If you are a pastor, student ministry pastor, worship leader or other church staff member, there is a good chance you have been involved in a conference or weekend ministry somewhere along the way. I don’t know how many conferences and ministry events I have been a part of over the years. I have been invited to lead some, I’ve been a volunteer for a few of them, I have hosted many of them, and I have been on the planning and preparation side of things. I believe in the importance of having special events for Christians – it’s a shot in the arm of faith. After being in the same setting for so long, it’s good to break away from the routine and learn from others. Often, our greatest moments of clarity and decisiveness come when we are away at a conference or retreat. [Read: Why Large Events Will Always Be Part Of The Church]
I know there is an extraordinary amount of work that goes into making a great conference, retreat or weekend ministry event. Here are five simple things I have learned (and continue to learn) for hosting a conference – big or small. If you intentionally invest in each of these areas, you’ll be in good shape for the event you are hosting.
The more prepared things are, the better the experience for all involved. Preparation helps the speakers do their best, helps the people who are serving feel successful, and most of all, helps the participants really experience something great! There’s no substitute for good planning. From the vision to the details. Getting things rolling in preparation will save you lots of headaches during the event. You need to know the basics: when, who, where and why. Asking “Why” might be your biggest motivation for preparing thoroughly. Why do you want to host this event? Why are you going to invest the time. What outcome do you expect? Prepare for the date, for the space used, for the program, for the details, and by asking people to join you.
Pulling in the right people for leadership will pay big dividends in the long run. Different people have different passions, skills and resources – so be careful as you build your team. To make the conference great, you need to partner with other people to use their skills and gifts. For most ministry events, there is a speaker, possibly some sort of music, a production team, a hospitality team and a promotions team. Partner with people who can help your event be better – display tables, online promotion tools, volunteer teams who can assist during the conference, etc. Invest in your planning team. Meet with them, equip them, and give them access to you and the information needed to make it great.
One mistake I see very often is the amount of time people put on the program details in lieu of promotion. Conference event planners spend tons of hours making sure they have the right number of seats, paper work finished and other little things, but don’t invest the needed time in getting people there. I often have fallen into that same trap, overwhelmed with inner workings and details of planning and forgetting to make sure people will attend. You don’t get a crowd because you planned the details well, you’ll get a crowd because you told people about it and invited them to attend. (As a side note, you must also make sure things are well planned – I’ve also seen great promotion that over-promised and didn’t deliver once people signed up). Promotion is one area where you can delegate, but you must also pass off your passion for why we are promoting. It must come from the heart. You’ll need to invest money in this too! Use all the free tools available, and invest some money in making sure you really reach the people who need to be there. READ: How to increase attendance at events in just twenty minutes READ: 11 Steps to Effortlessly Plan and Promote A Ministry Event
Putting our trust in God and bathing the event in prayer is a huge deal. I typically always invite my prayer team to pray with me as we are serving during an event. We also spend time as a leadership team praying for the event. We pray at planning meetings, we pray before rehearsals, we pray for students who will be coming, we pray before the weekend, during and after. Bath your ministry in prayer. Trusting God through prayer allows us to be present and to serve joyfully.
I have probably learned more about perseverance from the times when things have failed. At one of the first large scale youth worker weekend conferences we had, we invited Duffy Robbins to speak. He stood up in a huge room, with only a fraction of people we had hoped would be in attendance, and he presented his talk with strength and energy, like it was a packed house. That event made an impact on me. He didn’t say anything like, ‘we’re small but mighty” or “it’s a light crowd, but we’ll have fun.” He went with the plan and it was great! You need perseverance during conferences. If you have too few people, you need to work continue creating energy and pinch hitting to make schedules work well and for things to seem full. If you have too many people, you’ll be constantly readjusting as the event goes on. You’ll need to persevere when things don’t go as planned. And you need to persevere when you plan to host this event for three years and the first year doesn’t seem to take. Stick with the plan. I have experienced that it takes about three years to get something like a conference off the ground. Stay connected to those who attended and encourage more connection for the following year. As a side note, don’t feel like you have to make it an annual event forever and ever. Ministry conferences, like most other things in life, run their seasons. Have fun while it’s working and be content to wrap it up when it’s finished it’s life cycle.