Top 5 Ways to Enjoy a Risk-Free Fall Season

Help your church promote community togetherness and family fun while keeping everyone safe this fall.

As members of your church return from summer vacation trips and settle back into the routine of work and school, your ministry has an opportunity to regain momentum, too. Here are some suggestions to help your church promote community togetherness and family fun while keeping everyone safe.

1. Fun on the Farm

Fall is a great time to visit a local farm. Hayrides and corn mazes are two popular activity choices. Here are some suggestions for blessing your church family with a fun time while keeping everyone safe.

HAYRIDES

Each year, thousands of churches sponsor hayrides. This activity offers a great way to forge lasting memories and relationships, but it also can be dangerous. Improper equipment and unsafe routes can result in injuries and even death. Follow these safety precautions to make sure your event comes off without a “hitch.”

Enlist the service of a tractor driver who agrees, in writing, to “indemnify and defend” your group for injuries or damages. Assist the driver in planning the route for the hayride. Your route should avoid hazards such as steep hills, sharp turns, bumpy terrain, and on-road travel.

Use a well-maintained tractor and wagon. Depending on the time of your hayride, it may be wise to ask your driver to check the strength of the tractor’s headlights. The tractor also should have towing specifications that qualify it to pull a loaded wagon.

Ask the driver to keep the tractor on the prearranged route to avoid any surprises that could bounce a rider out of the wagon. Assign an adult spotter to accompany the driver in the tractor to help keep an eye on safety. Also have adult chaperones sit in the wagon to make sure passengers stay seated during the ride and to assist individuals in getting on and off the wagon. Don’t allow those on the wagon to jump off. Provide a small ladder or stepping platform.

Refer to this resource for more guidance.

CORN MAZES

If you live in a rural area, autumn is when cornfields become opportunities for fun. Your church’s youth are sure to enjoy this classic thriller. Here are some quick tips to help your ministry manage the risks.

Select responsible adult volunteers prior to your event. It’s best to have two adults accompany each group of four or five children through the maze. If you don’t have enough chaperones to put two in each group, assign groups to single adults for whom you have background checks. Chaperones should carry a small flashlight and a cell phone, in case of emergency. Station an adult volunteer outside the maze who groups can contact for assistance. 
Instruct participants not to run or lag behind, so groups do not get separated. Groups also should stay on the path. Passing through standing rows of corn stalks can cause scratches and skin irritation.

2. Harvest Events

Autumn is a beautiful time to go outdoors and make lasting memories. Some churches have found “harvest events” such as trunk-or-treat and pumpkin carving to be fun fall traditions. Keep your ministry and your people safe by selecting responsible volunteers.

TRUNK-OR-TREAT

For this classic youth activity, vehicles are parked in a designated area, decorated, and filled with candy for participants to collect. Here are some tips to help your group put safety first while enjoying this fun fall tradition.

Share prepackaged, commercially-made treats instead of open desert trays and bowls of loose candy. October marks the beginning of flu season, so your ministry should do its part to prevent the spread of germs.

Clearly mark your trunk-or-treat area so it is not mistaken for general parking. Participating vehicles should park before the event starts and remain until it ends. Dusk comes earlier in the fall, so you may need to provide lighting to protect your group from slips, trips, and other accidents. It is also wise to make sure your ministry has adequate liability insurance.

PUMPKIN CARVING

Pumpkin carving is a great way to spend an evening. Proactively prevent risks to make sure a good time is had by all. 
Only adults should use knives and carving tools. Those carving should work at least an arm’s length apart. Ensure that the carving area is clearly marked and separated from activity areas and walkways.

If your group decides to make jack-o-lanterns, avoid fires by using battery-operated lights or glow sticks instead of candles. Between 2009 and 2013, fire departments in the U.S. responded to 25 fires caused by candles per day, on average.

If you decide to use candles for any reason, use sturdy candle holders that will not tip over, and keep flammable materials at least 12 inches away. Confirm that your ministry has adequate property insurance, in case of a fire.

3. Thanksgiving Gatherings

Bake some cornbread, stir up the cranberry sauce, and don’t forget to stuff the turkey. As you count your blessings this Thanksgiving, don't forget to include the gifts of health and safety.

