Download the PDF survey results here

RCMA member meetings drew more than 5.3 million attendees last year, according to data gathered in the association’s 2011 annual member survey. That number, less than previous years, reflects in part an economic climate that continues to put a downward pressure on meeting attendance of many not-for-profit and association groups.

“We have weathered some tough economic years that have affected people’s ability to attend meetings at the same level as in the past,” RCMA’s Executive Director Dr. Harry Schmidt says. “But religious conferences are amazingly resilient, and that’s because the people attend as part of an expression of their faith, and faith is an incredible attendance-driver.”

The vitality of the religious conference market and its economic impact remains strong, and faith-based conventions and conferences continue to be major economic contributors to many cities across the United States. Take, for instance, Rochester, Minn. According to the city’s convention bureau, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses brings the most dollars to the city each year of any of the conventions the city hosts. In each of the last two years, the CCJW conventions have had more than a $6 million impact.

While that is a large number, it’s small compared to the economic impact of some of the largest faith-based meetings, most of which are organized by African-American groups. These include the Church of God In Christ, whose annual convocation last year drew 35,000 people to St. Louis, with an economic impact of about $35 million.

The National Baptist Convention, USA’s Congress of Christian Education is another example: More than 25,000 people attended the meeting in Indianapolis last June, with direct spending of about $24 million, according to the city’s CVB.

But as RCMA’s member survey has shown over the years, it’s the thousands of meetings with attendance well under 500 that constitute the greatest number of faith-based events. It is these small meetings where there continues to be the most fluctuation and experimentation, reflecting a dynamic faith-based community in the United States, one of the world’s most religious countries.

For example, more and more religious groups are offering niched meetings and events. These go beyond the traditional couples retreat, youth assembly, and women’s auxiliary convention. The Catholic New Media Conference, for instance, was launched a few years ago in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and the annual Catholic Writers Guild.

The conference is focused on building community through new media, and it is just one example of the kinds of diversified interests that faith-based groups are trying to serve through new conferences based on specific niches.

It’s all part of the ever-evolving landscape of religious meetings in the United States—and the world.

Survey Highlights: All in the Numbers

RCMA’s 2011 member survey is based on the profiles of more than 500 members. Here are some of the demographic highlights gleaned from the survey:

  • As they did in 2010, most members held their largest event in a downtown hotel or conference center, with 13 percent saying they used suburban hotels and 10.8 percent indicating resorts.
  • The biggest single percentage of respondents (17 percent) said they used 100 to 200 hotel rooms for their largest event. This is up slightly from last year, but overall, 65 percent used fewer than 500 hotel rooms, which is consistent with previous survey findings.
  • The average duration of meetings for conventions was 3.5 days, compared with more than 4.5 days in the previous surveys. Members may be curtailing the length of their meeting as a cost-saving measure.
  • Gross exhibit space required at largest meeting: 30 percent said they did not use exhibit space; 45 percent said they used from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, while 8 percent said they utilized more than 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.
  • Topping the list of supplier services used were audiovisual services (84 percent) and catering/banquet services (82 percent). Ground transportation tours (62 percent) and special airline rates/services (55 percent) were the next two highest categories of responses to this question.
  • The Midwest continues to be the top region for meetings, with 17.3 percent using this region for their largest meeting. Next in order are the Southeast (15.1 percent), Northeast (13.4 percent), and the South Central (10.8 percent).
  • For meetings held outside of the U.S., Canada topped the list (21.3 percent) this year, followed by the Caribbean (16 percent), Latin America (14.7 percent), and Africa (14.7 percent). Meetings held in Australia jumped from 2.8 percent to 8 percent, while the Middle East nudged up from 4.2 percent to 5.3 percent.
  • The survey found 7.8 percent of respondents held a meeting outside of the U.S., compared with 5.4 percent in 2010. This percentage is likely to continue to increase as more faith-based groups grow internationally.