How Do 5,000 People Keep a Secret?
We began planning the surprise 25th Anniversary Celebration for Mark & Sheila Beeson early in 2011. The biggest question: How do we get thousands of people to come to the event without telling him? Every man, woman and child in the church would know--could they keep it quiet? Here are some behind-the-scenes notes about planning the surprise party...
- In September, the Beeson's were on vacation with their kids and families. That would be the perfect time to tell the church about the celebration. But, we knew it was quite possible he might watch the service online either live or later in the week. So we ended each service with a closing, turned off the recorders, and the immediately said "Wait a minute! Don't leave yet!" Then made the announcement about the party.
- Beyond those weekend announcements, we did all the promotion through email and texts. We knew it would be too risky to put anything out on Twitter or Facebook, and we didn't want any print pieces laying around...so it was a stealthy effort through word-of-mouth and limited technology.
- We gave a lot of thought to making sure Mark would be in town, and at the church at exactly the right time. We knew it was possible that we could put a bunch of effort into throwing a party, and then Mark could decide to go hunting, or accept a speaking engagement, at the last minute. And then we'd have a problem. So many months ago, I called his brother Matt Beeson in Kentucky. I asked him if he would be willing to help us pull off the great deceptive plan. He was all in. So he and his wife made plans to visit Mark & Sheila, arriving a couple hours before the party. We knew that Mark values family so much, he would never change plans if he knew his brother was coming into town. Matt & Linda arrived around 4:30pm and took Mark & Sheila out to an early dinner. Then Matt told a little lie, and said that I had invited him to stop by the church to look at our blueprints for the new addition. And they arrived, right on time, as fireworks went off over the building.
- I must confess--Matt wasn't the only one who had to tell a lie. In fact, we all told quite a few lies over the past few weeks. But my personal theology leaves room for lying at such a time as this.
- Probably the biggest challenge was Mark himself. Celebrating key milestones are very important to him--and beginning in September Mark began to get very restless that we weren't working on a 25th Anniversary celebration. By early October, he was pretty agitated about it. He couldn't figure out why no one valued it as much as he did. It was beginning to occupy just about every conversation. Little did he know that it was so important to us, we had been working on the celebration for months--but we just couldn't tell him about it! I encouraged our team to be kind and caring, but do everything you can to punt the conversation with Mark past October 13th.