How to Maximize a Pastors’ Conference
Here are 15 suggestions as you prepare and plan for your next pastors’ or leadership conference.
by Justin Lathrop
My position affords me the chance to meet influential church leaders, thinkers, and writers. One such leader is Leonard Sweet. I made a trip to the airport with him. He said something I refer back to often, “The greatest distance between any two numbers is 0 and 1.” It struck me as an accurate mathematical description of the power of networking in ministry. There is no power in zero. It’s a place to begin, not a place to stay. We cannot multiply our influence until we connect with others.
In my first two articles, I discussed the value of a broad base of ministry connections and how to build that network in a healthy and profitable way. Leadership development is one important activity a pastor can invest in personally and professionally. I am not convinced, however, pastors understand how to maximize these opportunities to expand their base of personal connections while exposing themselves to new and innovative approaches to ministry.
Here are 15 suggestions to consider as you prepare and plan for your next pastor or leadership conference:
Before the Event
- Determine what you want to accomplish by attending this event. I have at least one goal for every event I attend. If I do not have expectations going into the event, I will likely miss an important opportunity to expand my network and increase my influence.
- Review the speakers’ list in advance. Do not wait until you register at the event to review the main speakers. Go to the event’s website. Determine who you are most interested in hearing. This will help you plan your time to make connections.
- Ask for a list of churches or people who will be attending. Sometimes event organizers will post a list of churches or organizations that have registered. This may or may not be available. When it is, pick out a few people with whom you want to connect or reconnect.
- Connect before you get to the conference. Schedule time with people in the general geographic area who might not be attending the event. Do not limit yourself to just what happens at the event itself. Consider a reasonable radius around where the event will take place.
- Post via social media what event you are attending. See who responds. You might discover people who are following you online that you did not know were paying attention. People who are connected online are usually people you will want to connect with in person. They are likely to share the same goals you do.
During the Event
- Determine to make the most of the event. Do not sleep in, take 3-hour lunches, or cut out early for dinner. Your organization spent money for you to attend for leadership development and personal enhancement.
- Seek workshop or breakout leaders. They are often easier to connect with than the main speakers. Ask to meet them for coffee or lunch. Never waste a meal by eating alone.
- Put yourself in a position to meet new people. Reuniting with friends is good, but expand your network with new connections. Attend at least one social mixer.
- Visit the exhibit area. Preview products and services that might help you be more effective. I have discovered wonderful products, services, and people who have been important connections for me simply because I walked through the exhibit hall. I usually end up with some free stuff for the kids.
- Search social media sites to see what others are saying about the event. Event organizers will often designate a hash tag (usually a word or phrase preceded by the “#” sign) designed to make it easy for participants to see what other people are saying about an event. Perform this search a couple times each day to help you stay on top of what is happening and what others are excited about.
After the Event
- Purchase the audio package of main speakers if it’s available. Many leadership events now make the audio (and even video) of all the main speakers available to event participants and the general public. Do not miss the opportunity to make a new connection because you opted to hear your favorite speaker live. You can always catch the audio on the plane ride or drive home.
- Send a personal note to the new connections you made. Whether electronically or by hand, send a note after the event to make a lasting impression. Try to do this within 2 weeks of the event. Include your contact information.
- Add those new people to your social network lists so you can follow what they are doing. Whether you are using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or all four, find the people you met at the conference online. Social media makes it easy to stay connected on what’s new in their ministry.
- Develop a follow-up system that will ensure you stay connected between conferences. I have a process that works for me. It gives me a plan to follow that helps me stay connected. If I did not have a plan, I would not be able to stay in touch with anyone.
- Evaluate within 30 days whether or not you should attend the same conference next year. Try new conferences and events. If you have been in ministry for any length of time, you probably have a few favorite events you like to attend each year. Evaluate every event, every year. Determine whether or not it is helping you make new connections and helping you grow in your leadership skills. If you decide to attend again, book the event in advance. Organizations will often extend a discount to participants who register early.
I hope you are beginning to see and experience the value of expanding your network of influence. Ministry is about connecting with people, learning from others, and joining with others as we work together to maximize our impact in this season of our leadership.
Building a ministry network is not about moving our professional careers forward. It is how God designed us to build His kingdom and carry out the Great Commission. If you are doing ministry alone, you are missing out on part of God’s blessing.
Intentional habits that lead to new and long-lasting relationships are the key ingredient for those who leave a legacy in ministry and those who simply perform a specific duty, for a specific congregation, for a specific period of time. Jesus showed us how to do this by demonstrating He could change the world with 12 ordinary men. God never intended us to do ministry alone. Commit to a lifestyle that results in building relationships and making new connections and you will multiply your impact.