Last week I was debating on whether or not I should attend the ECHO Conference, mainly because I was pretty exhausted from just moving here. And second, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to pay the $329 for the conference.

I debated, but ultimately I felt like it would be a great opporunity to take part in this new conference. I thought I would make some good connections and hopefully some friends as well. And last, I hoped to really take away some valuable things from my time there.

Hands down, it was one of the best conferences I have been to, and I have been to a lot. I realized on Friday while I was looking at the snack table and pouring some more Starbucks coffee for myself, and for that $329 fee I was easily getting my money’s worth between the great speakers, the great food, the great connections, the challenges put forth, etc.

At this point, let me just state a few of the highlights for me and what really stuck out for me.

  • Hospitality: It was the most hospitable conference that I have been to.  It began on Friday when I swung by only to pick up my registration packet and head home. I wasn’t planning on staying since I had my daughter with me.  Two young women offerred to hold my daughter for me while I walked around the place too see what was going on and to find Cynthia Ware.  First, let me say that I would never just hand my daughter over to complete strangers, but there was something in these women that made you feel like you knew them personally as friends.  Great people to have at the front greeting conference attendees.  But I did.  I passed my daughter to the two of them and I walked around, only to come back and find my daughter having a great time playing with one of the women’s i-phones and smiling.  Thank you Haley Thomas.  That type of hospitiality continued all three days of the conference and it was one of the easiest conferences to mingle amongst not only the attendees, but the speakers and workshop leaders as well.  Great hospitality.

  • De-Centralized/Flattened Leadership: This is a really important ethos for what I want leaders to embody. And even though I knew who was putting the conference on and who was in charge, it was nice to watch them serve people all three days, and not be above setting up things, helping cars find parking spots and being there to resolve any issues that may have arisen.  You just don’t see that enough.  Most speakers and leaders are often the first to leave after they speak and never stick around to help with the day to day work.  So props to Rob Thomas and the people at Igniter Media, those at Worship House Media, and Scott and the crew at Collide Magazine.

  • Great Challenges from the Speakers: I’m sure if I were to poll the people at the conference everyone would have something different to say about each speaker.  I didn’t attend all keynote sessions, but I did attend Donald Miller’s and Mark Batterson’s.  Mark had me thinking all weekend about the quote he shared by Martin Luther: “It is wonderful’ proclaimed Luther, ‘how at this moment in history all the arts have come to the light…like the art of book printing, God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of Gospel is driven forward.”  His challenge that Christians and churches should be on the leading edge of innovation, and who of us in the room would develop that tool to drive the gospel forward has been echoing in my mind a lot.  And Donald Miller’s message on “Story” was amazing.  It held special importance to me because my wife and I were listening to that message about 6 months ago (he had given it at Mars Hills in Michigan; check here for it) as we drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix to visit my family.  After his message all we could think about was the story God had given us and were we truly living in it.  That message gave us courage to continue our move to Dallas, and to hear Miller give it on Friday night was confirmation of God’s grace in my wife, daughter and I’s lives as we had safely made the journey from Los Angeles to Dallas…desiring to live a different story than the one in LA…desiring to live the story God had given us.  I know many of us are still chewing on that talk as it continues to resonate with us.

  • Networking: This is probably one of my favorite things to do at conferences.  But there was something different about the networking going on here.  It wasn’t the typical, here is my card, and if you can meet my needs, then we should hang out more.  Rather, I genuinely felt like that the people I networked with are people I want to spend time with.  Over dinner, drinking coffee, going to church, dreaming, etc.  The networking had a sense of humility and friendship, and I think it was evident that people’s connection with Christ and ministry is what motivated them, and not money and power.  That is a very different feel.  So at the end of the day, networking was about friendship and dreaming together, not money and fitting a peg along someone’s ladder of success. I have to believe that that tone was not only set and embodied by those putting on the conference, but also those who came through the door.  I am looking forward to the new friendships, and the times we will eat together, play together, and dream big dreams together.

  • Innovation and Creativity: Truly the keynote speakers, lab leaders and workshops were led by people doing very innovative things in their field. So no matter what breakout you attended or speaker you heard, it was always challenging and refreshing.  Who saw the creative work of Barton Damer and was amazed?  Everyone.  Those are the type of people doing ministry that a conference needs and ECHO had plenty of them.

  • Christ, Church and Ministry: No matter who I came into contact with during my time at the conference, I was impressed with which everything came back to Christ.  It is Christ who has given us our gifts, our talents, our relationships, and it is Him that we glorify when we use our gifts, and so in humility, always pointing towards Him who has given us such grace.  I was excited that not only was Christ evident during our time there, but people were concerned about ministry.  How does what I’m doing affect ministry?  How does it spread the gospel and enhance ministry?  So the talents and gifts and creativity were embedded in the local church of these people and they all came together to learn from each other.  Obviously not everything must be tied to ministry and church, but when it’s a conference on media arts and church, well, it’s nice that it lived up to its billing.

I learned a lot, made a lot of new friends and was encouraged by the passion in others. And I’m looking forward to many coffee times and Mexican food lunches and dinners here in Dallas with many of you.

You can find some of the notes from ECHO here.