How (not) to plan a missionary activity

I know that a lot of people have strong feelings about Trunk or Treat activities. (For those of you who don’t know what Trunk or Treat is, it’s when a bunch of adults park their cars in one place on Halloween and lure children to their trunks with candy. It’s actually pretty messed up, when you think about it.) I do not have strong feelings about Trunk or Treat, or rather, I don’t really understand my own feelings about Trunk or Treat because I can’t separate them from my feelings about Halloween in general. As a child, I loved Halloween, as all children do. As a teenager I completely lost interest in it, and as an adult I can hardly stand it. I recognize that this is a personal failing. I have never attempted to deprive my children of the joy that Halloween can bring, because I know how important Halloween is to kids. Just because I hate it and think it’s a pain in the neck doesn’t mean I want to spoil it for everyone else. But mention Trunk or Treat to me, and the only reaction I can dredge up is “gah, more Halloween.” So I don’t know if Trunk or Treats are inherently good or bad, or if they’re potentially good or bad depending on certain variables. I just know that they’re part of Halloween and so I don’t care.

I say all this by way of disclaimer because my post today is not about Trunk or Treat per se, but it involves Trunk or Treat, and I just don’t want people to lose focus. Put your feelings about Trunk or Treat on the back burner and listen to (read) my tale.

Our ward has done Trunk or Treat every year for at least as long as we’ve lived here (about 12 years). We have always held it at a local park because it is a convenient location. Non-Mormon families from the neighborhood come to the Trunk or Treat, not just members, because hey, it’s there, and hey, free candy. It’s also over pretty quickly because hey, free candy. Then everyone goes trick or treating for real—because with the exception of the year Halloween fell on Sunday, we’ve always had Trunk or Treat on Halloween.

This year the ward has decided to hold Trunk or Treat the Saturday before Halloween. The feedback they got from ward members was that parents of young children find it a pain in the neck to do two different activities (i.e., Trunk or Treating and trick or treating) on the same night. I personally don’t understand what is so difficult about doing both in one night, or rather, I don’t understand what is less of a pain in the neck about dressing your kid(s) up and taking them out in the rain and mud on two separate nights—but everybody’s different, and I’m sympathetic to parents who find things a pain in the neck. Some ward members are delighted by the change; others—like my husband—think it’s the stupidest thing they ever heard of. But the weird thing about this change, and the reason I’m blogging about it instead of shrugging my shoulders or rolling my eyes, is that now we’re going to have Trunk or Treat in the church parking lot (where I think most wards have their Trunk or Treats) and we’re going to offer cider and donuts so it can be a missionary activity.

Why do I think this is weird? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m pretty sure our missionaries have always (usually) attended the Trunk or Treat, even when we held it at the neighborhood park. I’m also pretty sure most non-Mormons attending our Trunk or Treat knew that it was a Mormon-sponsored activity, if only because they knew the Mormons handing out the candy. (We’re all from the same general neighborhood, after all.) I’m not against cider and donuts (not by a long shot), but I don’t think moving the Trunk or Treat to the church and putting it on a different night is going to make it a more successful missionary activity. First, our church building is not inside our ward boundaries, nor is it in comfortable walking distance. There is a freeway between us and it. Second, if you’re already going trick or treating, it’s not such a big deal to walk past the park and get some free candy from the Mormons. If the Trunk or Treat is held a) not on Halloween and b) not in the neighborhood, that creates two hurdles for people to get over if they’re going to attend the Trunk or Treat. In my mind, creating new hurdles is not the best plan for making something a missionary activity.

