Six years ago, newly married, Charles Melear and his wife had a choice: follow his church headquarters from Los Angeles to Cincinnati or move to Fort Collins, Colo.
Then it occurred to him that he could move to Colorado and keep his meeting-planner job with the United Church of God. “I was traveling three months a year anyway. I realized that once laptops became common use, I could work anywhere,” he says.
He has been telecommuting ever since.
“I'm a social person, so I find that offices offer lots of distractions,” he says.
Of the meetings he plans annually, only five are in Cincinnati: quarterly board meetings, involving 15-20 people, and an annual business meeting of about 400 elders and their wives.
His main responsibility is planning the annual Feast of Tabernacles, an eight-day festival of worship and fellowship. The meeting includes 11 U.S. sites, each with an average attendance of 1,000, as well as 40 international sites. Held from late September to early October, the meeting is attended by nearly the entire U.S. membership of the United Church of God. “The average member saves 10 percent of his income for this conference,” Melear says.
Each member is assigned to a site that is within a one-day drive. But members may go to a different city if space allows. Most sites stay the same for three to five years, but there's always a new one. Long-term commitment means hotels and convention centers are willing to give their best price.
The sites, in such second- and third-tier markets as Bend-Redmond, Ore.; Jekyll Island, Ga.; Panama City Beach, Fla.; or Wisconsin Dells, offer an affordable stay for families as well as family-friendly atmospheres. The agenda offers plenty of free time for tourist activities.
Melear can juggle all the sites because of the tradition of the event, members' cooperation, and local volunteers.
Each site hashelp, a local pastor who is the on-site coordinator, and a shared program. Those local pastors are also RCMA members, to “try to keep them involved with what's going on” in the meeting-planning business, Melear says.
In April, members receive a festival planning brochure with information about the meeting, its sites, and contracted hotels of varying price. “Our members are pretty compliant” about registering with those hotels, he says. “This gives us leverage in negotiating hotel.”
Because each family pays its own way, they make the reservations individually. “What's nice about this group is that 95 percent will make their reservations on a single day in early June,” Melear notes.
Event registration is completed simply, with local congregations telling him how many are going to a site. He knows registrants not by name, but by number and age.
In addition to meeting planning, Melear is the relocation coordinator for pastors and staff travel coordinator.
Raised in Dallas, Melear began attending the Church of God late in high school, after hearing its radio programs and reading its literature. At the time, he considered himself an atheist, but he gradually became a believer.
He later attended the church-sponsored Ambassador College in eastern Texas, which is no longer in existence. He majored in business administration and theology. While Melear is an ordained pastor, his emphasis is in administrative duties. After college, he worked in restaurant supply sales, where he became accustomed to negotiating.
In 1988, Melear became a meeting planner with the Worldwide Church of God. A friend — “it's not who you know but who knows you,” he says — asked him to join his staff and take over travel duties. Melear has been the meeting planner for the United Church of God since 1996.
He joined RCMA in 1990. At his first conferences, he attended every breakout session on contracts. Now he goes to sessions on creativity, topics that apply to any job, he notes.
The other top benefit of RCMA conferences is seeing everyone in the same location. “If I'm trying to do research on other areas of the country, they're all there,” he says.
Someday he'd like to offer a session on negotiating, a skill he emphasizes for planners. Meeting planners “cannot be intimidated to truly negotiate,” he says. “All someone can say is ‘no.’”
Otherwise, meeting planning isn't rocket science, he says. “You just have to be detailed and on top of it, or it will get away from you.”