How did you become involved with meeting planning?
I was asked to plan an 800-person, eight-day conference in 1997, and that turned into additional opportunities down the road. I was not looking for the responsibility, but because I was a business owner for 10 years before I became a pastor, our church leaders thought it would be a good fit. I do enjoy staying connected to the business world. I enjoy the camaraderie, and I also believe it helps me keep up with the latest trends in the business.
What does your job entail?
I am first and foremost a pastor. That is my first love and I can't see that changing under any circumstance. That said, I've appreciated being part of organizations that have provided opportunities to branch out. For the Church of God, a Worldwide Association Inc., I currently pastor, serve as a meeting planner, and have had the opportunity to be part of a national church committee. I am also the program director for a teen summer camp in north Georgia. Working with youth is another passion of mine.
Concerning meeting planning, my job to date has been primarily to locate facilities within the Midwest and Southeast for church conferences or events. The conferences or events I plan range from four to eight days, so I typically am looking at destinations that offer extended-stay housing options in addition to the typical overnight accommodations. I plan two meetings a year that range in size from 500 to 2,000 people.
What are your biggest challenges?
As is the case with many groups in the religious market, cost is a large concern and challenge. Additionally, with longer conferences or events, activities in the immediate and surrounding area are quite important. Finding accommodations for large families can also prove challenging in today's market.
In my experience, I have found the way to deal with these challenges is first with prayer, followed by research online and talking with various people in the prospective communities. Spending time making comparisons on paper — using a grading scale on everything from meeting facilities, accommodations, parking, and handicap accessibility — is priceless.
Any new ideas/solutions you are working on for upcoming meetings?
I'm always thinking about new potential activities at the events I plan. I also enjoy hearing from others about what has, and hasn't, worked for them when it comes to working with housing or registration. Although most of our church members are on computers and use them to make necessary arrangements for our events, we still have a number of largely senior citizens who are not. Thus far, the best method I have found for reaching these folks is through contacting the various church pastors via e-mail and asking them to make particular information available to all attendees, specifically those without Internet access.
Any advice or tips on planning meetings?
I don't think this is anything new, but what I have found over time is that in order to have a successful event you must have an extremely good mental picture of where everything is and how it is going to work. I also ask each of my department heads or managers what questions they have so that I know what questions to ask the convention center or hotel staff well in advance. Communication is always key. You must be detail-oriented and well organized. I am a checklist person, so I create and check off lists for months leading up to the event.
What do you like best about your meeting-planning job?
I enjoy working with the contracted venue and staff and I thoroughly enjoy serving our church community. As an athlete in the past, I participated in many sports tournaments and I was intrigued at how tournaments worked, from something as simple as how the brackets were formed to how the lodging was chosen. Apparently, I had a fascination with the inner workings of events before I realized it. To me, it was fun to put something together that allowed many people to have a successful event, be it a sporting event, a conference, a retreat or a family event. To this day, seeing smiles on attendees' faces — that's what makes me happy.
When did you become a member of RCMA?
I went to Tampa in 2001. I became a member shortly before that conference. Developing and maintaining important business relationships is the most beneficial aspect of being an RCMA member. I have developed good friendships with a number of people in cities and states throughout this country that I would otherwise never have met. This has been good for me and certainly good for our organization.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What spare time? Actually, for down time when I can find it, I enjoy playing the drums — with or without our band. I also like reading and participating in sports, as well as watching them when I get a chance.