At the time of this writing, we’re in the middle of a hot spell. We’re talkin’ triple digit heat indexes, A/C units that run for days without stopping, and power bills that cost more than a car payment. Hot is just what we do in North Carolina during the summer.
I have a question about the guest tent outside. This is an idea I’d like to implement but I’ve run into push back because of the unpredictable winter weather here in North Central West Virginia. I know the weather is more mild where you are. I guess what I am trying to figure out is, do we just not put up the tent in the winter? Do we move it inside? What does Summit Church do when the weather becomes a factor?
There one baseline rule for everything I preach on this blog: consider your context. Don’t try to cut and paste the exact mechanics of a multi site church in North Carolina (average annual low temperature: 47.8º F, annual rainfall: 48.1 inches, average BBQ consumption: a lot). It’s fine to clone the principles, but contextualize your particulars (our principle for our tent is found here).
I think there are five considerations when it comes to weather:
1. Remember the why. Our “why” for a tent is that it provides a neutral zone for guests before they walk into an unfamiliar building. From a facilities standpoint, a lot of our lobbies are roughly the size of a broom closet in a college dorm room, so shoving something into an entryway isn’t an option. The tent allows a guest to self-identify and get some personalized assistance. Not all of them take us up on that offer, but the ones who do are typically quicker to connect to the body at large. For that reason, our goal is to have the tent outside every weekend year round. With that said…
2. Provide for volunteer (and guest) comfort. Wherever your tent / welcome station lands, you have to make sure your most important resource (your vols) are taken care of. Provide fans and water bottles in the summer, heaters and hot chocolate in the winter. If you have them standing on a concrete floor, consider an anti-fatigue mat for the tent area. Most tent manufacturers will also sell walls / flaps to protect from wind (though I argue that makes you look more like a fireworks stand than a bastion of hospitality).
3. Plan a weather window. Decide how hot is too hot and how cold is too cold, but be careful not to plan down to the tiniest blip on the thermometer. Remember that 55 degrees and sunny is vastly different from 55 degrees with a light rain and 25 mph winds. Our rule-of-thumb window is roughly mid-fifties to low nineties, considering factors like breeze, precipitation, shading, etc.
4. Develop a rotation system. If the weather is less-than-ideal but not impossible to deal with, consider an alternative. If it’s raining but not pouring, really hot but not sweltering, or really chilly but not freezing, then put one volunteer and a small table outside, dead center under the tent. Put all the rest of your vols, information cards, and gift bags inside at an easily-accessible station. Outdoor vol can still engage with guests, but as they approach the tent, can offer to take them inside where it’s more comfortable. As they make a beeline for the indoor station, another vol rotates outside to catch the next round of guests. In this model, no one is outside more than a few minutes at any one time, and guests still have that neutral zone before walking in.
5. Know when to surrender. While we don’t deal with major weather extremes in the Tar Heel State, we do have a little thing called hurricane force winds. There are no sandbags or tent weights on earth that can withstand a category 3, even 150 miles inland. So yes, there are weekends when a tent is simply impossible. But even for us, if we are honestly processing through steps 1-4, we can count those weekends on one hand and still have some fingers left over.
Those are my five. But here’s the big idea: whether you’re in Barrow, Alaska (-56º F) or Buckeye, Arizona (125º F), you need to make your guests’ first steps as easy as possible. That could be a tent or an ice cave, but figure out what helps them, and put it into practice this weekend.
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