AnkenyIA2_inlineANKENY, Ia.—With a hot-air balloon glowing overhead, nearly 500 Ankeny residents enjoyed an evening with their families and got to know Ankeny Baptist Church at its Fall Harvest Festival.

“We had to take a year off from the festival last year, and we actually had people around town asking when we were going to hold it again,” says Assistant Pastor Jason Blunk. “So it was exciting to bring the festival back even better this year.”

The event featured numerous inflatables such as slides, obstacle courses, and a bounce house. Activity stations throughout the church building offered face painting, pumpkin decorating, and caricature drawings by a professional artist who attends Ankeny Baptist. In the parking lot and lawn areas, young kids rode a train pulled by a lawn tractor, and families took a hayride. A radar gun let young athletes test their pitching speed, and a fire pit in the trees stayed busy with families making s’mores throughout the evening.

During the festival’s first two years, winds were too strong to allow the hot-air balloon to get upright. But a calm night this year let the operators raise the balloon and fire the burner, creating a beacon visible from far down the road.

Blunk credits much of the strong attendance to church members’ dedicated effort to spread word of the event throughout Ankeny. The youth group handed out approximately 1,200 brochures during canvassing nights. Facebook postings that church members shared with their networks were seen by at least 2,200 people. Church members also worked with dozens of local businesses to gather drawing giveaway items including car washes, restaurant gift certificates, and sports tickets.

Along with putting Ankeny Baptist in contact with hundreds of community members, the festival carries high value for the church’s members. “It takes more than 50 volunteers to pull this event off,” said Assistant Pastor Brad Fincham. “It makes a real impact on our people to pull together on a big project like this, getting to know other church members they may not regularly interact with. We see it as a true building block for our entire year.”

After the festival, church members systematically follow up with families via registration cards they filled out that evening. “It’s a very natural follow-up call,” Fincham says. “People have such a great time at the festival that they’re glad to see someone from Ankeny Baptist when they visit their home.”