How2 Children’s Ministry Conference: Debriefing

Last Saturday I attended Group Publishing’s How2 Children’s Ministry Conference at Harvest Community Church in Beaverton, Oregon. Four professional presenters who were carefully vetted and trained by Group arrived to provide first-rate training for the attendees. I estimate that over one hundred people attended the weekend event. In this post I would like to list some of my impressions of the overall experience.

Strengths

  • Professional: Group thinks through all the details and executes them to near perfection. I say “near” because nobody is perfect. 
  • Scripted: The How2 conference is carefully scripted in its entirety. The presenters ideally were to memorize the script, although I doubt that actually happened given that they seemed to rely heavily on their script throughout the sessions I attended. Yet, I personally did not see any problems with this. The presenters were savvy enough to add their own personalities and sidebars to the content. The advantage of the script is quality control in terms of staying on message with a consistency, especially since the entire script was given to the first enrollee from each church for use in their home settings. Plus, there were no long monologues required, so that broke things up quite a bit.
  • The How2 Resource Bag and Notebook: All I can say is wow. Two DVDs provide the entire script, plus a host of other resources, including the featured video elements shown throughout the conference. No other conference does this as far as I know. This is worth the price of admission, especially since attendees were able to see it put to use.
  • The Presenters: I was able to spend some time with two of the four presenters. I had met Dr. Denise Muir-Kjesbo last year at the Northwest Ministry Conference, so we were able to connect again. I shared with her that I relied heavily on her workshop “Family Ministry Models” in a portion of my dissertation. It was an encouraging conversation which took place immediately on my arrival to the conference location. All of the presenters are seasoned practitioners and very gracious with their time and talents.
  • Location: I appreciate that they selected a church which models solid practices for children’s ministry, at least in terms of its check in procedures, security and room/hall decorations. Soon I will post photos and link them here.
  • Ministry Application: How2 is not a mere information dump, as is the case in many conference workshops I have attended. I will add that there are appropriate times to share large blocks of information, but if there is little to no application, it is hard to transfer the information to practice in the ministry context. How2 challenges attendees to apply principles directly to their context from start to finish as they interact with content in view of their situations. Those churches which brought multiple team members profitted the most from this dynamic. The remainder of us profitted a bit from networking with other churches, but it was not the same.  

Weaknesses

  • Small group interaction was difficult in the general sessions because the church sanctuary had pews. Groups which were situated in a continuous row in a pew had a hard time carrying on four-way communication. In future conferences I suggest doing the large group general sessions in a room with round tables to facilitate better communication since interactivity is really the hallmark of these sessions. There may be some compromise in terms of use of video on large overhead screens, but the bulk of the sessions are focused on small groups, and that interaction suffered because of the seating arrangement.
  • A strength of the conference inadverdantly contributes to an unexpected weakness. The How2 resource bag/notebook caused some churches to feel that sending one person was best so that they could then return to the church and share the information. My church had that kind of conversation, and given the economic climate it was hard to argue the point since I agreed with it as far as it went. I would have paid for myself to go but at the time I did not have the discretionary income in my personal budget. I should add that Group Publishing sponsored me to attend for free, as I indicated in a previous post about the conference. I am very grateful for their sponsorship. So, here is the weakness. Churches who sent only one person received less of a benefit because it is in the team context that excitement is generated and ideas are birthed. There is something about being away at a conference that lends itself to this dynamic. Yes, it can be done at home, but  a conference context has a way of generating fresh enthusiasm which is not readily available in the midst of daily routines. I have not yet figured out a way to convey this to my church, especially given the expense of How2, but I may suggest some other kind of less expensive getaway to generate that kind of experience.
  • The conference seems accessible to affluent churches; not so much for less affluent churches. This is not meant to be a critique or put-down; just an economic reality. At $199 for the first attendee and $139 each for additional attendees, small or less affluent churches are hard pressed to foot that kind of bill. Ironically they often are the churches which need this very kind of conference the most. However, I understand the business side of running a conference. While Group does much charitable work and has made a tremendous impact on churches throughout America, it is still a business. It cannot afford to do conferences at a loss. And the resources which are included with the initial price of admission are of the highest quality, ostensibly valued at $60 each. What to do? Small churches could look far enough in advance to plan for attending this event next year and begin saving now. Is it worth it? I argue absolutely yes. Can you save that much? Why not? We find ways to save for all kinds of other expenditures throughout the year. Why not a conference which has potential to revolutionize how you engage in children’s ministry? My point? Like businesses such as Group Publishing, local churches make choices of how to spend money each year with the expectation of harnessing the greatest possible return on their investments. I challenge those churches who desire to revitalize their ministries to consider investing so that key long-term decision-making leaders may attend next year. If next year’s prices remain the same as this year’s, it will cost $616 for the actual conference. Obviously there could be added hotel, travel, and food expenses if you have to commute a long distance to attend.

How2 is a great conference. Dr. Denise Muir-Kjesbo shared early on that Group’s motto is practical innovation. With the advent of How2, they have brought practical innovation to the realm of children’s ministry conferences.

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