“Safe Halloween” Events vs. Neighborhoods

November 1, 2012

Why promote "safe Halloween" it's not dangerous?

For Halloween this year, I decided to dress up to make distributing candy more fun. But we only had a trickle of trick-or-treaters. With time to kill, I went to hang out with a spontaneous clump of neighbors.

The older couple next door who has lived here the longest said, “Oh, back in the day, we used to have lots of kids come through.”

“What happened to change that?” I asked.

“Well, churches and schools started hosting Halloween events, you know.”

And it hit me. In an effort to create “safe Halloween” events, these groups are sucking the life out of neighborhoods.

Is Halloween unsafe?

What’s the underlying cause of the fear?
Not knowing our neighbors.

What’s up with “safe Halloween,” anyway? Was it ever dangerous? Sure, I understand that some people live in high-crime areas, and need to exercise caution. But not your rank-and-file middle-class folks. No, I’m talking about the boogeymen of Halloween: the poisoned candy, the apples with razor blades, the abductors in the dark.

Even when a neighbor brought her son over to our house, she verbally approved our candy as he reached for it, saying, “We trust you.”

But this stuff is either urban legend, or way overblown. Do you know anyone who has suffered from poisoned candy or razor blades? I didn’t think so. And if you have the sad occasion to know someone who was abducted, did it happen on Halloween night? What are the odds? No greater than any on other night.

Overreacting to unfounded fear is natural. But by promoting “safe Halloween” events, our churches and schools actually feed that fear. And what’s the underlying cause of the fear in the first place?

Not knowing our neighbors.

So what do these events do?

They pull kids away from their neighborhoods.

In other words, we’re making the problem worse.

Safe Halloween: Break the fear, be missional

While Halloween is fresh, I encourage you to get out and talk with your neighbors. There’s no guilt, no casting blame here — I’ve been part of the problem before. But see if you can have a conversation about your neighborhood, safety, and creating stronger community. What do they think? How would they feel about beefing up the neighborhood?

And let’s talk about Halloween with folks in our Jesus communities. If your church hosts a Halloween event, ask yourselves why. Attractional and missional aren’t completely incompatible, but instead of trying to draw people out of their neighborhoods, wouldn’t it feel more like Jesus to send people into their own neighborhoods?

And let’s not even talk about “church alternatives to Halloween”…

Photo by Brittany Randolph (license)

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

13 responses to “Safe Halloween” Events vs. Neighborhoods

  1. Christmas comes to mind as the next season where churches host gatherings at the church parking lot … what if …

    Churches gave up on marketing themselves through a big event in their parking lot (with Christ hopefully shared there) and instead expand on your Halloween thoughts and go into the neighborhoods. Take the live nativity scene to different church member’s and maybe even to a non-member’s homes and host a mini live nativity on the front lawn. Leave the offering baskets far away. A church could do a different home every night for a couple of weeks. And a larger church could do more than one home a night. They could go into neighborhoods where they have a presence and they could go into neighborhoods where they ought to have a presence pouring out His Love. Just a thought. Enjoy!

    • Chuck, what a terrific idea!

      Running with that idea, I wonder what churches without nativity scenes could do. Maybe in addition to having a candlelight service singing Christmas carols, we could host such things in our own neighborhoods.

      There are no shortage of creative ideas. The big thing is to make the mental switch.

  2. Ironically, I just had this same conversation yesterday. Our neighborhood was dead and the culprit was most likely the zillion “Trunk or Treats” hosted by every single church in our town.

    • Kevin, I had to look up “Trunk or Treat” to know what you were talking about.
      Ouch, ouch.
      Can we flip the idea on its head somehow, and make our neighborhoods awesome for trick-or-treating, getting neighbors to mingle? And what would it look like to pool our creativity and prep work?

  3. Linda L Lanning November 3, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. We seem to be “helping” our culture by aiding it in killing community. The saddest part of this is that we lack any depth of community IN the church itself. And then we wonder why people don’t want to come to church, why our efforts to “evangelize” the lost so often fall on deaf ears, why “attendance” keeps shrinking, why so many people get burned- out and drop out.

  4. Thanks for the post Jon.

    For our neighborhood, Halloween is one of time times you get to see all of your neighbors. We have a neighborhood with a lot of young families. We’ve done block parties and yard sales together. In an earlier part of life, my old church would have a “halleluia night.” We wanted to give the kids an alternative to going out for halloween. Really, what we did was give people an alternative to spending any time with their neighbors. It was Christians ghetto-izing themselves.

    • Darren,
      Congratulations on your escape from the Christian ghetto! What you describe (block parties, yard sales, etc.) is what I want to grow in my own life, and what our church is teaching.

  5. my church culture isn’t so into making halloween physically safe as it’s about being spiritually safe. in the build up for our trunk or treat, there’s a lot of talk of “being a light on this dark night.” proposing that we “take away” that light would be an uphill battle. even though the neighborhoods are empty and even though every church in town now has their own trunk or treat.

    we’re a long way from getting out of the ghetto.

  6. I agree. Doing a Christian event for Christians on Halloween is a missed opportunity to engage the community.

    I have seen a church do an Outreach event for Halloween. They saw well over 100 people respond to a creative presentation of the Gospel, grant it the church is over 10,000. Regardless of the method, the mission is to reach out, not isolate.

    • Steven, I’d go further than that. A “church event” is still sucking Halloween out of the neighborhoods and misses the point. I’d rather have churches find ways to bless the neighborhoods in which they share life together, instead of creating an alternative neighborhood. So instead of putting on one massive event on church property, a large church can send its people out to put on a hundred parties in a hundred different neighborhoods.

  7. It’s not like this is only churches — Hewlett Packard has a ‘safe’ trick and treat around the cubicles, as does the mall…

    Here it’s also not all that uncommon to get have freezing temperatures at that time of day on Halloween, so indoor events have a certain appeal! As far as safety, the main concern is not poisoned candy — it’s excited kids running around streets in the dark. Halloween is the number one day for kids’ pedestrian fatalities.

    We’ve actually done the stay at home and go trick or treating thing for a few years now (thinking last year was our last to have an actual trick or treater ;0) and frankly, just staying home all those years hasn’t brought us closer to one neighbor (in spite of our best tries.) All the ones we actually had more than a 10 second conversation with we’ve met other ways around the neighborhood. It’s not like people stick around to talk all that much; generally all the kids are on a ‘grab as much candy as you can in the shortest amount of time’ mission. And our neighborhood is aging and a lot of the neighbors are just not wanting to hand out candy. They aren’t going to safe events, they are just turning off the porch lights and going to watch a movie in the basement. Looking around last year, ours was one of about four houses with lights on on our street.

    I also see events at our church pulling its neighborhood together — we are in one of the poorest parts of town, surrounded by trailer parks where drug use and violence is an everyday occurance. We haven’t done Halloween events in a few years at our church, and I actually was thinking the other day that in our church’s neighborhood, those kids do NOT have a safe neighborhood to just have fun and get candy (I wouldn’t want to go for a walk in that neighborhood after dark.) If the church was in my neighborhood, no need — where our church is, there IS a need…. and it’s not like those kids can go elsewhere (often those families don’t have transportation, and the trailer parks have the river on one side and industrial areas all around otherwise.)

    So I guess I am ambivalent on the subject.