CONVENTIONal Wisdom: Learning from the business

Conventions and Conferences are big business

Chances are, 6 out of 10 people reading this have attended a two-day or longer overnight gathering that identified as a conference or convention.  Since the turn of the century, conventions have grown exponentially, both in the number of them, and the number of people attending.  While it’s difficult to get a handle on the numbers, best estimates suggest that 40 million Americans now attend one of the 500,000 conferences and conventions hosted each year in the US.  That’s a lot of people!

These are big money generators for host cities and facilities. They add revenue, visitors and attractiveness to a city.  It's possible that conferences and conventions are becoming a substitute for the local church by providing the espresso version of social capital and Meaning . 

Conventions are designed for like-minded people to network, and they are designed for a heavy download of meaningful information.   When I read the literature from CONVENE, the industry magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association (of which I receive a free subscription – thanks PCMA!), what I see is a growing sense from the industry that their work is to create safe, welcoming environments for social networking and that their keynotes must, absolutely must, inspire and ignite.  Sound familiar?  The articles in the most recent magazine focused on inclusion, on how to get people to come to conventions year after year, and engaging creative approaches for widening convention/conference reach. 

So, here in a nutshell are some things to think about in terms of what Conventions/Conferences might teach us.  I’m not going to connect the dots. I think you'll find it easy to do by yourself.

Why people attend out of town conventions and conferences

  • ·         To gain social capital – they’ll meet people of common interest or who can support their work
  • ·         Gain knowledge, skill, deeper connection to the topic and the most recent innovations
  • ·         Like how it serves their development as a person or professional
  • ·         They have to because it’s a requirement

Cost to attend

  • ·         Travel time, conference time, TIME
  • ·         Registration, Lodging, Travel, MONEY
  • ·         Temporary loss of local relationships

Convention Facilities

  • ·         Designed for functionality and access
  • ·         Prioritize visitor needs
  • ·         Clean
  • ·         Predictable spaces and furniture layouts
  • ·         Provide necessary IT and Equipment
  • ·         Accessible for hearing impaired and disabled

Convention Swag

  • ·         Name tags – always
  • ·         Agendas – always
  • ·         Take home momentoes

Conference Structure

  • ·         Keynotes who are engaging and inspiring
  • ·         Breakouts that are planned to optimize the total experience
  • ·         Social time designed to capitalize on networking those who don’t know each other

So, take just a couple of things – like swag and breakouts.  What if we as churches designed our Sundays to visitor friendly? Would we give out a free coffee mug with our church logo (super easy to do and not that expensive)?  Would we design our Sunday mornings with breakouts that might include say, three choices for adults and teens during the Spiritual Formation time? 

If we take the best practices from those who are succeeding in gathering people across hundreds of miles, who are giving the time and treasure in exchange for what they offer, we might strengthen our capacity to attract more people to experience the greatest meaning of all – life in the fullness of God’s love.

--Rev. Rebecca Ragland