Reimagining the Conference World and the Future of the Idea Camp
The Idea Camp was a simple concept that organically formed itself during a series of conversations with a few friends last fall. Little did most of us know that it would resonate so close to the heart of thousands around the world. As Cynthia Ware described it in a recent phone call, it “uncorked” something in the hearts of God’s people towards the desire of mutual collaboration for the Kingdom.
Quite honestly, during the Idea Camp, there wasn’t enough time for me to sit and process all that was going on. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have time because I think it would have been overwhelming. Now that I am gathering the stories and thoughts shared during the Idea Camp (thanks to all of your tweets, emails, and phone calls), I feel like I can make some of the following preliminary observations about what happened and what might happen in the future for the Idea Camp:
- The Crowd is Still Smarter, Wiser, and More Motivating than Any One Speaker
- I have to admit…I used to be a conference junkie that fueled my addiction through attending conferences to listen to prominent Christian celebrities talk about their latest ideas. I know…sad. It wasn’t until I admitted this (in a 12 step kind of way) to some friends that I began to reimagine a life where I could enjoy the thoughts of people I respect while not idolizing them. As my wife regularly reminds me to this day, “They’re just people.”
- The Idea Camp was formed around the premise that the “crowd” (i.e., those participating) usually creates something amazing when given permission, encouragement, and access for participation. The key was to create an environment in which participants felt safe to share, encouraged to dream, and empowered to question.
- The majority of the feedback I’ve received thus far has centered around the joy people felt in actually contributing to a conference as opposed to just attending and learning. Many walked away with concrete examples on how they helped (or were helped by others) in moving closer to the implementation of an idea.
- Some of this is measurable by the increase in activity on our website AFTER the conference.
- This is why I invited the kinds of speakers/facilitators that I did. I knew most of these individuals personally and knew of the kind of life they lived off-stage. These were individuals that didn’t believe their own hype. When I invited them to come out knowing that they would not receive an honorarium, they all jumped on board right away. I wanted people to meet these great individuals (some known more than others) who were accessible and desired to help others pursue their God-given passions.
- Social Networking is More than a Nice Tool, It’s Cultural Architecture
- When designing the Idea Camp, it was really important for me to make it as cost-efficient, socially conscious, and Kingdom-minded as possible. With very limited budget (set at about $4000), I turned to social media and networking to be the primary catalysts for getting the word out about the Idea Camp. Although there was very little modeling on how this actually worked for conferences, I knew that social networking, if used with relational and respectful clarity, would create the kind of “buzz” that would not be intrusive nor feel like a marketing ploy. I wanted to revisit the power of “the word of mouth” method of communication…you know…actually, talking to people one at a time.
- Guess what? It actually worked! I realized during this process that social networking was not just a nice little “tool”. It functions more like a cultural architect that is reframing how human beings interact with one another (both online and offline). (By the way, I’m not here to debate about whether or not social media can be damaging. That would be a different blog entry.)
- When people care about something, they tend to share. I did my best to first of all communicate that I actually did care about everyone that heard about the Idea Camp. In fact, until the day before we kicked off the Idea Camp, I personally welcomed over 450 people to our website. It was important for me as a conference organizer to connect relationally before with people ever showed up to our gathering. I think people want to know that what they are investing in (even when it’s free at a cost level) is rooted in relationship. Does it take time to do this? Absolutely! Is it worth it? What do you think?
- “Free” can be a Sign of Generosity, Not “Cheap”
- I used to think that if something was “free”, it had little value. The Idea Camp changed that perspective in me (and probably in many others). I realize now that keeping something free can offer an opportunity for many to participate through generosity.
- Everything from space to technology to audio/visual to meals were donated by people who believed in the Idea Camp. When people see the Kingdom focus you’re working with a desire to serve others, it ignites something in their being to want to help. Volunteerism and generosity is not dead. People just want a fresh context to give towards that doesn’t have strings attached.
- I have learned to never underestimate the desire of others to work together on something that benefits God’s Kingdom. Just don’t forget that you, as a leader, must incarnate this value before you ask others.
- Moving from Social Justice to _________________.
- As a person working in the non-profit, humanitarian sector, I am well aware of the emotions that arise when the terms “social justice” are brought up. For some in the Church, the terms become an anthem for life while others view it as a “watering-down of the Gospel”. I personally think that we should reimagine or reframe the words/language we use to describe it. (Side Note: I’m working on a book to address this for the average person of faith. More to come on future blog posts.)
- Why mention this at all? Regardless of what you think about “social justice”, there is something stirring in the hearts of many in the Church to consider how God desires us to better serve the world he so loves. I think this is a vital component of developing a healthy conference. In my opinion, conference makers must intentionally consider concrete ways in which people can get involved with loving their world. I’m not talking about more motivational speeches about compassion, but rather, tangible avenues to move forward in compassion (not limited to financial giving).
- I loved how technology, innovation, and care for the world came together during the Idea Camp. Most were not there to promote another great idea. The modeling of learning and listening before loving was a beautiful thing to see.
- Moving Beyond the TED Conference Format
- Another confession… I watch LOTS of TED conference talks online, especially since I can’t afford to go. I mention this because in recent Christian conferences, I’ve seen people take on the “TED format” of 18 minute speeches by speakers. Personally, I really like this succinct format that forces speakers to get to the point.
- At the Idea Camp, I wanted to experiment with an interview format with live texting (thanks to the generosity of Jarbyco)…Let’s call it, “The Idea Camp format”…haha…whatever! I felt that this kind of format allowed more for some of the introverts to share key insights without the pressure of doing a whole talk. Also, it kept the extroverts from going off too much 🙂 (I won’t tell you who I thought was what.) The live texting in of questions also added an unknown element to the conversation taking place on stage. From what I heard, it added a great way for online folks (over 1600 of them) to engage the conference from a distance.
These are my initial insights into what was experienced at the Idea Camp. Feel free to add to it if you have not done so already via other blog posts.
The Future of the Idea Camp?
I think the future is bright for another Idea Camp. I have no details, but if the Idea Camp can be used as a catalyst (no pun intended…by the way…I love the Catalyst Conference and will be there both in April and October) to fuel and network ideas for His Kingdom’s Cause, who am I to stop it.
So, what am I saying? YES! We will work towards organizing another Idea Camp in the future (ONLY IF YOU PARTICIPATE!) Please stay tuned my friends.
In the meantime, you can enjoy this past weekend online on our Vimeo channel. Feel free (for free) to download anything you want to share as a resource.
Thanks again for making the Idea Camp so impactful!