece of strategy helps to tie together all of the pieces.


How to Recruit Trunk or Treat Volunteers

To ensure a dynamic trunk or treat event, it's important to gather a committed group of volunteers and leaders. Here's how you can go about it:


1. Identify what volunteers you'll need.

Think through the flow of people, and the stations. Remember to plan for food or drinks, greeters, and prayer volunteers (after your cross station!) Think through event setup, registration, crowd control, and cleanup.


If you're a member of the Gospel Trunk or Treat system, remember to check the 8-week prep checklist, and look ahead at what you'll need to complete.

2. Let them know they're needed:

Start by effective announcements in your local church. (The Gospel Trunk or Treat system below can help!)


You can even reach out to local schools, community centers, and other churches to spread the word about your trunk or treat event and seek volunteers. We have a number of people who don't even attend our church who are regular participants in this event.


3. Find a way to track volunteer commitments:

Get a free Trunk or Treat Signup sheet, or create an online registration system with a tool like Google Forms.


4. Communicate clear expectations:

In a meeting, or printed communication, give your volunteers guidelines and expectations for their trunk or treat decorations and candy. Communicate any safety regulations. Use a slideshow of Trunk or Treat Trunk examples to help them catch a vision of creative possibilities.


By recruiting dedicated volunteers, you can create a sense of ownership and excitement around your trunk or treat event... and let's be honest -- our churches need that! It's just good leadership.


Marketing Your Trunk or Treat

Use social media platforms, local newspapers, and community bulletin boards to maximize your reach.


We use a combination of:

  • Facebook ads

  • Social posts

  • Door hangers

  • Nextdoor ads

  • Word-of-mouth, making sharable graphics

  • Church announcements



Decorating your Trunk for Trunk or Treat

The centerpiece of a trunk or treat event is, of course, the decorated vehicles. Participants go above and beyond to transform their trunks into captivating Bible-themed displays. Here are some tips to help you create a visually appealing trunk for your trunk or treat event:


1. Props and Decorations:

Incorporate props and decorations that align with your chosen theme. Get creative and make use of inexpensive materials such as cardboard, fabric, and paint to bring your vision to life.


trunk or treat example for planning

2. Interactive Elements:

Consider adding interactive elements to engage participants. This could include actors (think David and Goliath), or carboard brick walls to knock down (at the walls of Jericho), and more.

Trunk or treat interactive decoration examples

Remember to prioritize safety when decorating your trunk. Avoid using open flames or any hazardous materials that could pose a risk to participants or vehicles. Additionally, ensure that your decorations do not obstruct the driver's view or create any tripping hazards.


I'll include here, 2 more examples of trunk or treat decoration ideas:

But I've got lots more pictures... If you want 27 examples of creative trunk or treat Bible ideas.


Noah's Ark - capture the kids imagination with these bright colors and animal themes!

noah's ark trunk or treat church idea

Jonah - Illustrate for your attendees the foolishness of running from God

Jonah trunk or treat church idea

Organizing Activities and Games for Trunk or Treat

In addition to the trunk decorations, organizing activities and games can help your community patiently wait for a tour guide to take them through the trunk stations and tell the Bible stories.


Here are a few possibilities:

  • Costume Contest

  • Pumpkin Decorating

  • Face Painting

  • Candy Corn Toss

Remember to plan the activities and games in a way that encourages maximum participation and minimizes wait times. Create a schedule or rotation system to ensure that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the different activities.


If you have a lack of volunteers, this becomes an easy thing that can be cut.


Our church doesn't do activities, instead opting for a hot dog roast with chips and drinks while tour groups are forming.


A Budget for Trunk or Treat Events

Budgeting for your upcoming "Trunk or Treat" outreach event can be a pain point, right? But, it's an essential step in ensuring its success and impact.


If you need to cast vision for this to your team members or an outreach committee, just be sure to emphasize that the Gospel will be preached, and that the large number of volunteer hours invested means a significant financial outlay should be put behind it as well.


Without knowing your community, it's hard to say what will be needed, but I'd encourage a general plan around these areas:

  • Decorations (most people can decorate their own trunks, but the church may wish to do some overall decor as well.)

  • Marketing (ad spend, printing, etc.)

  • Setup (what will be needed for crowd control and signage)

  • Food (if you plan to do food)

  • Candy (unless trunk families are taking it over)

  • Follow-up (registration gift card drawings, text message campaigns, mailings)

What you provide for decor, food, activities, and marketing will be some of your highest-ticket items.


In my experience, you should estimate your attendance, and then budget $2-4 per person.


How to raise the money for Your Trunk or Treat Budget

I can suggest a few ideas for raising the budget for an event like this:

  • Taking a special offering.

  • Ask food trucks to provide food (paid for by attendees, or a subsidized cost)

  • Privately asking for sponsors from families or business owners at the church

  • Asking for sponsorships from the community

  • Asking individual families to sponsor the candy for a particular station.

You can also ask for local business to contribute material goods of one kind or another. At our church,

  • the local Sonic donated hot dog sleeves,

  • the local Walmart donated plastic bags for those who didn't have them.

