I've attended conferences before, but I can't recall one that was particularly memorable. They seem to be a great way to generate new ideas and maybe even spark new momentum/excitement. I remember a decade ago at a ‘Leadership Summit’, a fantastic resource that benefitted, ironically, my small business, yet was largely irrelevant for the intended application—church. I’ve been to numerous church planting conferences, but those have been more of chance to visit a new exciting city (although I still don’t know why I went to Dallas…), over listening to a particular speaker. Ultimately, the conference experience hasn't provided me with any source of significant insight. Maybe I’m attending the wrong ones….
One can certainly get caught up in the excitement of the conference fanfare. In particular, seeing how people with similar problems found wild success doing steps A, B, C. Inspiring, perhaps, but generally speaking the same people go to the same conferences to hear the same results over and over again. Application of the celebrated examples lacks. (After all it's easier to consume new ideas and hear about them vicariously, it's quite another to do something about your new idea.)
Conferences can turn into the 'junk food' of your field: awesome when you consume the first bites, but lack substance and impact over the long haul. Turns out it takes a lot of work and unique circumstance to go from zero to hero and we tire at the thought before we even get started.
But there's something that can't be consumed in tactics or strategies, and perhaps is the single reasons why you should ever attend a conference to begin with--developing new relationships.
Developing new connections with like minded people that will last beyond the 2-4 day conference affair is not only critical, but provides the greatest potential for lasting impact. Not only are relationships key to making the conference experience a win, sometimes we don't have to venture far from home to find what we're looking for.
We usually attend a gathering to garner insight shared by ‘experts’ in the field. Assuming you live in a major city, you may be surprised to find, hidden amongst 1+million people, are local experts.
For example, as I venture further into the realm of church planting and leading change in a post-Christian world, the re-emphasis of the local expert is proving invaluable to development. It’s not necessary to seek out the American guru on a subject that requires unique insight to specific context. It’s far more insightful and beneficial to be collaborators building new ideas tailored to your city or neighborhood with local leaders who can offer insight and complement your weaknesses (and vice versa).
Chances are you can find someone nearby to share ideas, expertise, and praxis, which is what the very best conference experience could ever hope to offer.
Catch Rohadi at his blog on church, community, and culture. Check out his recent adult colouring book: Soul Coats.