It was evening on December 23rd, and my family and I were decked out in our ugliest Christmas sweaters. We were headed to downtown Long Beach where we were promised a great time by New Wine Community Church. We couldn’t wait to see what kind of a party this popular new church plant had planned.

Our expectations were exceeded!

New Wine meets in a large, open shop called Made in Long Beach, and God has blessed this new church. From their hard working and gifted leaders, to their clear preaching of the gospel and the community connections, they have gotten off to an amazing start. This ugly sweater Christmas party is one example of how they have hit the right chord with downtown Long Beach. It went so well, they plan to make this party a yearly event.

Having experienced the party firsthand, I can say there were many things that caused this event to be such a success. I’ll break down the specific things I loved about it. These things might be considered keys to a successful community event.

They had friendly greeters.

When we first arrived, we were greeted by several happy people. They gave us each a raffle ticket and a drink ticket. The greeters were in the Christmas spirit, each of them wearing an uglier sweater than the next. We immediately had something to talk about because we could comment on each other’s special apparel.

They made a great first impression.

After the positive interaction with the greeters, the first thing we saw when we went in was an incredible display of gingerbread houses. The church members hadn’t made the houses (I think a real estate group had made them), but that didn’t matter. There must have been twenty houses with gum stick roofs, candies of every kind and icing snow holding it all together. We stood and admired these houses for several minutes before moving on to the back of the store.

The first thing you see when you walk in has a great impact on the guests. This impressive display set the tone.

They paid attention to the details.

In the back of the shop, there is a large area where they meet. They had used this area well. On one side, there were tables with well displayed food. The music was on the other side of the space. In between, were tall tables decorated in a consistent fashion. Each table had a table cloth, and in the middle of each table was an adorable wine bottle decorated like a snowman. Javanne’s co-planner, Jessica, said they went door-to-door at their apartment building to ask people for empty wine bottles. That was a great way to spread the word about their event and meet new neighbors. Smart move!

They were generous.

Because Javanne and Jessica had been so generous with their time in organizing this event, they had coordinated many donations from local restaurants. In a large room behind the eating area, there were tables filled with trays of donated food (kept warm with burners). Each donation was clearly labeled with a quality sign. There were even servers from some of the restaurants dishing out food and talking with potential customers! (I liked the chicken masala so much, we went to that restaurant on my birthday). People filled their plates many times over. After everyone had some time to eat, a dj drew tickets for door prizes. They gave away more donated items. Our dog, Boo, won two trays of gourmet dog cupcakes, which she devoured once we got home (well, not all of them that night). Many other prizes were given out.

So, how did they pull this off?

I talked with Javanne Brooks, wife of lead planter Terrence Brooks, about how much I loved her event. I asked her a few questions about how they put it together. Here are her answers to my questions…

How many people did it take to put the event together?

There were two main people in charge, myself and Jessica. As far as getting materials, making calls, setting up, etc., I estimate it took about ten to fifteen people.

How do you think this event effected the local community?

I believe the community was positively effected, mostly by the increased sense of fellowship that the event provided. The idea was birthed out of a concern for building community in our city, so that was our main goal. Among both residents and local business owners, people gathered together and became aware of one another’s presence. With our party being a family event, it also allowed local residents to enjoy the time with their families.

What makes you want to go through all of the hard work to do it again next year?

What makes myself and our team want to do this event again were the responses of those who attended the event. Everyone said they had an amazing time and genuinely enjoyed themselves. Knowing how much fun people had and how we had ideas for how to make it even better, inspires us to do it again and again and again.

What advice do you have for other church planters who wish to reach their own communities?

My advice for others to reach their community is to go out into the community and personally ask people to partner with you. Pray and ask God to bring whomever he sees fit, then go out, share your vision and then make it happen.

Thank you, Javanne, for sharing about this wonderful event. I pray that God will use what was started to build a strong and lasting relationship with your city.

Carol Alwood

Carol Alwood

Carol is the wife of our Director, John Alwood. She has been integral in partnering with John to plant multiple churches, and loves to spend time getting to know and encourage church planter wives across the country. Carol lives with her family in the Lakewood Village neighborhood of Long Beach and blogs at