I can’t think of any reason why a non-member would be excited to get their kid(s) dressed up on an extra night, put them in the car, and drive them three miles away so they can attend what is essentially a really lame Halloween party. (I understand three miles is not a long distance, but it’s too long for kids to walk, and if you have to get little kids in a car, it’s almost too short a drive to be worth it.) A full-blown Halloween party with games and food and whatnot? Sure. I mean, maybe. I’m not much bigger on parties than I am on Halloween, but some people like them and will go out of their way to attend them. But Trunk or Treat isn’t really a party. The best thing about Trunk or Treat is that it fills kids’ bags up with candy really quickly so they don’t have to spend as much time doing real trick or treating. Why would a parent want to dress their kid(s) up and drive out of the neighborhood to get them a bunch of candy (and possibly a donut before they all run out) two days early? Are they afraid they won’t get their money’s worth out of the Halloween costumes that are only worn once? Are they afraid their kids won’t get enough candy on a single night and think they should probably stock up ahead of time to ensure the kids get enough pounds of candy to last them until Thanksgiving? Ordinarily I think I am able to see things from a variety of different viewpoints, but I’m just not understanding the motivation here. I know why Mormons would do this. (Why do Mormons do anything?) I don’t know why non-Mormons would do it. It just seems like kind of a hassle for not much payoff.

This is assuming ward members are expected to invite their non-member friends to the Trunk or Treat. Such a thing would never occur to me, but I guess some people would do that. I just think it seems more natural to say, “Hey, they’re giving out candy at Friendly Neighborhood Park. As long as you’re out trick or treating anyway, why not stop by?” rather than, “Hey, my church is giving out candy on Saturday night. Why don’t you dress up your kids in their costumes two days early and drive out there? There might be some donuts left if you get there on time. Yes, we are holding it at rush hour. Before it gets dark, you know!” Maybe I’m just too cynical. (Also, I’m the enemy of fun. Or so my family tells me.)

Mind you, I’m not against holding Trunk or Treat on a separate night from Halloween. Plenty of people think that’s the only way to go. I can dig that. I just don’t understand how it improves the activity from a missionary standpoint, when it’s not much of an activity to begin with. But Mormons are famous for calling things missionary activities that aren’t really missionary activities. For example, the dance festival is allegedly a missionary activity. Except that tickets are limited and they’re all going to the families of the kids performing in the dance festival. Also, who wants to give up their Saturday night to watch a bunch of dance numbers performed by untrained Mormon teenagers? Only other Mormons. These are the kinds of things Mormons tend not to think through when they’re planning missionary activities. It’s almost like they’re only thinking of what would be convenient and enjoyable for them, not what would appeal to folks who aren’t them.

I wouldn’t know how to rate a successful Trunk or Treat. To me a successful Trunk or Treat is one that is over. But it seems to me like a successful missionary activity would be one that a) doesn’t inconvenience people and/or b) is something a reasonable person would find particularly fun. (This would automatically exclude people like me, but most of the world is not people like me.) I don’t know. Maybe this post is about the merits of Trunk or Treat after all. But I don’t want it to be. What constitutes a successful “missionary activity”? What are some successful “missionary activities” that you have attended?




  1. The thing I love about Halloween is that it builds communities. My otherwise quite unfriendly, keep to yourself type neighbors are actually friendly, and don’t keep to themselves, on Halloween. Go figure.

    I must say your take on what constitutes missionary work reminds me of a story. When “Meet the Mormons” was in the movie theater here in SoCal the entire stake was all a flutter. Who doesn’t like movies they would say? Perfect missionary opportunity, amiright? I would chime in and say “If someone knocked on my door and invited me to spend $13 on a movie called “Meet the Jehovah’s Witnesses” I would not at all be interested. But perhaps that’s just me.” Some understood my point; many did not. I think we are great at blurring the line between building communities and building the kingdom.

  2. I flew the coop before trunk or treating became a thing, but when it did my home ward always had it in the church parking lot. I guess it keeps the crumbs out of the cultural hall, where we used to have Halloween parties. Now that I think about it, it’s weird that GAs (Elder Robbins, anyway) can’t even with lighting candles and praying for dead relatives (what the rest of the world does on November 1st) but are apparently cool with Halloween as outreach.

  3. I, too, am an enemy of fun. #solidarity

  4. I’ve always seen the ‘but it’s a missionary opportunity’ selling points of activities as being more about motivating the members to attend than anything else. Suddenly it’s not just a social event (especially for us introverts who don’t like social events), but if we attend we are supporting a higher cause. Bleh.

