In the last post I looked at the value of conferences for the development of our staff – as an opportunity to get to know other leaders and grow our network of advisors.
In our organization (Cru) most staff love staff conferences, but there’s definitely seasons where staff get conferenced out. On top of our staff conferences, we typically have 4-5 student conferences that we put on every year (August Leadership Retreat, Fall Retreat, Winter Conference, January Leadership Retreat, Spring Break trip/conference).
It seems that a lack of enthusiasm for staff conferences comes from three sources:
- They take us off campus
- We have to pay for them
- They’re mandatory
Here’s some ideas on how we can look at each of these and make conferences better for our staff.
They take us off campus
- This, for me, is the biggest cost of conferences.
- In moderation, I think conferences are a great investment (see previous post). But we’ve had seasons where our staff are off campus every other week all spring for various regional conferences. And it kills our momentum in our ministry to college students. Conferences were made for staff, not staff for conferences.
- Particularly for more isolated campuses (I live in Northwest Arkansas) travel to and from any conference costs me two days. That’s before we even get to the conference.
- We need higher-up leaders to help protect the local level from unnecessary conferences. Because the reality is there’s often not communication between the different regional/national leaders as to how many conferences we are asking our staff to go to. Someone needs to step up and say, do we really need this conference? Could we accomplish this objective in another, less costly way?
Maybe they do this already, but maybe regional leadership could keep a 12-month view of a typical staff’s year, a typical Team Leader’s year, a typical intern’s year, and think through how often they’re off campus.
We have to pay for them
- To be blunt, that’s why you raise support. To be able to develop as a minister of the gospel. Not to be cheap. You can be bitter about having to pay for all those conferences. But your life in full time ministry will be FAR more enjoyable if you just suck it up raise enough support to account for conferences.
- BUT, Team leaders – consider investing financially in your staff’s conferences. It communicates “We believe in you, and think you’re a great investment! We want to invest in your training give you time to pull away and sharpen your saw.” For our region’s Field Training in February we’re investing $200 in each of our staff. Hopefully they feel the love and see the week as an opportunity rather than an obligation.
- I wonder if we should make more conferences optional. It would definitely affect how people come into the conferences (begrudgingly or eager to learn). I understand that there are some conferences we need everyone at. But there are some that we don’t.
- The danger in mandatory conferences is a lack of excellence and making them worth it. If we made some conferences optional, it would force us to make them worth it – to make them useful enough that staff would pay to be there! It’s what we do on the local level – every conference is “optional” for students so we work our tails off to 1) make them excellent and 2) convince students of the benefit of the conference for their growth. Consequently, every year our student conferences are greatly improving. Because the free market forces us to innovate and improve.
- It’d be great if we could integrate our conferences with the New Staff Development (NSD) that interns and staff already have to complete. If by going to the Sent Conference, that is required for all Interns, they could have checked off a complete module of development (because really, that’s better content/development than the 8-12 hours of official NSD they would be doing, and the same amount of time). That might help interns/staff see how a conference is moving them forward, helping them progress in their development.
- We should heed this wisdom from Brian Virtue: “Eliminate any of them that can even remotely have their objectives met in an online context or distance format. If you can do it without forcing people to travel and spend time away from their family and context, then you should. If you’re doing it because it’s always been done or because it’s a source of income then you’re behind the times and contributing to oppression by conference.” (it would be worth reading all of Brian’s thoughts on conferences here).