  • local businesses donated gift cards for the drawings

  • A local food pantry helped out with hot dogs

  • A local non profit helped with hot dog buns



Safety Measures for Trunk or Treat Events

Ensuring the safety of all participants is of utmost importance when organizing a trunk or treat event. Here are some key safety measures to consider:


1. Traffic Control:

You need to think through clear signage and designated pathways to guide participants and ensure a smooth "flow of people." Use cones or barriers to separate the trunk area from the pedestrian walkways. Additionally, you want people to go through the event in order, instead of jumping into the middle of the stories.


To accomplish this, our church uses:

  • a simple, removable plastic fencing roll around the outside of our property

  • greeters who walk the perimeter to direct people toward the "start here" sign

  • a lighted "Start Here" sign


2. Lighting:

At least some of your trunk or treat event may be after dark. You should ensure that the parking lot is sufficiently lit. Place additional lighting sources strategically to eliminate dark areas and improve visibility. Also be aware of the darkness around your stations... kids may not be able to see the actors or trunks very well without lighting in place. Our church purchased several rechargeable worklights for this purpose.


3. First Aid Station:

Set up a designated first aid station manned by trained volunteers. Stock it with basic first aid supplies and have emergency contact information readily available. We have multiple EMTs that attend our church, so this is never a problem for us, but you may need to think through a simple plan in this area.


4. Child Control:

Instruct your greeters to be aware of children coming in or out without parents, and help them have a plan on how to proceed if they see some.


How to Fast-Forward Prep for Your Trunk or Treat Plan

Now, this might seem like an overwhelming list. It certainly took me a long time to type it, and 10 years of trunk or treat planning experience to build it. :)


So how can I help you move forward faster?


Well, I could do something like this Trunk or Treat Sign Up Sheet Template for free. But I can do way better than just that.


Let me introduce:

The Gospel Trunk or Treat Planning System

trunk or treat planning system graphic

The Gospel Trunk or Treat Planning System INCLUDES:

Trunk or Treat Planning Templates and Documents

trunk or treat planning checklists

These documents include:

1. Trunk or Treat Gospel Script

Most churches just give candy... they never get to the sweetest story of all! But we teach you exactly how to do a trunk or treat outreach that is centered on the Gospel story.

But more than that, it's a Gospel story that is fun and engaging... with a Gospel Script you can use to train your volunteers to be story-tellers at your church's trunk or treat event.


Want to share the Trunk or Treat outreach ideas with your congregation or your volunteers? Let me save you 100 hours of prep work by simply editing and printing what we already created for you. You can get these worksheets and signup sheets already "good to go" to fast-forward all your preparation for putting on a successful trunk or treat outreach this fall.


2. An 8-week Trunk or Treat planning Checklist

Stop worrying if you're missing steps.


3. A Trunk or Treat Volunteer Info Sheet

This will help with the clear communication we talked about earlier!


4. A Trunk or Treat Follow-Up Marketing Plan

I'll talk more about this below.

A Trunk or Treat Coloring Book

Candy Thru The Bible - trunk or treat coloring book

What if you provided something that kids could take home? Something that the kids could interact with? A way that they could hear the stories again?


We created a partnership with In the Gap, a great character training organization, to produce a coloring book that recaps all the stories in the Trunk or Treat Stations! Plus, it includes a QR code to the playlist of the stories! (And the Gospel Trunk or Treat Planning System includes a printing license for as many copies as you want to give away!)

Trunk or Treat Social media ads, already prepped...

example of trunk or treat facebook ads

The Gospel Trunk or Treat ad was the most successful Facebook ad I've ever run. We got tons of engagement, comments and shares. In this package, I share the exact script we used, and the images as well.

You can plan a Trunk or Treat outreach, with your marketing plans already prepped for you!




Volunteer training slides for your Trunk or Treat

Every church wants to know: How can we train more Trunk or Treat volunteers? What trunk or treat stations should we include? How can we decorate our trunk or treat trunks with a Bible story theme?

trunk or treat volunteer training slides

The Gospel Trunk or Treat system includes slides to train your volunteers and give them YEARS worth of ideas that our volunteers have developed!

Trunk or Treat Audio files in English AND Spanish...

gospel trunk or treat audio training for volunteers

During COVID, we had to do our Trunk or Treat as a DRIVE THRU. We took the opportunity to develop the stories in an audio format, with background music and some sound effects.


We also did a Spanish language version as well!


Even if you're not planning to do your Trunk or Treat ministry as a drive through, you can use our MP3 files as a training tool for your story-tellers!


How to do follow-up From Your Trunk or Treat

In my recent post about Trunk or Treat mistakes to avoid, I talked about the importance of collecting information. We've done this in different ways:

  • Register attendees with a physical form, such as a connection card

  • Use an online registration such as Google Forms with a sign-in station

  • Use a text message service such as Textedly.com.

In the Gospel Trunk or Treat system, I actually include a detailed description of what we do for follow-up, to drive behaviors that we feel are high-value for our church's mission.


Conclusion

Congratulations! You've now mastered the art of trunk or treat organizing. From choosing the perfect location and theme to gathering participants and creating stunning trunk decorations, you have all the tools you need to plan and execute a successful trunk or treat event.


Remember, the key to a memorable trunk or treat experience lies in community engagement, creativity, and safety. By following the step-by-step guide outlined in this article, you'll be able to create a festive and safe atmosphere that brings joy to children and adults alike.


So go ahead, transform your parking lot into a Gospel-preaching venue, and become the go-to Trunk or Treat in your community. Happy trunk or treating!

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