  5. I am a convert, baptized at 18. My Halloween memories are of taking a little cardboard box with UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) on the side trick or treating. Either my sister or I had to take it (we were UCC Protestants), & she didn’t like to, so I did it. It made no difference who had it. We only trick or treated at about 6 houses, since we lived out in
    the boonies, & the neighbors were all, “I’ll put an extra candy bar in your sister’s bag for you, ok?” while they dropped a little spare change in the UNICEF box.

    I didn’t really like Halloween as a kid, & I despise it as an adult. When we lived in Idaho, our children were allowed to go around our block only, accompanied by either myself or their father. After age 11, they were “too old” & no longer went. On one memorable year, our 5 year old daughter was handing out candy & when she opened the screen door, a couple of teenagers sprayed her with silly string & scared her to death, then ran off. Adding insult to injury, the silly string stained & ruined her brand new Easter Idaho State Fair t-shirt, that we had bought a week or two earlier at the fair, to celebrate winning a couple of ribbons in junior canning. She was in tears over the shirt & had nightmares for a couple of weeks.

    Now that we live in Utah, in previous years I have handed out candy to the little kids, turning off the lights about 7:30 when the teenagers start coming with their pillowcases. This year we simply won’t be handing out candy at all. For the record, we will be light #4 in a row on our cul-de-sac that will be “going dark”. I am sick on my landscaping on either side of the front stoop being broken by kids jumping off the step – and their parents telling them to jump off the step. For the last 2 years, I sat on the stoop handing out candy to prevent that, but I am getting older & sitting on concrete for 2 hours isn’t going to happen.

    Even as a child, I preferred the fall harvest party at our Congregationalist Church, which was a totally separate activity (held in October) from the big Thanksgiving dinner (held in November). I still think the emphasis is better placed on gratitude for the harvest season. Labeling it as a “missionary opportunity” cuts no mustard here – Halloween has nothing at all to do with the Gospel.

  6. To me a successful Trunk or Treat is one that is (strike: over) cancelled due to inclement weather.

    To your original point, I’m of the opinion that the best missionary activities are the ones that happen incidentally. Make an activity that is, on its own, so enticing that nonmembers will want to attend, not one that they attend because we’ve badgered them so often that at some point they feel like they have to say yes, and this particular activity seems the least inconvenient. Then let the activity, such as your “open for everyone trunk or treat in the park on Halloween” speak for itself. The harder we try to lure them in, the more artificial it becomes, the more painfully awkward results are.

  7. Jared vdH says:

    Here in Austin, Texas one of the stakes puts on a big Christmas concert every year in the beginning of December. Choir, orchestra, decorations & desserts afterward. It’s gotten so well attended that they started putting it on two nights in a row last year. That’s a “missionary activity” that I feel comfortable inviting non-members to.

  8. Chadwick – Yes, “Meet the Mormons” is a perfect example of a missionary activity that isn’t.

    peterllc – Halloween is much beloved by Mormons, probably because it’s been completely divorced from anything religious.

  9. Something I’ve noticed in our ward is that we’re always scaling down activities to make them less work. Being something of a sloth myself, I love the idea of less work. Actually, being a complete sloth, I love the reality of less work. But the fact is that most worthwhile activities–of the kind that people would actually like to attend of their own free will and not because they’re morally obligated–require a lot of work. On the one hand, we theoretically have more time for our families if we’re not spending so much discretionary time on our church programs/activities. On the other hand, we end up not really having any church activities. On the third hand, we do have a fair number of unofficial ward activities–i.e. people in the ward plan activities, and they invite other people from the ward–that people not-from-church end up attending. So maybe we’re just doing better on our own.

  10. Here’s a fun recommendation: encourage all the youth to dress up like missionaries for their costumes. That way non-members will never see it coming when they get corned by the *real* missionaries and given a BOM.

    In my neighborhood, we have basically the opposite of an LDS trunk-or-treat. The tradition has sprung up that each home will offer candy to the kids and a wine sample to the accompanying adults.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Our Ward does an annual chili cook-off with pies for dessert and a trunk or treat in the ward building parking lot. I think it is scheduled for this Saturday. I haven’t been for years (we don’t have young children at home.) I enjoy the real Halloween and the kids coming to the door for candy; I only wish we got more customers (these days 50 or so is a good year).

