“Am I leading a life worth imitating?” Dean Jones, convention manager of the Free Will Baptist Convention for the National Association of Free Will Baptists, often contemplates this question. In fact, he says his primary goal is “to live a life worth imitating, reflecting the God in whom I believe.”

“My passion is to plan meetings and conferences that are life-changing events.”
— Dean Jones

Coal Miner's Son

Jones began life in the small mining town of Marion, Ill. His father was a coal miner, and his mother stayed home to raise Dean and his sister. Dean was taught a strong work ethic and also learned the value of family, with grandparents and great-grandparents living close by.

He had an ordinary childhood, and when it was time to attend college, he chose Southern Illinois University, where he majored in electronics, hoping to land a job in the computer design field or perhaps in the coal mines. Upon earning his degree, however, Jones realized he was being called to further his education. He made the decision to get his bachelor's degree in secondary education, a decision influenced by his grandmother's teaching career. “My grandmother taught third grade in rural southern Illinois for 37 years. A few of those years were spent teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I thought it was something I would like to do.” He earned a degree in secondary education from Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tenn.

Following His Calling

After graduation, Jones became a program coordinator for youth conferences at the National Association of Free Will Baptists. He worked in that position for four years, and that's where he had his first experiences planning meetings.

“The best part about meeting planning is seeing it all come together,” Jones says. “It starts as a date on a calendar, but when people leave, hopefully they have much more than they came with. My passion is to plan meetings and conferences that are life-changing events. For instance, with the youth conference, we send kids into the city where the conference is being held and have them work in a food shelter so they can see firsthand where there is a need in the world. I'd like to think that we were influential in helping them make positive changes to their lives.”

Jones then became the association's director of youth conferences, a position he held for nine years. For the past year, Jones has served as convention manager for the association; he oversees the planning of the annual convention, as well as smaller meetings and conventions.

Seeing Exponential Growth

In 1935, members of the Eastern and Western associations of the Free Will Baptists convened at Cofer's Chapel Church in Nashville for the first-ever National Association of Free Will Baptists. Executive Secretary Melvin Worthington expects 7,000 delegates and visitors to attend the 2001 convention at Cobo Center in Detroit this year. Forty states will be represented, compared to six in 1935.

Jones has played a large part in the organization's growth in the past 14 years. “Planning begins 10 years in advance for the annual convention. We receive invitations from potential host cities and narrow the list to those cities that offer facilities conducive to our attendees' needs.”

RCMA has been helpful, too. “We've developed a lot of great relationships with other RCMA members, as well as vendors that attend RCMA conferences,” Jones says. “Having these contacts helps a lot with the planning.” Once all things have been considered, the association focuses on one state and visits cities within that state. They propose a site to the national body, and the planning process begins.

In Jones' attempt to live a life worth imitating, he constantly tries to improve himself. He earned his Certified Meeting Planner certification in 1994 and is working toward a master's degree in event management from George Washington University. He offers this advice: “Commit yourself to improving your meeting planning skills. Don't settle for mediocrity.”