The funniest outreach ever

One summer night in 2007, Pastor Jan Greenwood raced around the NRH Campus to find space for the surprising number of women who showed up for Gateway Women’s first Laugh! Night. The parking lot was completely full, and women were sitting in the halls, the aisles, and the floor of the Auditorium. “We had 750 seats available, and 1,300 women showed up!” Pastor Jan says. “I remember trying to smile as I ran through the building to find extra chairs while thinking, where did all these women come from? Clearly there was a need for an event like this.” Needless to say, Laugh! Night was the social event of the season. The next year, it was moved to the Southlake Campus, and within a few more years, it was being offered at multiple campuses. Now, 10 years later, the event is still consistently packed.

The creation of this evening of comedy was the brainchild of Pastor Debbie Morris. Women tend to carry a lot of emotional weight—family, children, career— and Pastor Debbie wanted to find a way for them to get together, have fun, let their hair down, and unplug. The answer was laughter. “We can get so stressed sometimes, but when we laugh and enjoy each other’s company, things don’t seem so hard,” says Hannah Etsebeth, associate director of Gateway Women events. “We come out seeing straight again. In that way, laughter is spiritual.”

The first Laugh! Night involved an awesome female comedian, a brick wall, and a microphone, and it’s only grown and evolved from there. Recent years have included themes such as “Cirque de Laugh” and “Laughopoly” along with live comedians at every campus. It’s become much more than your ordinary women’s event—it’s become the funniest outreach opportunity around. “It’s really easy for people to invite their friends, especially those who wouldn’t normally want to come to church,” Hannah says. “And we’ve seen over the years that when we come in with a simple, non-churchy agenda, God does amazing things.”

Although it varies year to year and campus to campus, there are often spontaneous altar calls at the end of the comedian’s set. There have been several Laugh! Nights where the altars have been flooded with women receiving salvation, rededicating their lives to the Lord, or simply looking for prayer. “Some of the most profound spiritual experiences during these nights have not been orchestrated by us. They just happened,” Pastor Jan says. “It may seem odd, but it works, and it’s always so relaxed and powerful. Laughter disarms the heart.”