FOOD SAFETY

If kitchen volunteers prepare a meal this holiday, planning ahead is key. Determine the amount of food you expect, and have adequate refrigerator and kitchen space ready. Make accommodations for those with food allergies. Also designate a play area, so children are not tempted to wander into cooking areas.

Here are some safety tips that you might consider passing along to your kitchen staff:

  • The safest method of thawing a frozen turkey is to put it in a refrigerator and to wait one day for every four to five pounds that the bird weighs. Never thaw frozen meat at room temperature, because this allows bacteria to grow, which can make people sick.
  • Ask volunteers to use a food thermometer to make sure the bird reaches a temperature necessary to kill all bacteria. Using a food thermometer is a simple way to prevent food poisoning, yet in a survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 77 percent of respondents said they did not regularly use one. 
  • Never use outdoor fryers. The hot oil and flammability hazard posed by these devices increase the risk of a fire.

Help promote safety by providing food thermometers, rubber gloves, hairnets, and signs that list the temperatures to which meat should be cooked. For more guidance, refer to the Food and Drug Administration’s Cooking for Groups resource.

DRIVING

Some churches deliver food to community members on Thanksgiving Day. Other ministries provide transportation to and from a location.

If your church sends out any vehicles on Thanksgiving Day, remind drivers to take special care. Thanksgiving is the most dangerous time to be on the road

4. Fall Festivals

Celebrate the changing of seasons with outdoor games, baked goods, and fellowship. Follow these guidelines while planning your event to keep everyone safe and healthy, ensuring a fun time for all.

YOUTH ACTIVITIES

Games are a great way to help your church’s youth develop confidence and teamwork skills. Clearly mark the perimeter of each activity area, and explain rules at the outset of every game.

For athletic games, explain which types of physical contact are and are not allowed. Set up teams so that children compete with those of similar age, size, and athleticism to prevent little ones from being hurt or knocked down.

Make sure you have plenty of adult volunteers to keep an eye on safety.

BAKE SALES

Bake sales attract lovers of delicious confections and charitable causes, alike. Second helpings? Yes, please! Here are some tips to help you put safety first at your event.

To stop the spread of germs, keep baked goods individually wrapped and in closed containers whenever possible.

Tell volunteers to avoid making perishable foods, such as cheesecakes, meringues, custards, and cream-filled pastries. Remind those who work with food to wash their hands for 20 seconds and to wear gloves. Those who handle food should not also handle money.

Your ministry may need to obtain a permit or temporary food license to sell or serve food. See this resource for more information.

5. Tailgate Parties

Tailgate events are another great way to build community. Toss the pigskin while you listen to the savory sizzle of burgers, but stay mindful of risks by taking the following precautions.

SETUP

Clearly mark your tailgate area so vehicles don’t accidentally drive through it. Keep children and guests away from hot grills. Set up tailgate games in safe, uncrowded areas.

HANDLING RAW MEAT

Thaw frozen hamburger patties and other meats in a refrigerator, not on a countertop. It is important to keep raw meat outside the temperature range of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range is known as the “danger zone,” because it allows bacteria to grow, which can make people sick.

Bacteria also grows in the juices of raw meat. Put thawing meat in sealed packages to keep it from contaminating ready-to-eat food and eating surfaces.

If you plan to grill at your tailgate event, transport sealed meats using a cooler, and make sure that the temperature of the meat stays below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

GRILLING AND SERVING FOOD

When grilling, use a food thermometer to make sure meats reach the following temperatures:

Poultry

165 F

Ground meats (hamburgers, bratwurst)

160 F

Beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks; roasts; and chops

145 F

Leftovers, reheating

165 F

Do your part in the fight against germs by providing hand sanitizer at the beginning of each serving line. Help make sure meat doesn’t set out too long by offering it on small, frequently-replenished serving platters. Meat that is left on serving platters for two hours should be chilled immediately (40 degrees or below), using a refrigerator or cooler.


Additional resources

Refer to these related resources for more information.

Fun on the Farm

Harvest Events

Thanksgiving Gatherings 

Fall Festivals

Tailgate Parties