    And yeah, slapping the “missionary activity” on something does not make it so. People need to think about this from the perspective of those who will be invited.

  12. I was kind of surprised that Trunk or Treats are not just a Mormon thing here. On the Next Door App neighbors were asking which of the local churches or schools were hosting one because they wanted to go to one (much faster way to fill your kids’ candy bags than going house to house). There is one at the Lutheran school near my house that is apparently very popular. I’m just glad that my kids are past this point. Apparently it’s not just us though. I’m not sure the Lutheran school is using it for missionary work.

  13. Bruce Spencer says:

    I’m in agreement, the best Trunk or Treat, is the cancelled one. Our unit does it up big and I dread it every year…. and it is decidedly not a missionary opportunity.

  14. I thought the whole point of Trunk’r Treat was that you could skip the need to Trick ‘r Treat. If I recall, the first year I remember it being “a thing” was when Halloween was on Sunday and it was a way for the festivity without the pesky Sabbath-breaking. My ward’s is tonight, and when I was a primary teacher I used to go and it was fun, but I’m a single adult, and the kids I’m close to are now passing the sacrament, and I’m going to take a pass.

  15. A successful missionary activity is where people get involved. Storm clean-ups are one example. Nothing precludes me from asking my neighbor Bob if he’d like to wear a yellow Mormon shirt while cleaning up some stranger’s yard. Similarly, I can ask him if he’d like to buy gifts for some homeless kids and eat a bad dinner at a group wrapping party before the gifts are delivered to the county. Either way Bob is involved and serving around Mormons who are also involved and serving. (Bonus points if Bob never knows it’s a missionary activity.)
    Bob can be entertained without leaving his couch. You don’t change your life (and join a church) for entertainment.

    My children are in their mid-30s and I have yet to get off the couch for my first trunk-or-treat. I also have yet to see “Meet the Mormons.”

  16. Left Field says:

    I’m not enthusiastic to begin with, but when you schedule it on a World Series night, you can count on me not being there.

  17. In my ward Trunk or Treat is an “invite your friends!” activity held on Saturday, but it’s not specifically a missionary activity. In any case, I think it’s a weird ward activity and I’d prefer just a regular Halloween party, or a “fall party” or something. Mostly because I’m single and childless and there’s really no non-creepy way for me to participate in trunk-or-treating. Plus it seems a little unfair that I’d have the bring a ton of candy to cover all the kids in the ward, and then I have no kids of my own on which to impose a subsequent candy tax.

  18. I get the impression that the kind of people who decide that a church parking lot Trunk or Treat should be a “missionary opportunity” are sixth-generation Mormons who either are from the Jello Belt or at least went to visit Grandma and Grandpa back in Utah/Idaho/Arizona every summer; went to a Church-owned school and didn’t apply anywhere else; and have never really had any non-LDS friends. You can find a lot of these people well outside the Jello Belt, BTW.

    It’s the same way that a stunningly large percentage of the people who run the missionary program have never lived anywhere but the Wasatch Front except as employees of the Church (paid or unpaid).

  19. I just got back from our wards truck or treat which I feel was a very successful missionary opportunity. I personally invited 4 non-LDS families all of which came. At the beginning of the night there were hot dogs and chips handed out by the missionaries, Carnival games were happening in all the rooms (my personal favorite was black light cookie walk). At the end was the trunk or treat. I had a great time with my friends and as a convert to the church myself I appreciate when we can not take ourselves too seriously. I gave up other things when I joined the church, let me have my Halloween fun!

    Sure trunk or treat isn’t for everyone, especially those who don’t like Halloween, but I feel that it is a no-pressure family activity that when done right can be a great opportunity to show people that we aren’t boring. I mean, if the bishop is dressed as a minion the Mormons can’t be so bad!

    As a side note: I don’t appreciate comments made that separate Utah Mormons and outside of Utah Mormons. I have lived in several different states and even countries as a Mormon and what I love about the gospel is that wherever I go I find people trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ the best they can. While I haven’t spent much time in Utah I also don’t feel the people there are a different species of Mormon, and suggesting so is a very divisive thing to do.

