How to Avoid The Conference Craze

Catalyst East 2013 is over – long live Catalyst!

Over 13,000 leaders have returned to their churches, organizations, and homes filled to the brim with pages of notes, hours of conversations, and ideas aplenty.

Now What?

Having participated in several live Catalyst events over the years, and listened to several more of them via CDs, downloads, and DVDs, I always come away inspired…

…and a little spiritually shell-shocked.

Can so much good, be bad?

In a word, yes.

Auxano Founder Will Mancini refers to this phenomenon as the “conference craze.”

In the conference craze, leaders rely solely on training events (like Catalyst, or Exponential, or Global Leadership Summit, or…) to instill direction and vision for their church. Many pastors in the past two decades have built a model of ministry by borrowing one. This is not surprising when you consider the conference offerings and their glut of photocopied vision prepackaged for import.

Lurking in the wake of the plethora of conferences is the growing virus of unoriginal sin. Most leaders of these conferences would be the first to warn you not to copy their models, but they still sell their DNA-saturated resources to thousands of church leaders.

The dramatic irony is that what happens at most conferences is the exact opposite of what propelled the host church or organization to be effective in the first place.

These leaders once endured a process of self-understanding and original thinking that helped in articulating a stunningly unique model of ministry. But after discovering their Church Unique, these leaders no longer taught the same way they learned.

Where does the conference maze lead us?

The success of these mega-models creates a great temptation for others to copy them.  In that moment, leaders walk into a thinkhole.

A “thinkhole” represents the quicksand-like dynamic where, at certain times and places, vibrant thinking gets sucked beneath the surface to suffocate and disappear from view.

Along the great race of leadership you probably find yourself on, thinkholes are the obstacles, barriers, and danger zones that keep us from thoughtful self-knowledge.

At Auxano, we are certainly not against studying best practices – we had team members at Catalyst last week and several others were following it online; Will is speaking at Exponential West this week, and several of the team will be watching it live. We have Tweeted, posted, and written about learnings we gather at events like these.

Conference best practices are okay to study – we’re just against not thinking in the process!

The reality is that most people – sadly, including many leaders in today’s churches – don’t think; they only rearrange their prejudices. Real thinking can be disruptive to the status quo and requires a great deal of courage.

Don’t get lost in the conference craze – be courageous, think through what you heard, and then struggle mightily to see if it needs to be a part of your Church Unique.

>> Download a PDF of the 6 common types of thinkholes that blanket the church landscape here.


Information without application leads to stagnation.
– Steven Furtick



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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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