Dr. Harry Schmidt is no stranger to RCMA. He's been a member since 1989 and has served as the board's vice president since 2005. He comes to his new position with plans to build on the association's achievements through collaborative effort. We caught up with him as he was in the midst of relocating, with his wife of 25 years, Donna, from Illinois to Indianapolis, where RCMA's office is located.

What are your immediate goals?

My most immediate goal is to provide organizational continuity as we cross this bridge in the association's history. We've had an iconic, visionary leader for the last 30 years, and it's my goal to move us toward a more collaborative, partnership-based organization. That will unfold over time, but in the meantime, we don't want to lose focus on our 40th anniversary conference, on providing a quality experience for all attendees as we celebrate four decades of continuous effort and achievement as an organization. I'm also focused on making sure we are able to showcase our great host city, Kansas City, and all that is has to offer.

How will you help build a more collaborative association?

Already we've made moves to make the RCMA board more collaborative and interactive, with the establishment of new committees, including a finance, marketing and communication, and a conference committee. Each committee will bring in planners and suppliers, infusing fresh viewpoints and input. And we've made a historic move with the elevation of Melvin Tennant to executive vice president of the board, the first supplier to hold that position. [Tennant, president/CEO of Meet Minneapolis, was previously on the RCMA board but not an officer.]

You've said that you have an interest and experience in organizational development. Can you elaborate?

I've had the opportunity over the last 30 years to work with emerging, smaller organizations to help them look beyond themselves and to provide directional planning. These groups have ranged from small organizations such as new church plants to international foundations like Mission Possible.

What are your long-range goals?

I think RCMA is one of this country's best-kept secrets. I'd like us to launch an awareness campaign to get the RCMA name and brand out there in the wider world, and to build our membership, which has seen some declines. To help do that, we need to move forward technologically, creating a dynamic Web site, webinars, live streaming at our conference, plugging into Facebook, and much more. Another long-term goal is to bring more young, emerging planners into our organization so we can help train and educate the next generation of religious conference managers. To prepare a strategic plan for the next five years, we will do an internal assessment as well as an environmental scan to make sure we have a good grasp of where the market is going. I plan to do a lot of “intentional listening,” to establish focus groups and councils, and overall to sincerely solicit people's engagement.

What is your experience in meeting planning?

I have been doing conference planning for the last 30 years or more. When I was a young man I moved from Iowa to Chicago and fell in love with the inner city, and from that I became involved in establishing an inter-city camp program for 10,000 black youth. Over the years I've been hands-on with meetings in the 20 to 2,000 range, and while I don't have experience of managing citywides, I'll be a quick learner.

What do you like most about meeting planning?

Years ago I realized that the typical church group underestimates its buying power when it comes to facilities. They might be using nondescript, a little frayed at the edges hotels. I've always enjoyed telling them that for the same amount of money they could lift their event to a nicer hotel. I also love working with suppliers, and to me the greatest thrill is to walk away knowing that the meeting has been a win-win for everyone. Man, that leaves a good taste in everyone's mouth.

What do you like least?

A lot of times, now more than ever, suppliers don't prepare their associate sales team, and the religious market is used as kind of a training ground for them.

Dr. Woodring was very active in the hospitality and meetings industry. How do you see your role in this sphere?

We all know associations across the board are weathering some tough times, whether it's declining membership or attendance at annual meetings. Our role is on the ambassadorial level, to promote the value of associations in general.

What do you see as one of your management strengths?

I'm a big-picture person with a lot of long-range planning experience — I've been on more boards than you can shake a stick at. But I am also a multitasker and I can move from the broad to the specific pretty easily.

Parting thoughts?

I view what Dr. Woodring has done as foundational, and I plan to build on key components of that legacy so that RCMA becomes even bigger and broader. I have a deep appreciation for RCMA's past, and a trust that for its future, we can walk through this moment, which is really a sea change for the association, and succeed on many different levels in the long term.

Snapshot: Biographical Details

  • President of Christian Life College, Mount Prospect, Ill., from 1983 to 2011.

  • Senior Pastor, New Life Church, Momence, Ill., 1972-1983

  • B.A. Theology, Chicago Bible College, Chicago, Ill. Graduate studies: Olivet Nazarene University, Kankakee, Ill., Kings University, Los Angeles, Calif. Honorary Doctorate: Logos Christian College, Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Ministry leadership and conference management: vice president, Full Gospel Fellowship, Irving, Texas (11 years); Fellowship of Christian Assemblies executive board (16 years); Mission Possible Foundation, chairman, Helsinki, Finland (25 years); founder and executive director, the Ascension Convention (26 years)