I absolutely love conferences. I love the intellectual stimulation, fresh perspectives, and fellowship they offer. Having said that, many conferences have experienced plateaued or declining attendance over the past few years. Some, like the National Pastor’s Convention and National Outreach Convention, have simply stopped or “paused,” altogether. I loved both of these conferences and hope they will continue at some point. Nevertheless, they represent a noticeable trend in the field of Christian conferences. It’s getting tough out there.
There are probably a few reasons for this. The first is smaller–improvements in technology have made virtually all presenters available for quality viewing, free, online. It’s a phenomenon similar to what is going on with the NFL.
Another (and larger) reason for changes in the conference culture is economic. Churches began trimming budgets and reducing staff as conference rates continued to rise–passing each other in the air. It’s taking conferences some time to adjust.
Another reason for the plateau/decline of some conferences may be the new wave of conferences that are setting a new standard of excellence in innovation, organization, programming, and price. Catalyst, Exponential, and other conferences are just flat out killing it. They have a clear target audience, and they offer second-to-none programming that changes face and perspective without losing substance, every year. They even sometimes offer different types (one-day, specific tracks, online, regionals, etc.). So, if a minister only has one or two conferences a year they can attend–the competition is now much more stiff.
Some have said some of the older conferences out there, such as denominational conventions, etc. may be in trouble over time. I hope not, for they offer different virtues.
Whatever the case, Here are some things I believe might help, and I welcome your thoughts on this subject as well:
- Pay more attention to the live experience. If you want people to show up live, make it an experience that can only really be had live. It’s OK to let people eavesdrop on it online. But, there’s an increasing need to make the live experience something really worthwhile. Perhaps a conference could provide real, personal access to the speakers for those there live. Perhaps it’s unveiling new products, plans, or ministry opportunities of the highest ilk live only. Perhaps it’s as simple as paying real attention to aesthetics–or offering all-inclusive registrations.
- Mix in fresh/prophetic voices with the traditional/respected voices. Ironically, many conferences made their names by providing a platform for challenging of the church in profound ways. I fear those voices have now become the standard and some conferences are now in an echo chamber of their own “prophetic” voices. What may be needed to give a hearing to those willing to speak prophetically to the prophetic–or something like that.
- Focus on why people are really there. If it’s fellowship, cool. If it’s teaching, that’s OK. If it’s to have their vision expanded? Great. Knowing why people attend is really important. If given two conferences a year, most ministers will choose one that will encourage them (fellowship, vision), and another where they will actually learn something that will help them in ministry. If they can find it all in the same conference–gravy. Know what you do best and do it better every year–adding new things around the edges.
- Pay real attention to the total cost of the event and offer real discounts for groups. I’ve noticed recently some conferences charging something like $99 per person, or $199 for a team of any number. Brilliant. Don’t give us a $5 discount-for-registering-six-months-early kind of thing. Make it a real discount, and we’ll likely utilize it.
- Remember the conference was made for humans, not humans for the conference. Continue to focus completely on blessing whoever attends and not on building your conference…and guess what? You’ll build a great conference.
What have you experienced in the realm of Christian conferences/lectureships/conventions? What feedback might you give? How do you choose the conferences you attend?