When I read Matt’s post Friday about his take on regional conferences, I felt compelled to provide a response. Like Matt, I have never been to the “big” conferences. In fact, I’ve often thought about “defriending” or stop following some “big names” in children’s ministry because it seems that all they do is attend conferences and that’s not an option for me being bi-vocational with only so much “vacation” time with my FT job and my budget. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go to a “big” conference someday, but I haven’t, so I can’t compare the two.
I want to talk about some excuses not to go to a regional conference. Awana holds an annual conference in the late summer or fall with a general theme for all conferences, but each region plans and organizes their own conference, workshops, format, etc. I have been involved in conferences in three different states, helping plan some of these conferences and leading workshops (breakouts) with as many as 80+ in attendance to as few as 1 or 2 in a breakout. My first “small” conference surprised me with a mere 100 attendees. I thought why even hold a conference for so few? I was wrong, this conference was needed and truly blessed those in attendance. In these smaller breakouts, you can really probe issues the ministry is having and try to enhance their ministry. It also provides the opportunity to establish a local or regional network.
Excuses people often give is that it is the same thing year after year. That is where in a regional conference, you may be able to share what you’ve learned by leading a workshop, or breakout. You will also be around people who understand the specific culture in the region. Regional conferences (at least I know that Awana conferences and a regional conference in our area) are often also scheduled for Saturdays or times convenient for bi-vocational and volunteer ministry leaders. Though as was noted in comments on Matt’s post, a lot of conferences, even regional ones, are geared toward full-time ministry leaders. A trend I pray will change especially when most churches in the U.S. have less than 100 in attendance.
Large conferences have their place, but if they are not feasible for you, and even if they are, don’t neglect the regional conferences. They also provide a great place to learn and improve your ministry.