A successful family conference requires supporting leadership, a successful planning cycle, effective site-selection criteria, area church involvement for volunteer leaders and hands-on task support, and a multitalented and detail-oriented staff. Family conferences also require a good checklist. Use these ideas for your next family meeting.

Site, Planning Considerations

  • Set an attendance goal. Identify which site locations will make it possible for you to achieve your goal.

  • Volunteer support. Is your destination close enough to where your volunteers live? Remember, too, that volunteers might be willing to travel long distances if the destination is attractive.

  • Book your speakers at least one year in advance. This allows you to get the people you want, and it gives you time and opportunities to promote them during the year. Confirm your budgets one year in advance, allowing you to publish prices.



Available Dates

  • Choose dates that are similar or close to past years. People will place your conference in their calendars if you typically meet at the same time of year. You may be able to secure great rates at a different time, such as Labor Day weekend, but it's not productive if your constituency doesn't want to attend or doesn't plan to attend then.

  • Consider hidden costs with some dates. Check to see if you will have to pay higher labor rates over a holiday, such as the Fourth of July.

  • Avoid local special events. If you book your location far in advance, pay attention to the local calendar to make sure that other events have not been added.



Facility Fitness

  • Will the existing facility accommodate the complete program with ease?

  • Are there add-on costs for outside vendors? For example, if you bring in your own AV team, do you have to pay patch fees?

  • Will you have to spend more than budgeted for signage, security, or catered meals?

  • Are there construction concerns, union issues, outside vendor restrictions, or other inconveniences?

  • If you're not using the entire facility, who else is meeting in the convention center, and is it a compatible group?



Main Worship

  • Locate children's areas close to the worship hall for the convenience of the families.



Attendee Pocketbook

  • Think of the cost per day for attendees. Family meetings are rate-sensitive. Consider the hotel rate, the hotel tax, and the parking. If the pricing is good for families, people will come. Conversely, if prices are too high, families might stay for only half of the convention.

  • Determine a comfortable budget for your attendees. Can the attendee eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for $25 or less?

  • What are the other costs: air and shuttle costs, parking fees, daytrip expenses. If you have a lot of attendees who drive, then negotiate the parking with hotels.



Exhibitor Pocketbook

If exhibitors know that you will have big attendance, then they will come. But if costs skyrocket, you might see erosion. Consider these checkpoints:

  • Will the cost to exhibit be similar to past years?

  • Can exhibitors carry in/out their own items with a small, two-wheel dolly?

  • Will move-in dates increase exhibitor expense?

  • What is the F&B pricing? Are there any pass-on, signage, or utility costs?



Family Friendly Cities

  • Are the streets safe for moving on foot to and from the facility?

  • Are the hotels within four blocks of the convention center?

  • Are moderately priced restaurants available? Is fast food available?

  • Is the city wheelchair friendly?

  • Is low-cost parking available?

  • Are there stay-over activities for families?



Using the CVB

  • Give the CVB your organization name and all your contact information.

  • Give a list of desired dates and how the program flows.

  • Explain the scope and space requirements for your meeting.

  • Provide recent conference history, with specific quality and quantity.

  • Explain the value of your business.

  • Explain your timeline for making a decision.

  • Be up front about expectations. If you expect one comp for every 40 room nights, for example, let them know.

  • Give a wish list.

  • Tell them how you see the process going, or let them help you in their way.



Negotiating

  • Use contingency clauses. Conclude negotiations with the convention center contingent upon a successfully negotiated contract with all their outside service companies, and with the hotel group. Sign when you are ready to sign. Conclude negotiations with the outside service companies contingent upon a successfully negotiated contract with all of the convention center and the hotel group. Sign when you are ready to sign.



Volunteers

  • Do not exceed a four-hour shift, and provide free registration. This allows people to attend the conference, work for part of the conference, and receive a break on costs.

  • Have a special on-call team for each shift. These people volunteer to go wherever they are needed, in case of people who don't show up.

  • Approach the local churches before you book a location. Ask the local church leaders if they would be willing to support your meeting with volunteers. If they say no, then you will have averted a future problem.

  • Write job descriptions for all volunteer positions.

  • Connect each local volunteer with past volunteers who had the same job.



Program Implementation — Teens

The teen component is like a convention within a convention, with unique music, worship, workshops, exhibit hall, competitions, special activities, and free time.

  • Hire an experienced staff person just to handle the teen element.

  • Make sure the hotel approves of loud music.

  • Have at least one chaperone per 25 teens.

  • You need stage, sound, and lighting with technicians.

  • Offer discounts to youth ministers.

  • Provide mementos (T-shirts, for example).



Programming (ages 5-12)

  • Secure experienced volunteer leadership: an elementary daytime coordinator, an evening coordinator, and an elementary evening assistant.

  • Provide music and singing.

  • Provide learning activities.

  • Provide special worship.

  • Provide reasonably priced day trips, with shuttle service.

  • Provide an activity area.

  • Plan for drama and animation.

  • Have an administrative check-in, and lost child procedure, and emergency plan (for bad weather, accidents, or sicknesses) in place.

  • Have walkie-talkies.



Programming (ages 7 months to 5 years)

  • Secure experienced volunteer leadership: a morning children's program coordinator, an afternoon children's program coordinator, a baby area task force leader, a toddler area leader, and a kids' area leader.

  • Book meeting space by age group.

  • Have an administrative check-in, and lost child procedure, and emergency plan (for bad weather, accidents, or sicknesses) in place.

  • Have lots of volunteers, toys, snack times, stroller storage, rock and rest area, radio communication, soft-floor play areas, diaper stations and related supplies.



Miscellaneous

  • On daytrips for children, consider mixing ages. You could put 12-year-olds with 8-year-olds and 5-year-olds; this gives you added supervision of younger ones.



This article was adapted from a tutorial given at a past RCMA by Dwight Loken, Ohio Teens for Christ, Columbus, Ohio, and Larry Collins, North American Christian Convention, Mason, Ohio.