  20. T. Mortensen says:

    Thanks cmp26, I was starting to think I was the only one that thought that way. The Fall festival or Trunk or Treat is just an opportunity for people to invite their Friends to an event so they can in part realize that we don’t just sit around and quote scripture all day, something a coworker thought till I invited him to our Trunk or Treat.
    I am sorry that for the author it has become more inconvenient. Trust me I don’t like Halloween, but I have realized that kids like it, and some adults as well, so I do it. The joy the kids that swing by my house or my trunk in the case of this activity is worth it, or should be. I do like the author’s bluntness about their opinions. Did make me smile.
    I think the point is that the activity being described isn’t any more accessible to missionary work than before. My guess is that it is more that people are trying to finally emphasize that aspect of the activity. Maybe the Ward Mission Leader is hoping that people will make special invitations to their friends.
    The Fall Festival has been one of the more successful activities we have in our Ward for Missionary work, and I am not limiting that to non-members, but also those that have stopped attending.
    Anyways, good write up and topic.

  21. NotAWitch says:

    I’m torn on the subject as well. I love the fall festival ideas where there are games and whatnot but I also don’t understand why the LDS culture seems to require some sort of additional Halloween activity. I mean, there are already generally at least two activities–school and neighborhood trick or treating. We’re overseas and we won’t have a neighborhood activity (but we did in a previous Latin America post) but we had a school one last week (American school), an Embassy one on Friday, and a ward trunk-or-treat/festival last night. The place that the trunk or treat makes the LEAST sense is overseas where there isn’t even a tradition of Halloween except in a) American schools or b) LDS wards where there have been a large number of Americans over the years injecting this cultural anomalies into the mix.

  22. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I am not a fan of trunk or treats, but this year there was a plea in behalf of one of our 80 plus year old sisters to have one so she could enjoy the sight of the kids in their costumes, which I accepted as it was a way of serving her. Nevertheless, she was sick and didn’t make it and the trunk or treat was truncated from our ward Halloween party due to the rain.

    I have to say, it was a well-attended event–people of all ages in costumes, non-members there with children, ward members with their lesser active children and non-member grandchildren were there. All for simple activities like a cake walk, fishing both, scary bowls of fake body parts, and a dark box to box crawl through. They had to turn the lights out on people when it was time to go–they didn’t want to leave. Hoping to see some of those guests come back to other church activities!

  23. Teresa Green says:

    In the past I’ve never had a problem inviting people to activities like trunk-or-treats and Christmas parties. They never came anyway. What freaks me out now is the cloak and dagger effect of inviting friends to a party and then having them get AMBUSHED by the missionaries and bishopric members. The motto in our ward is that no investigator leaves without an appointment. Mmmmkay, thanks for the heads up, I will no longer be bringing my non-mo friends. d

  24. BURR O'BRYANT says:

    start planning for the Mormon proms

  25. Our first Trunk or Treat with a kid who noticed what was going on, we had a lot of fun. They did a carnival inside until it was dark, then we went outside for the candy and donuts and cider. Trunk or Treat was fun because our little ones got to see all the costumes and decorations and their friends in costume in a relatively short time frame. I think Trunk or Treat is truly designed for those with little ones, honestly. We had tried one year to go see friends in their costumes, but duh, of course when we head out to trick or treat, they are out too! My little one was disappointed and also did not want to go further than a few houses. On Halloween night after our first Trunk or Treat we decided to dress up and answer the door, because we already saw the whole neighborhood at trunk or treat, right? And a toddler wasn’t all that interested in walking the (hilly) large ward area (even for Utah). The first family that came to the door trick or treating was 1) one we had already seen at trunk or treat and 2) a family of diabetics. I was more than disgusted that they had already hit us up and that we had had (as a Primary) to rethink any kinds of treats or activities partly because of this family and another with allergies. Yet here they were at the door….

    I’m a Halloween scrooge. We go to the Trunk or Treat/carnival and then on Halloween night, we turn off our lights and watch a fun movie in the spirit of Halloween instead.

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