Let me preface this by saying that the opinions I share in this post are generalizations about churches - not anything personally directed at you or your church. I am a pastor at a church. I LOVE the church, and would never want to say anything do it harm. But, I do think it's OK to challenge people's thinking.
Each Halloween, I get a little bit agitated. Don't get me wrong - I love the frivolity of the costumes, the spookiness of the season (not REAL spookiness, mind you), and of course the booty of candy my kids bring in that night (plus any leftovers the in-laws may have). No, my ire has nothing to do with Halloween itself. It's many churches' approach to Halloween that raises my blood pressure.
Like you, I drive by countless churches during the month of October with signs, banners, and LED boards with these three words: Trunk or Treat. Clever.
But, this idea has evolved over the decades. When I was growing up, my school always held a Fall Festival. There were games, crafts, costumes, dunk tanks, apple bobbing, and lots of good food. The church - lacking in creativity - adopted this idea and began holding their own Fall Festivals. Same idea, but just lots of church people, with lots of church fundraisers mixed in.
In general, when it came to Halloween, the church has been against it. The Fall Festival was, in theory, a way to get people together to celebrate the autumn season, while in no way acknowledging Halloween. One online resource I read says, "the term was created to replace the traditional Halloween party because of fundamentalist rhetoric that Halloween is a satanic holiday. It is not a satanic holiday, by the way. It is a celebration of the autumn equinox which has been celebrated by Christians for many centuries, and by pagans for many centuries before that."
Here's how I believe churches evolved the idea from Fall Festival to "Trunk or Treat." Churches that offered a Fall Festival noticed that their congregants were still being drawn into the secular world of All Hallow's Eve. Families who attended a Fall Festival on October 25 were still going trick-or-treating on October 31. Churches thought they would "wise up" and offer something which would force families to choose between their ultra-safe, insider-focused church event and trick-or-treating, which involves families being around - oh my word - people who don't go to church. The horrors!
So, the church, once again incredible in its ingenuity, came up with the term "Trunk or Treat" to make sure we all knew that it was staking its claim on this "holiday." They said, "We'll still allow kids to wear costumes, we'll hand out candy, and we'll replace those wacky tricks people play on one another with sitting in the trunk of your car (or tailgate of your truck). In doing this, churches who have a Trunk or Treat have communicated to their congregants, "We don't have a problem with Halloween or with trick-or-treating. We just don't want you doing it with your un-churched friends in your neighborhoods."
Do I believe all churches who hold a Trunk or Treat think this way? Certainly not. But, I do think these churches need to really think through the real reasons they are holding the event. If it's for safety, I'd say, "When is the last time any you know actually got a razor blade in an apple, or were poisoned by candy?"
Most churches already have the reputation for being too insider-focused. They consider reaching their community holding a Trunk or Treat or Vacation Bible School. Instead, I believe churches need to be looking for more opportunities to serve others outside their walls, and empowering their people to influence others - even through trick-or-treating with their families.
BTW - I pulled the Trunk or Treat image above off a church website.