Bring a new energy to your religious organization by creating family meetings. Here's advice on how to make it happen.

A family meeting does powerful things for attendees and religious organizations. Some of the benefits are obvious, such as providing an opportunity for members of organization to spend quality time together as a family.

Other benefits are long-term and just as valuable. For example, when you create a family conference, you send a message to your children and young people that fellowship is important. By holding meetings that include a vibrant family component, you build the foundation for your next generation of religious meetings.

But planning a family meeting (or meetings that include families) can be complicated, especially if you've never done it before. Here are some tips to make the job easier.

Nursery Services

The challenges of providing nursery care are enormous: You need baby beds, you have extreme ratios of staff to infants, and you have a very large liability. You may decide, however, that it's something your attendees need and that it's a responsibility your group can handle.

  • You'll need specialized equipment. If you have a group of 7,000 people attending your conference, then you have the possibility of having at least 100 infants. That means 100 beds. Contact churches in the host city and ask to borrow beds from their nurseries.

  • Check with local authorities regarding state and local laws governing infant care. These laws typically set standards for staff-to-infant ratios.

  • Consider charging for nursery services. It's cost-intensive for you to provide the nursery staff, unless they're all volunteers.

  • Consider using a professional, outside company to provide nursery and daycare services. These services are expensive, so it might be realistic only for small conferences.



Ages and Registration

  • Limit the number of preschool children you will take in your children's program.

  • Establish a minimum age for programming for children, and make being potty trained a requirement.

  • Pre-register preschoolers. This will make the registration process much easier for everyone involved. As an incentive, provide a discount to those who pre-register.



Security

  • Use customized wristbands for identification of children ages 2 through sixth grade. (Customized wristbands cost less than 10 cents apiece.)

    One system is to use sequentially numbered wristbands and a tear-off piece that the parents keep. The wristband and the tear-off piece have the same number, and when parents pick up their children, the numbers have to match. The pros for this system are that the parent can give the number to a friend or relative to pick up the child. The con is that parents often lose the pieces of paper; another drawback is that a nonparent could find the lost piece of paper and use it to pick up a child.

    A second wristband system is to have two wristbands for each child. With this system, the child and a parent wear their wristbands for the entire event. This is more secure than the method mentioned above, but the negative is that only the parent with the wristband can pick up the child.

  • Charge a replacement fee of $5 for lost wristbands.



Personnel

  • Outfit staff in a uniform that will be recognized quickly by attendees. All staff should receive a photo ID badge.

  • Give all staff PDAs — an effective communication tool. Refurbished PDAs can be purchased for less than $50 each.



Service Projects

Service projects do at least two things: leave a great impression on the city you're visiting and open the eyes of the young attendees to things that go on in today's society. In many instances, you can offer an organization more volunteer hours in one week than they'd receive in six months.

  • Sponsor a blood drive. The Red Cross will be happy to coordinate.

  • Do a collection. Ask attendees to bring money, school supplies, food, or articles of used clothing to donate.



Banquets for Kids Only

  • Make your children's banquets affordable. Serving hot dogs or chicken strips is fine.

  • Hold the banquet at 5 p.m. and plan for it to last 60-90 minutes. Use butcher paper on the tables, and give the children crayons.

  • Don'ts: don't put candles on the tables, don't pre-set dessert, and don't serve buffet.

  • For programming, invite a group from a local church, such as a puppet group or children's choir.



Special Events for 7th to 12th Graders

  • Have a semi-formal. Give young people the opportunity to dress up and feel special. It gives young people the opportunity to ask someone new for a date in a supervised, pleasant setting.

  • Create a special experience. If you're on the Plains, consider an evening at a dude ranch. If you're in a river town, have an event on a riverboat. If there's a minor or major league baseball team in town, go to a game.

  • Look for the unusual and fun: human bowling, a recording studio, a Velcro wall, Sumo wrestling — they all appeal to young people's sense of adventure and discovery. These activities also give youth the chance expend energy.



Competitions

  • Music, drama, photography, drawing, and essay writing are all conducive to competition. Tie the competitions to your meeting's theme. Scripture “bowl” and scripture “memory” competitions also work well.



Time-Eaters

  • If your meeting has a business meeting that doesn't include all attendees, offer city tours, museum visits, amusement parks, zoos, or water cruises during the meeting.



Use Attendees' Talents

Bring in entertainers and musicians who are able to provide programming to children. These people are in your community and organization. Look for them. You might have attendees who would be willing to provide sponsorship of an activity at your event. You don't know until you ask.

Miscellaneous

  • Don't overlook the obvious. What does the city have to offer? For example, is there a children's museum or science center close to the convention facility? Is there a downtown park or historic district?

  • Children love playing in water, so consider water attractions. There are the obvious, such as beaches, and then there are the unique. Downtown Memphis, for example, has fountains that spring up out of the sidewalk. It's made for children at play.






This article was adapted from a tutorial at a past RCMA given by Dean Jones, CMP, convention manager, National Association of Free Will Baptists Inc.

EQUIPPING Future Leaders

For the past 20 years, Dean Jones, convention manager, National Association of Free Will Baptists Inc., has brought 72 high school students to the organization's national family conference.

“Your conference is an excellent opportunity to expose students to something that's greater than themselves,” Jones says. “It also gives you great staff members.”

Students apply for the positions, and the chosen ones go through two weeks of training at the Nashville headquarters. At the end of the training, the students are transported (sometimes flown) to the convention site.

It's a three-week commitment. The students each pay — yes, pay — nearly $1,000 each to participate. For 2003, nearly 250 students applied.

Jones also creates eight strategic positions for college students (in security, children's ministry, registration, and AV, for example). The organization pays their room and board. Jones says it's a minimal expense for developing future leaders.