ReThinking How We Do Conferences

meetingsA couple of months ago I started a series called ChurchTechCamp-8 Things To Know If You Want to Help Organize One. You can see my last post, with the previous posts at the bottom. I actually did have 8 posts within me, but got distracted which is easy for me to do. I could continue those posts, but I think I’ve made my point….(and to be honest, it’s part of my letting go process of perfection…I don’t need to finish 8 posts…haaa).

Conferences are changing, and the traditional way of doing them will disappear for many, but the few elite ones.

Church Crunch had a recent post, Hey Where’s My Conference?!?!

Eric Jones writes:

Has anyone else out there become aware of all the church conferences going on around the US? We’ve got leadership conferences, worship leader conferences, youth ministry conferences and more. It seems like every time I turn around I see a new conference popping up for my pastor, associate pastors, church staffers, worship leaders etc to attend.

I like to check out these sites to see what, if anything am I’m missing. The speakers are all people I typically am aware of and have much respect for. The topics are as expected, slanted towards church leadership and church staff.

But then I started to wonder, what about me? What about the church attender? Where is our conference circuit?

Cynthia Ware at The Digital Sanctuary says this in The Idea Camp Lives On (Idea Camp):

The entire event (free, of course)is still openly challenging all of us who are used to paying for conferences to see speakers we can listen to rather than those we can collaborate with.

And yet, Generation “We” seems to clearly resonate with a new set of values. Open source cross-pollenation, dynamic conversational collaboration, elevating innovation, celebrating creativity, participating, dreaming, designing, doing.

A taste of things to come.

So I’m wondering where you stand on all of this conference stuff. I know some people are frustrated with the sheer number of “conferences” or “unconferences” popping up, while others are thrilled.

Personally I think we are in the midst of the sorting out process, as people discern what is of value, and what is it worth paying for…if anything. And I think we are seeing the desire amongst one another to collaborate and work together on projects and topics, rather than just listening to speakers all day long up on stage.

I think that this next year or two will definitely help determine the course and agenda for the future of conferences and gatherings, and with a down economy it’s only forcing the issue of what is worth attending and what is not.

What do you hope to see in a conference, gathering, etc.?

What 3 conferences are you willing to pay good money for because you see them as delivering high value?

Which conferences, gatherings have the most collaborative environment among the participants and presenters?

Will you look for more free conferences, or low cost ones, rather than paying a higher amount for ones you have attended in the past?

I’d be curious to hear what people like DJ Chuang of Leadership Network, Rob Thomas of ECHO, Brad Lomenick of Catalyst, Tony Steward of ChurchTechCamp, Greg Atkinson of Church 2.0 and Charles Lee of the Idea Camp would have to say on this topic. They all have the experience of putting on both large and small conferences and gatherings, some for cost, some for free, with all kinds of different environments. And they all do a great job delivering great value.

I wonder where they see the future of conferences and gatherings going? Or where would they like to see it go?


  1. by Bonnie on March 12, 2009  12:40 pm Reply

    I'm not a big conference-goer but I do really like the idea of one that fosters collaboration rather than merely sitting passively *or* speaking actively. "Cross-pollenation, dynamic conversational collaboration, elevating innovation, celebrating creativity, participating, dreaming, designing, doing" -- all sound fantastic!

    And yes, "low-cost" is also nice for those of us with small budgets for this type of thing :-)

  2. by Cynthia on March 12, 2009  1:18 pm Reply

    Hi Rhett... still pondering all of this. I'm wondering if there's a "both/and" application here. Large conferences do provide us with the opportunity to hear amazing speakers and we do have to pay in order to hear them. I wouldn't hesitate to pay to hear Donald Miller talk about "narrative" for example. It's worth the money to be so inspired.

    But, I also get inspired at collaboration (and I certainly couldn't collaborate with Donald, for example) so collaboration (and free or at least cheap) offers things I can't get other ways.

    Maybe we'll see more hybrids?

  3. by andrewminchew on March 12, 2009  4:20 pm Reply

    my favorite conference so far... TED. and i've never been, and never paid a shiny nickel for what I got from it.
    it seems to me that these conferences are about innovation, inspiration, and collaboration, but for the most part, all of that can happen via the web, and be accessible to an even wider group of people.

  4. by Jonathan on March 12, 2009  4:44 pm Reply

    The one conference I recently attended and will attend again this summer is the UMASCE Consultation. (United Methodist Association of Scholars in Christian Education). It is a group of scholars, church workers, and writers who come together to discuss education, community, and the future of the church. Each event there is a theme, usually with a keynote speaker who speaks briefly then the crowd breaks off into small groups to discuss, configure, and develop ideas around this topic for the future of the church.

    At the beginning it is stated that this is a dialogue and collaboration based event, not a sit idly event.

    I've found some good contacts and friends at this event. I really enjoyed meeting new people, and learning so much more from collaboration.

    I generally attend events more to network, be renewed, and learn new ideas from my peers anyway.

    Thanks for this.

  5. by Rhett Smith on March 12, 2009  5:48 pm Reply


    I do think it's both/and. And more hybrids is probably likely.

    What I don't see happening is the growth of larger and larger conferences, especially expensive ones that can be sustainable. I think people will start choosing just 1-2 or 2-3 a year to attend, and then take part in smaller/collaborative ones.

    So I think there is always a value in big conferences that can deliver great speakers, but there is a limit to how many of those can survive. Think of the same people we see at all the conferences. I think people will start having to become more choosy for various reasons.


  6. by Rhett Smith on March 12, 2009  11:27 pm Reply


    Agree, agree, agree......thanks for posting on this topic. I think a lot of us are thinking like you are....


    Awesome. Who doesn't love TED? So true, you haven't forked over a dime and you get the highest quality of message possible sitting in front of your computer. It will be exciting to watch how online collaboration changes the face of conferences and gatherings even more in the near future.


    What's cool about that too, is that it's your community it looks like, meaning people within the denomination. So you have a direct investment back into that community that comes as a result of collaboration among its thought leaders. I like it.

    Thanks for sharing everyone,


  7. Pingback : E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez » The Future of Conference Events - Looking after the Health of Attendees

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