What I Learned From Putting On a Digital Conference for Churches
The following is a first person account (mine) from 1 of the 4 persons that founded the conference
"Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap!”
That was me, the morning of That Church Conference. We had been planning it since February of 2015. Today was the day. September 23rd. 107 people flew in from all over the country. California. Illinois. New York. Colorado. OH! And Nigeria!!! Not even IN this country! The conference room we booked was packed. (Actually, had the 10 people that bought a ticket and didn’t show up, shown up…they would’ve been on the floor.) The planning was paying off!!
February 26th. Dave Adamson, the Social Media Pastor at North Point Church wanted to introduce me and Ashley Williams, the former digital strategist for the Catalyst and Leadercast conferences, to a new guy in town. Justin Dean had just moved back to the ATL from Seattle where he had just um, finished up? his stint as the Communications Director for the now defunct Mars Hill Church. We all met for coffee at The Cupbearer which is where all the cool kids go to get the best coffee. After all the formalities, the topic eventually got around to all the different church conferences we had attended in the past. There was a common thread to all of them.
"No conference spoke to the digital side of the church world." - tweet that
Oh sure, there were companies that held seminars on how to do digital in the church. We were hard pressed though, to think of any conference that existed solely to help the church get better in the digital communications area that is fast becoming a real felt need in ministry.
I can not recall who said it first, but no sooner than after 1 of the 4 of us suggested we put on a digital conferences for churches, we had purchased a domain and created a Twitter handle for That Church Conference. (Credit to Dave for answering the question, “so, what do we call it?”.) Then we got busy answering the Who? What? When? Where? and How?.
We knew who we didn’t want presenting at our freshly named event. We didn’t want people representing a company that sold products or systems to churches. We knew enough people currently in the trenches doing PR, Communications, Design and Social Media. It would just be a matter of identifying and asking those that would be good communicators.
We had all been to seminars and some conferences and heard various speakers talk about their theories on various aspects of what a good digital strategy should look like in a church. We all agreed that attending an event that gave more practical advice on what was currently working in one church would translate into it being replicated more quickly in another. So our tag line,
Practitioners Over Theory - tweet that
was born. (most, if not all of the credit for that, goes to Justin)
We knew we needed a little bit of time to pull off a good event, so anything in the Spring was out. Summer never seems like a good time to attend a conference. The Fall seemed far enough away to give us the time and soon enough to appease our excitement about actually doing this. There was brief discussion about putting right before or right after the big Catalyst conference in October. A lot of the same people that we thought would pay to come to our event would already be attending Catalyst. We nixed that idea fairly quickly though. More discussion ensued around the day of the week which we figured would never be perfect, so we went with Tuesday/Wednesday to allow for Monday after Sunday meetings at the local church level to occur as well as leave time to get back by the end of the week in order to get Sunday ready. The exact date would depend on the next topic.
Man! This harder than it seemed at first! We all had our ideal space in mind, but ideal space came with a cost that we just didn’t thing we could swing for a 1st time conference. Like a I said earlier, the actual day of the event we ended up with 107 attendees. We actually thought we could get 250 people to buy tickets. What we didn’t know is how a space would “feel” with the number of people we thought would come. We also knew getting around Atlanta can be a bit of a challenge and living in the church world, we were all super conscience of expenses for travel cost. We wanted to get close to a MARTA station which is Atlanta's rapid transit train & bus system. That meant folks could fly in to the airport and wouldn’t have to rent a car if they didn’t want to. There would need to be plenty of hotels and restaurants all in the same place. Oh, AND it had to have GREAT wifi!! You ever been to a conference with little to now wifi?
Ah! The money question. None of us had a clue at first what it would cost and what we should charge. We had all been involved on other events that had sponsors, so we had to work out what that packing would look like as well. One helpful thing that we figured out early on was to not use a Eventbrite for our ticket sales. As great as they are for there analytics, tracking and day of check in, you do NOT get your money from them until about 5-7 days AFTER the event. We needed to find a service that gave us our money right away. Our end goal was to break even on the event when everything was all said and done.