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The Next Thing in Church Conferences

Think about all the conferences you’ve attended or heard about. They all have the standard format: Speaker, Break, Speaker, Lunch, Speaker, Dismissal, with little or no time built in for interaction. The audience is a passive gatherer of information. 

But with the advent of social media, conference goers today expect that their voice, in some way, shape or form, will be heard. Whether that’s texting questions to presenters live on stage, striking up dialogue with registrants at round tables or watching the event’s hash tag scroll through on the big screens, conferences are, by necessity, becoming interactive.

A new breed of gathering is emerging where dialogue is the new monologue. Crowdsourcing has given us a taste of the power of collective wisdom. Sites like Wikipedia and Answers.com show us that, when leveraged properly and with certain parameters, the “crowd” can become a downright solid source of verifiable information. The “crowd,” as it turns out, knows things.

For example, we leveraged “the crowd” for this article by gathering their responses to this question through social media channels:

What are some church communications best practices?

Here’s a small snippet of the answers we received:
“Effective communications has less to do with sending the right message, and everything to do with releasing the right response. To release the right response with anyone, you’ve got to take time to figure out what makes your message worth their time; figure out how it relates to their world.” –Kem Meyer, Granger Community Church (@KemMeyer)

“For every piece of communication, before you do anything else, determine the goal. Do whatever you need to do to gain clarity about the desired outcome and keep it in front of you during the entire creation process” –Lori Bailey, LifeChurch.tv (@LoriBailey)

“If your goal in church communication –whether you’re designing a bulletin or launching a social media campaign–is something other than serving people, stop and start over.” –Scott McClellan, Echo Conference (@ScottMcClellan)

“Resist broadcast mode! Megaphoning (a.k.a. “sermonizing”) prevents listening. Ask as often as you answer.” –Cynthia Ware, Pepperdine University (@CynthiaWare)

“Our main job is to be effective. Creativity that’s not effective is self-serving and wasteful.” –Maurilio Amorim, The A Group (@Maurilio)

“The most important part of communication is empathy. If you can’t identify with your audience, you probably won’t reach them.” DJ Hurula, ONE Brand Studio (@OneBrandStudio)

“Put your benchmarks against what God says is possible, and not what man has achieved.” –Kent Shaffer, ChurchRelevance.com (@KentShaffer)

“Every aspect of every communication (from grammar to design) shapes your reputation.” –Kendra Golden, LifeChurch.tv (@KendraGolden)

“Earn the right to speak by listening first.” –Mike Mirza, North Park University (@Mike_Mirza)

Savvy conference promoters are tapping into the knowledge and wisdom that comes built-in to literally every conference: The Audience. The Audience becomes less of a passive spectator and more of an active participant in the event’s overall information architecture. The conference-going experience becomes increasingly robust as we find ourselves not only immersed in a learning environment, but contributing to it as well.

For example, we’ve structured the upcoming Cultivate conference (May 4-5 in Huntington Beach, Calif., hosted by First Christian Church ) to give registrants the opportunity to provide the content and takeaway value for churches of all sizes and forms.

“Rather than just getting experts to talk up front, [Cultivate is] bringing in a panel after each short talk to discuss implementation and contextualization,” Cultivate panelist Scott Overpeck says. The conference is venturing into new territory that other gatherings like New York City-based 99% Conference and TED are pioneering where the audience helps drive the conference’s content.

Where have you seen this new approach work? What conferences or events have you been part of where you were able to contribute significantly to the overall experience?

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Justin Wise is the Strategic Communications Director at Monk Development (http://monkdevelopment.com), a web strategy and solutions company. Justin also serves as the co-director for the Center for Church Communication (http://cfcclabs.org).