As a group’s pastor, I am always looking for opportunities to equip our leaders in a variety of ways. In the past one method of equipping our leaders was to take them to a conference. Although the content was excellent, our turnout was lacking due to different barriers such as travel time, high cost, busy schedules, and childcare. Eventually I decided to try something different: host our own conference.
Over the past few years I have learned much about building a local community conference. Although this list is far from complete, these are some important areas to keep in mind if you are looking to create a conference that connects with people year after year:
1. Relevant Topics. Consider the topics important to the people in your groups as well as from other ministries that will be involved. Oftentimes, churches fall into the trap of choosing a topic based on the speaker’s recommendation or the latest “trend” in groups ministry. The conference should be of value to the people attending from your specific community, not just another event on the calendar.
2. Quality Speaker. If you hope to connect people to the conference year after year, be sure to hire a quality speaker on the topic. My church tried a simulcast one year but then decided to bring in a live speaker, in order to create better opportunities for immediate follow-up on certain questions and topics. We also found a live speaker is a stronger “draw” than the appeal to come watch a screen together. I recommend hearing a potential speaker prior to hiring them for a conference. Some questions to consider: Is the speaker engaging? Can they speak to your audience and community? Are they reliable and well-prepared?
3. Lower Barriers. Let’s face it, the enemy will always try to set up roadblocks in our lives when spiritual matters are at stake, so it is important to reduce the amount of barriers that people may face. For our conference, we provide free childcare for anyone attending. Also, by partnering with other churches, we have been able to keep the registration free. As a budget-minded parent myself, I greatly appreciate these blessings.
4. Kingdom Perspective on Other Ministries. From the onset, the goal was to include other ministries in our community. It is important to consider other brothers and sisters in Christ who could benefit from the conference but who may not have the resources available. We spend much time visiting other ministries to offer a free invitation. Each year we continue to have more ministries attend the conference, as well as more ministries that make a financial contribution to support the conference.
5. Kingdom Perspective on Community. In addition to inviting other ministries, we move the conference to a different church in our community each year. Although the conference started with our group leaders in mind, the focus has switched to the larger Kingdom perspective in our community. We do not use any church logos on the materials or the website; instead, we have a separate logo and name for the conference to help lower barriers for ministries to unite together for groups. After just a few short years, we have had a great variety of ministries coming together, including denominational churches, non-denominational churches, campus ministries, and local missions.
Organizing a local conference does require much planning and intentionality, but the benefits are great. Not only does the conference offer an opportunity for our leaders to grow, it also helps local ministries connect with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. The question that continues to ring in my head is, “What else can God’s church come together for in our community?” Learning, praying, serving together … the possibilities are exciting!
Brad Himes has a passion for training and equipping others to lead biblical small groups throughout the community. After working for a Japanese company for 18 years, Brad pursued vocational ministry. Currently, Brad is the Involvement Director at Broadway Christian Church in Mattoon, IL, an adjunct instructor at Eastern Illinios University, serves on the board for the non-profit Fit-2-Serve, and leads the planning committee for The Groups Conference. Brad and Danah have been married for 11 years and have two great boys. Danah is a Campus Minister serving EIU and is a vital partner in Brad’s journey.