The churches of Eastern Idaho have often struggled to make lasting connections with the local population in their district. Programs offering vegetarian cooking, smoking cessation and prophecy have not drawn people toward the church as they might have elsewhere. But four years ago, Ronda Cheatham had an idea to reach all of Eastern Idaho with the health message by going to the fair.
Each September, the Eastern Idaho State Fair brings visitors to Blackfoot from all over the Intermountain West region, sometimes from as far away as Texas. Thousands of people visit the fairgrounds every day. But how do you connect with people in an instant, get them interested in stopping at a church booth and talk with them about health?
The simple idea was to test grip strength. Now in its fourth year, the “Got Grip” booth has become an annual event in itself. People come back each year to compare their results with last time. Booth visitors challenge their friends, wives, husbands or kids to see who has the best grip strength. Cheatham says, “We visited with approximately 4,000 people [this year]. The first year was under 1,000."
In addition to the grip-strength testing, the booth has featured displays on the fat content in food, the sugar content in drinks, serving sizes and vegetarian diets. Each year, the displays get better, and people spend more time exploring the booth. “One gentleman who saw the sugar display last year came back in this year and said he had given up a daily soda because of the display,” says Cheatham.
Two young men, probably under 21, sincerely wanted to know how the two double cheeseburgers they had eaten that day were affecting them. They readily accepted the conversation about the importance of a good daily diet and how we all splurge now and then.
The booth is sponsored by the Idaho Falls Church, the Pocatello Church and the Blackfoot Bible Discovery Center group. Church members volunteer to be at the booth to meet the public and provide general information about a healthy lifestyle. The church members who were not able to physically help out at the fair were recruited to become prayer warriors. Prayer was offered each morning and evening at the booth, and having people pray specifically at home was a huge blessing.
Even with the success of the grip-strength testing and displays, Cheatham thinks the relationships built over the last four years have been even more successful. “We often think it is about the numbers, all of the people and whether or not they take ‘our’ literature. I maintain it is about the relationships, getting to know people, and them seeing that we are different in how we act and how we treat others," she says.