Every Sunday, Keith Kershaw is a pastor at the Genesis Church of God in Christ in Columbia, S.C., but the rest of the week he plans the Auxiliaries in Ministry (or AIM) Convention, which attracts more than 20,000 people each summer. It's a year-round job as he plans the entire event with the help of a team of volunteers. Kershaw also handles logistics for the annual Church of God in Christ's Holy Convocation, held in November.

When asked if there are any parallels or commonalities between the two vocations, Kershaw answers in the affirmative. “Without a doubt. In convention planning, you are starting with nothing and building it. In pastoring, you spend so much of your time helping people put foundations in their lives and building upon those foundations.

“The other is, it's never the same from day to day. I can come in today and discover that I have a problem at a convention center that I was unaware of yesterday and I have to solve it. The same with pastoring — there are just no two days that are alike.”

Kershaw was recruited into the convention planning profession about 11 years ago. At the time, he was working for the COGIC in the Youth Department, but when a job planning the AIM Convention opened up, he was asked to fill it.

“I had absolutely no background in convention planning,” he says. At first, he was handling just logistics, not contracts or food and beverage or other parts of the job. A few years later, he was handed the reins to the entire event, managing everything from site selection to contract negotiations.

Location, Location, Location

Planning any convention of this size would be challenging, but what makes AIM particularly unique is that it is three conventions in one that run simultaneously during the day — each run by a separate group. AIM consists of five auxiliaries — Sunday School, Youth, Music, Missions, and Evangelism. The Sunday School auxiliary has its own convention, while Music and Youth combine for the MY Convention, and Missions and Evangelism are combined to form the ME Convention. Each has its own separate program and planning needs. Then, in the evening, all three conventions come together for one major worship service.

“The No. 1 challenge is location,” says Kershaw. The convention center must be big enough and flexible enough to handle three separate conventions at once. It also must have at least three headquarters hotels nearby and be relatively affordable.

“We have a rotation of maybe eight cities that we know can handle us,” he says, and that excludes some cities where the costs are prohibitive. In the last decade, the convention has been held in Houston (three times); Los Angeles; Tampa, Fla.; Baltimore; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis; Indianapolis; and Louisville, Ky. Next year it will be held in Birmingham, Ala.

Another challenge is having an all-volunteer staff, which means that his team is spread out around the country, making communications more difficult. However, the people he works with make the job especially enjoyable.

“It's even more of a family concept than a team concept. That's probably the thing I like most about what I do.”

Building Connections

For this year's convention in Houston, July 4-8, some exciting new partnerships were formed. “We had a number of high-level federal officials come to Houston from the Veterans Administration, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other major departments,” he explains. “They sent representatives to us to help connect the faith-based initiatives out of the White House to actual people they are trying to reach through the local church.” (Kershaw learned recently that the AIM Convention made the front page of a White House publication.)

The convention also struck a partnership with the electronics retailer Best Buy, which sent its “Geek Squad” to the event to provide computer training to attendees.

Kershaw joined RCMA shortly after he took his first job planning the AIM Convention and he regularly attends the RCMA World Conference and Expo. “The benefits of it are phenomenal. The network of people I have been able to meet are not only the professionals who work in the field, they have become literally my friends.” Besides the networking, he appreciates the educational content that the conference offers.

For someone who plans one of the biggest religious conventions and works as a pastor on weekends, spare time is a luxury. But when he does have it, he likes to play golf. He is also an avid sports fan. And he likes to travel, as long as it's for leisure. “Business travel you can have,” he quips.