Why Do We Need Christian Conferences?

Christians love to attend conferences. It’s exciting to hear new voices and get new ideas from people who are different than we see or listen to every day. I’ve only attended a handful of conferences over the years, but usually found something worthwhile about them.

The problem is that conferences are often expensive, and laypeople often cannot attend them. While pastors or other church staff may have a professional development fund in order to pay for the cost of the conference, the average church member does not. Even if the conference cost itself is reasonable, there are travel, lodging, and meal costs that are involved as well. Attending a conference could end up costing around $1,000 per person after all of that is taken into account.

But I have to wonder, what are we doing wrong in our local churches if we continually have the need for conferences? That there is such a huge market for conferences tells me that we are missing something–or failing at something–in our local churches.

But what?

I’ve attended conferences on:

  • organic church
  • leadership
  • pop culture

I’ve also attended a local one, called Day of Encouragement, put on by Dordt College, that I thought was well done and very informative. It wasn’t flashy, but it was well-organized and had great content. I attended sessions on domestic violence and healthy churches as well as heard Chuck DeGroat, author of Toughest People to Love, give two keynote speeches. The breakout sessions were given by local speakers and leaders.

At each of those conferences, I was introduced to ideas and ways of thinking that I haven’t ever experienced in a local church setting. I was exposed to people, ideas, and books that I would not have necessarily come across on my own. There was time to discuss the ideas, not just listen and leave. There was food and fellowship (and very little music).

It almost seems as if the conferences gave me what church is supposed to give me.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

It almost seems as if the conferences gave me what church is supposed to give me.

During a church service, we have music, prayers, a sermon, greeting time, and outside of that we often have “small groups”. Unfortunately, we don’t have time during a church service to ask questions, discuss the sermon, or eat (unless you have small children; then you can get away with sharing their fruit snacks). Greeting time is a short time to smile and say hello to people (and risk spreading germs with all the hand-shaking), but not a time for in-depth discussion. Many churches offer small groups or Sunday school classes, but much of the time, people are afraid to speak their minds or ask questions that they are really thinking about. Often, the curriculum contains question that lead people to answer in certain, safe ways that doesn’t allow for a variety of thoughts or opinions. It provides for a somewhat false sense of community or depth because often, when the class is done, the group members rarely see or talk to each other again.

Why do questions and discussions seem to be able to be done at conferences and not in our local churches? Is there a way to bring that experience to the local church so that people can experience some of the topics that are “off limits” or simply unavailable and unaffordable to many?

Click here to see a calendar where Caris Adel and I are collecting Christian Conference information.

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