MADERA—Outreach events don’t always go as planned. But they’re still a success when they help a church learn to do better next time.
That’s what happened when Thrive Church in Madera held a one-year anniversary celebration this fall. Attendance was low. Pastor Josh Dolarian felt like he was “pounding [his] head against the table” and wondering, “What do we have to do to get people to come to our events?” But Thrive applied the lessons they learned to a trunk-or-treat outreach the next month, which proved “catalytic” for the congregation’s spiritual development.
Thrive had the opportunity to find an outreach method that worked thanks to two evangelism grants from the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC)—one for the one-year celebration and one for trunk or treat.
“You just have to try stuff and see what works,” Dolarian said. “If something gets some traction, that’s something that you double down on.”
Thrive has been changing plans and overcoming adversity since its inception. The Fresno-area church plant’s genesis came during the COVID-19 pandemic as Dolarian gathered people for Bible studies on Zoom. Eventually, they began meeting in his backyard then moved to a martial arts dojo. When launch day finally arrived in September 2021, a crowd of 50-60 people convened at a local high school.
Sunday worship averages 50-60 today. There are 36 official members of Thrive, evidencing that “a good amount have brought into the vision,” Dolarian said.
As the church’s one-year anniversary approached, excitement was building. Thrive reserved space at a local community center and planned worship music, treats from a food truck and kids activities. When attendance disappointed, church leaders wondered whether the CSBC would support future evangelistic events.
A second evangelism grant for the Halloween trunk or treat answered that question with an emphatic yes.
“The beauty of the evangelism grants” is that the CSBC “is so good with helping churches,” Dolarian said. “Church planting is like throwing stuff at a wall and seeing if it sticks.” The events this fall were “a great learning experience for us as a church.”
One big lesson for Thrive was that community members aren’t excited about celebrating a church. They would rather celebrate a holiday that already matters to them. So Thrive poured into its trunk or treat. More than 40 people from the church helped, and a crowd of 600 showed up.
“It brought a catalytic feeling that we’re in this together” at our church, Dolarian said. “It put our face in the community.”
Six people who volunteered to serve at trunk-or-treat joined the church as a result. One was baptized. “Looking back on it I cried,” Dolarian said. “I was so proud.”
Other churches, he said, can take a lesson from Thrive’s experience: try new things and know the CSBC stands with you as you find innovative ways to share Christ.
“Creating community excitement and blessing the community is really significant,” the pastor said. “It might take months or years,” but be persistent.
Any California Southern Baptist church that has given through the Cooperative Program in the past 12 months may apply for an evangelism grant at https://csbc.com/evangelism-grant-request/.
David Roach is a pastor, author, and professor. A native of New Mexico, he has pastored Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama, since 2020. He attended Vanderbilt University (BS in philosophy) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (PhD in church history, MDiv in biblical and theological studies).
He has pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and worked as chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee. He also has taught at several Southern Baptist colleges and seminaries and served on the staffs of churches in Kentucky and New Mexico. His writing has appeared in Baptist Press and Christianity Today among other outlets. He authored the 2021 book The Southern Baptist Convention & Civil Rights, 1954-1995.
David is married to Erin, who is from the Lexington, Kentucky, area and holds a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky. Erin served nearly two decades as a writer and editor for Baptist Press. They have three children—Caroline, Mallory, and Hutton. David enjoys reading, golf, and sports—including the Vanderbilt Commodores. But he really loves spending time with Erin and their kids.
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