I recently had the opportunity to attend Christian Camp and Conference Association’s national conference. It was held at Ridgecrest Conference Center and the theme this year was, “Mosaic…accomplishing more together”.
We are long-time members of CCCA and were excited to have the honor of hosting this year’s conference. We were also quite nervous as this was the first time in almost 30 years that CCCA had chosen a member facility to host this very important conference. Last year’s conference was held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and the year before at Disney’s Coronado Springs in Orlando.
To say the bar was set pretty high would definitely be an understatement. However we had an ace up our sleeve that we felt would allow us to more than hold our own against those other very nice properties. The advantage we had is the same advantage you will find at any Christian conference facility, and that is the ability to help create community.
Hotels and convention centers are created to host meetings and conferences. They do a good job of providing sleeping rooms and meeting space. What they don’t do a good job of is providing a place where a group/organization can come together and build community. By this I mean they don’t really provide a place, or way, for attendees to come together and easily network in an informal manner, outside the scheduled meeting times. On the other hand, most Christian conference/retreat centers are created in such a way as to help make this happen naturally.
At Ridgecrest, this informal networking happened primarily over meals. The ability for everyone to come together for breakfast, lunch and dinner was huge. Last year at The Broadmoor, most folks skipped breakfast (cost too much), grabbed a box lunch in the exhibit hall and then scattered to have dinner somewhere in Colorado Springs. As a result, any community building that took place was on a small scale and had to be very intentional.
This year, in contrast, people would come into the dining hall at Ridgecrest and interact with different folks at every meal. By the second day you could see the results of this fellowship as people would wait until the last possible minute to leave and head to the next scheduled part of the conference. Old friendships were being renewed, new ones were beginning and a strong sense of community was being built.
I learned a long time ago that most meeting attendees will tell you they get as much, or more, out of networking as they do attending the actual conference sessions. If you are a Christian meeting planner, I would challenge you to give this a lot of thought as you plan your next event. Not only in designing the flow of the meeting, but also the location you choose to host the event.
So, what are you doing to help your group build community?