© 2010 John Casimir O'Keefe

What I do not like about conferences

Recently I had the opportunity to go to a large conference in Northern California, not far from where I live.  It is called “Thrive” and is hosted by Bayside Church in Roseville.  I know I’ve said it before, but I am not a big lover of large conferences, and I have to say this conference simply echoed my reasoning for not attending large conference.  I know many who attended had a great time – at least by the smiles on all the faces I saw they did.  But they always come across more as a sales pitch for the hosting church, then informational.  They always seem to have the same list of people speaking, going over the same tired topics and nothing ever seems to change.  This one was even more troublesome for me than usual. But before I get into the things that did not impress me, let me share what I did find valuable.

Main Speaker Highlight:

As far as the main speakers, Margaret Feinberg was the shining light for me.  Maxwell and the others were, well – predictable.  I was not impressed with any of the other speakers in the General Sessions.  It was the same old same old, with some new jokes – and a whole lot of old jokes.  After hearing the same old stuff, over and over again it does get very disappointing.  Margaret shared personal stories, real stories, involving real people in her life and how they showed her insight into God.  She was not up there hawking a program, which was rather refreshing.

Other Speakers Highlights

Dean Curry is the lead pastor of Life Center Church in Tacoma, WA

Dean was actually a highlight of the breakout sessions.  He made the breakout session personal and encouraging.  He shared his personal story which made the breakout session very personable.  He spoke on how to deal with a multi-generational church, and his success at the church he served.  What I liked most about this breakout session is that he did not make what he did into a program.  He started with the truth that all communities are different, and what works in one will not work in another.  Then he shared his story.

Curt Harlow is currently serving as the West Coast Director of Chi Alpha Campus Ministry:

This guy was great and right on the money when it came to the changes facing the church.  He shared some very insightful conceptual ideas.

CJ Alvarado is Bayside’s Director of Marketing and Technology:

This breakout session was informative to those who did not have any idea on what a social media was.  CJ did break it down in easy to understand terms.  CJ shared how churches can use social media to share upcoming events and information.  Many in the breakout session were rather “put-off” by the ideas, but some did grasp it.

John Talbert

OK, I did not attend Jon’s break-out.  But he is a friend and I wish I did J

So, that is what I liked about the conference, here are the reasons I was not impressed with this conference:

  1. The Four R’s: While this may not be important to some, it is very important to me – they had no recycling bins and none of the material was printed on recycled paper.  Which leads me to believe that the ink used was not soy-based and was chloride based.  For some in the evangelical church this may not be a big deal, to me it is very large deal.  We live in the 21st century, how can anyone not think of recycling and using recycled paper?  When the idea of putting out recycling bins came-up during the TCI Lunch, it was seen as some kind of new idea – as if no one had ever thought of it before.
  2. Feeding Others: When I asked what they did with all the left-over food, you would have thought I was asking for the keys to the private entrance to the kingdom.  All I got was the “I don’t know, that’s ‘so and so’ responsibility, and ‘so and so’ says it is ‘the other guys’ responsibility.”  Which always means, “We through it in the garbage.”

In my asking the question, and wanting an answer, one gentleman told me that they had a “four hour” window before the food was not good to serve or give away and safe to safe to eat making it hard to give away.  He said it was a “health and liability” issue.  He then explained that they “reused” left-over’s for the conference.  His example was the tri-tip from the dinner Thursday’s dinner to say that they would be using the left-over meat for lunch on Friday (which is well over the “four hour window.”  What happened to the health and liability issues?).  As he was explaining this he pointed to them (sitting in large bags on a counter at 8:00am on Friday – so, that food would be out of the frig for over four hours before cooking and serving)  I believe that the left-over food should be given to those in need – not the garbage.

  1. Being Inviting: At the TCI Lunch, held for Pastor, they asked us if we had any ideas for the next Thrive.  When I suggested they bring in some Emerging Leaders, the comment was, from Ray Johnson (Bayside’s Senior Pastor) was, “Well, if we could find a healthy emerging church.”  Then, when he noticed I was annoyed with that he mentioned that they could bring people like that in for the 2011 Thrive – yet the main speakers for Thrive 2011 were set before the TCI Lunch.  His comments about adding emerging leaders felt disingenuous.  His asking us who we wanted to hear seemed just as disingenuous.  My prayer is that my perception is wrong, and that they will be adding emerging voices.  Only time will tell.  (Emerging people like action and not words – so, if we see it happening, we will believe it)
  2. Impressions Equaling Actions: While they kept telling us Thrive was not about Bayside, there was a clear Bayside reality to the event – From all their senior staff teaching Sessions and leading the General Sessions to the reality that it was held on the Bayside Church Campus.  I am reminded of the reality that if you have to constantly tell someone you’re not, you are.
  3. One Church, Bad Jokes: I am not excited about jokes centering on other traditions – especially if those jokes do not point at your tradition.  If you are going to make a joke at the expanse of a certain tradition, be ready to point fingers at your tradition.  Hearing speakers joke in that fashion is not very unifying.
  4. Disconnection to Speakers: I am not big on the “if you buy our books we will talk with you” idea at a large conference.  This is the norm at large conferences, and it was echoed here as well.


As I have already admitted I am not given to large conferences.  So, I am hoping my views were not twisted by my over all feelings centering on large conferences – but who knows.


  1. Posted 2010/05/05 at 12:33 am | #

    I gave up going to conferences a long time ago for two reasons:

    1. The air of artificiality. I don’t believe that people at conferences, including the audiences, are very real with each other. The talk is always of success and only the successful are really welcome. I always feel that it’s like those newsletters that some people send round at Christmas which tell of how their perfect family have had a perfect year. I don’t fit into these scenarios. I’m a fallible bloke who makes mistakes – and I work amongst fallible people.

    2. The endless repetiton of the same. I learned a long time ago that there is nothing new under the sun. Most conferences recycle old stuff as if it were new.

    I get more inspiration from a good walk in the open countryside. God’s principles of growth, truth, beauty and health are writ large there for all to see – and it’s all genuine in its glorious humility.

  2. Posted 2010/05/21 at 2:47 am | #

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  3. Posted 2010/06/13 at 6:43 pm | #

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  4. Posted 2010/06/22 at 9:20 am | #

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  5. Posted 2010/07/01 at 11:54 am | #

    My friend and I were arguing about this! Now I know that I was right. lol! Thanks for making me sure!

    Sent via Blackberry

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