By Joshua Clark Hendrick

As a professional photographer, I am not the type of person who would think that an organization like RCMA would have any benefit for me. But that changed in a matter of two days as I experienced my first RCMA event, the Aspire conference, held in Nashville May 20–21.

I first heard about RCMA while I was in Anaheim for the annual Christian Leadership Alliance conference. Wandering the expo, I met Dean Jones, RCMA’s director of conferences and events; Harry Schmidt, executive director; and Fred Reichelt, member engagement specialist. They told me that RCMA helps professional conference planners and suppliers come together in a faith-based community. I was impressed by their demeanor  and ended up contacting one of them a week later. He invited me to take pictures at and then attend RCMA’s first-ever regional event.

Getting to Know RCMA
Being a photographer, I tend to show up early— when I arrived at the Sheraton Music City, they were still setting the stage and tables. I met the RCMA staff, and I was impressed by the nature of each person. Planners and suppliers soon filled the conference room, and Aspire officially started. Dean Jones used a series of questions as icebreakers that got us all laughing and talking together. After a half-hour, the session concluded with Dean reading the “most interesting” answers.

After the first session, we went into the adjacent meeting room to meet suppliers from hotels, convention centers, and entire cities. After an hour, I had a stack of business cards and a new group of friends with a deep knowledge of the conference and event planning world.
That evening, planners attended the grand opening of the Nashville’s new Music City Center. Tammy Cardona from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau led a private tour of the facility, aided by multiple tour directors who explained details of the build, and offered information ranging from attractions to the local art that is currently displayed at the center. After the tour, we sat down to a traditional Southern dinner, conferred about the day, and discussed our ministries and organizations. After dinner, everyone was given VIP passes allowing access to a concert. I spent the rest of our time talking with fellow attendees and enjoying the music.

Learning and Sharing
At Tuesday’s buffet breakfast, sponsored by Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, I sat at a table with a few guys from outside the Nashville area. I was amazed to hear how differently each person’s ministry affects their community. After breakfast, Robert J. Morgan spoke on his 10 “Red Sea Rules” for getting through a difficult time. This was particularly relevant for planners since most events don’t go perfectly. For me, it was a simple reminder that a crisis is God using our current situation to create something better.

After a break (and a much-needed refill on coffee), Michael Owen, CEO and managing partner at event production and destination management firm EventGenuity, guided us through discussions on everything from event sites and bandwidth, to the atmosphere within different cities. I was able to gain advice from the immense experience that filled the room.

We broke for lunch, then Billy Kirsch, from Kidbilly Music, started us on a creative journey. Billy lead nearly 100 planners and suppliers, most of whom are A-type personalities, through the process of writing a song about event planning, with audience members shouting out ideas for lyrics related to event planning for religious organizations, and RCMA membership. [You can listen to the song here.] Once we finished writing and performing the song, it was clear that this group of devoted, faith-based planners saw their occupation as a higher calling. This group is not interested in just creating a good event, but also a meaningful experience.
After the final Day Two tradeshow, RCMA’s Dean Jones hosted a discussion of where RCMA has been, and where it’s going in the future.

During this moment, I felt like I was member of the group. I have new friends, and I know that I have resources if I ever need anything in the event and conferences realm. One of the most difficult circumstances in running a ministry is a getting support, especially from colleagues who have experienced what you’re going through. If your ministry has a conference or an event, RCMA will make sure that you have help throughout the process. Even though I am not technically a planner, I see RCMA being vital to my ministry. If you were not able to attend Aspire in Nashville, I encourage you to make the trip to the next Aspire in Colorado Springs in November. You will gain something valuable, no matter your occupation.

Joshua Clark Hendrick is a Nashville-based photographer. Learn more about him and his work at www.joshuaclarkphotography.com.