Next week I’ll be attending my 44th consecutive Children’s Pastors Conference. Though I’ve been to more kidmin conferences than can be counted. Sometimes I am privileged to get to do some Equipping and Encouraging as a workshop presenter or speaker – but usually I am just glad to be there to learn, connect, discover new resources and network.
Let me share some tips I’ve learned over the years about how to MAKE THE MOST of whatever kidmin conference you are attending – you invest a lot of time and energy and resources to attend a conference, you might as well be sure you get everything you can out of it!
#1 – Don’t try to do everything! This sounds contradictory to “getting the most” out of a conference, but conferences, by design are LOADED with opportunities to learn, connect and gather tools. However, if you attempt to DO everything offered, you may actually miss out on some of the best things there, or be moving so fast, you miss the people in the midst of the stuff to do. Keep in the mind:
The conference is there to serve you – you are not there to do what the conference has planned for you!
So be smart. Determine your goals, look over what the conference offers and if you need to skip a workshop session (or even a general session – gasp!) to accomplish your objectives, that is fine! Sometimes a one on one meeting with a key person may be more valuable than a general session with some famous leader pontificating over a bunch of stuff you’ll “Amen” but already know.
#2 Make the most of meals. Hey, you gotta eat – but you don’t need to eat alone, and trust the sovereignty of God to place you near some people that just may be exactly who you need to talk to. Of course you can, and should, schedule meals withe key people – but even when you just end up at a table with some folks – find out who they are. What are they looking for? Struggling with? Trying that is new? You’ll be surprised to discover you can learn as much from a table mate as you can in a workshop by some well known trainer. After all, notoriety doesn’t make someone more valuable. Having what you need is the key! And that person accross the table or standing next to you in line may just be the “secret source” of information you are seeking!
#3 Visit EVERY Booth in the Resource Area. Let’s be honest – some of the exhibit booths are pretty cool. They’ll have huge displays, wide screen HDTV displays and sound systems. The money they can pour into a booth must mean good sales from a super product, right? It also can spell: F.L.U.F.F. Often times I have discovered that the plainer, smaller more humble looking booths – while they may not stop you in the tracks, may actually have some fantastic resources in them, created by people who have put all their heart and soul and last penny into creating that resource after it worked at their church, and they are trying to share it with the world because it worked so great in their ministry. So make a point to visit every single booth. Even when you don’t think you need, want or have any interest in a booth, stop in and visit. After all, that is a brother or sister in Christ, right? Listen to their story. It’s not always about buying something – it may be about a connection later that you you’ll make between them and someone else, which builds the Kingdom of God!
#4 Interview Regular People. I know one of the highlights of a conference like CPC is you get to meet or see some folks who you look up to or who have really been a blessing to you – either through their ministry or the resources they have created. But remember, being well known is just an earthy attribute that means nothing in the Kingdom of God. I remember once when a fellow asked to interview me at a CPC. He had a list of all the folks he wanted to meet and get a few minutes to talk to. While I was honored to make his list, I asked him several questions about his own ministry. As it turned out, he had been in ministry longer than I had, had more kids, more volunteers, and more formal education at the time. I encouraged him by saying, “Sounds like you are the true expert between us!” And I proceeded to interview him about things I was struggling with in my church ministry. He got his questions addressed from me, but so did I! My point is, the expert you are looking at may not be teaching workshops, be at a famous church, or be published or have a blog/website. They may just be busy doing the work of the ministry and have a lot to offer you. How do you find these people? You get to know everyone who crosses your path at CPC – you’ll find treasures everywhere!
#5 Social Network Like Crazy. Use Facebook to post – add new people to your Friends – and I recommend Twitter too. Because at a conference there is usually a hashtag for the conference. If you don’t know what that means, it is a tag you put in ALL your tweets about the conference. At CPC this year the hashtag is #cpc14. If you put that in your tweets, not only will your regular followers see your tweets, but anyone who clicks on #cpc14 in anyone’s tweet will also see your tweets, whether or not they follow you! It increases your readership of your tweets. Plus, YOU should be following #cpc14 (or the conference hashtag) so you can read what others are tweeting and check to see if you are following the the #cpc14 tweeters, and if you aren’t – start! (This also applies to the children’s ministry hashtag #kidmin which is good all year around!)
#6 Collect Contacts Like Crazy. As you meet people, get their contact info. Build your network at a conference. You will be amazed how you will need and want this information later! If you collect business cards, add them to your smart phone asap. Under the “company” or “notes” you can put #cpc14 and something you remember about them for future reference. Remember, it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know. And meeting new people and connecting is great – but you need to be able to extend that relationship beyond the conference!
#7 MOST IMPORTANT: Schedule Down Time to Read, Reflect and Rest. I remember when I got back from one of my first CPC’s and my senior pastor asked me, “When did the conference end?” When I answered, “Yesterday,” he said, “Then what are you dong back?” It was a subtle hint that I needed to add on extra time to process what I had learned, discovered and been exposed to. So I have often added on an extra day so I could just enjoy the resort/convention center without the crowds and slowly pray and process all that had happened the past few days. If you must get back right away, than plan a “day away” back home ASAP to go over your notes, all the paper you collect at a conference, and consider what changes you will implement. Much of what you hear/see at a conference will be things that excite you – but a lot of it is preaching to the choir – it’s stuff you already know. Other things won’t work in your situation back home. Some things you need to consider how to modify or adapt to your environment or church culture. This takes some time – and if you don’t make the time for it, all your conference “stuff” can end up on a shelf and no real change will take place in your ministry despite all the time and money invested in the conference. And that is not a good thing!
If you will be at CPC – please drop by the Kidology Booth and say hello. If you see me walking around, do not hesitate to stop me (even if I look busy) to say hello. If you want to chat – so do I!
Whatever conference you attend – make the most of it! Be intentional and connect with people. Remember, the Church isn’t the stuff that’s for sale, it’s the people doing ministry with us. So make connections that will last a life time. Resources are wonderful, but people are eternal.