Catalyst 2005

October 10, 2005 by

Catalyst ConferenceI spent the last few days in Atlanta at the sixth annual Catalyst conference, the self-proclaimed event for next generation leaders. For those unfamiliar, Catalyst is the younger, hipper brand of InJoy, the leadership development company founded by John Maxwell and purchased last year by motivational sales guru and longtime Maxwell mentoree, Todd Duncan. It is refreshing to see for-profit organizations run ministry-type events like Catalyst. Not only does it provide a platform for profit (to propel vision), it fosters freedom and creativity not available to many non-profit churches and para-church events because they are often limited by donor demands, tithe incomes, etc.

Catalyst is a movement not to miss.

This year’s event—my first—was no exception. The main-stage speaker lineup was unsurprisingly impressive. From mega-church pastor and master storyteller Andy Stanley to the edgier, raw-thentic Erwin McManus of Mosaic, to the afro-quirky Malcolm Gladwell (author of Tipping Point and Blink), to the contagiously controversial Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz), and the indescribably engaging awkwardness of Louie Giglio (Passion movement), these guys nailed it. The only main-stage let down was John Maxwell and Bill Hybels. These guys are obvious parents and pillars of present-day church and leadership trends, but they were a little out of place in this conference context. The fact that Hybels was dressed for a funeral and Maxwell was sitting more than any of the other guys is beside the point. These guys deserve credit and honor for so much; let’s just figure out another way to do it besides hearing their regurgitated revelations that we’ve already read in their 1,294 best-selling books.

I digress.

I attended the pre-conference labs (three workshops) and a post-conference one-day seminar, which altogether afforded me a few opportunities for behind-the-scenes dialogue, relational connections, and a little deeper dive into some pressing subjects of culture, the church and, a subject obviously near and dear to my heart, church marketing.

Catalyst Takeaways
During one of the pre-conference workshops, Tim Tassopoulos, senior vice president of operations for Chick-fil-A, spoke about building a platform of excellence. He spoke to the differences between success and excellence, and that if you want anything to matter in life, go for excellence, not success. Success is measured against what others have (or don’t have) while excellence is measured against our potential. What a lesson for church marketing. Let’s not mimic the megas, let’s instead be intentional about our own impending possibilities.

Another pre-conference workshop included 60 long minutes with Sean Womack, the global creative director of Saatchi and Saatchi X. Either I was expecting a little too much out of this guy, or he needs to stick to his enviable day job. Womack had some very good things to say, but he appeared to be talking as if he were in a maze; going down every path except the one to “finish.” When asked about church marketing, Womack was doggedly ignorant. “Stop making Jesus a product,” he said, “Jesus is not a marketing message.” Later in the evening, during an “unplugged” time with Donald Miller and Leonard Sweet, Miller made nearly identical remarks about church marketing, which were followed by uneducated rousing applause.

Herein lies the fundamental problem with thought leaders and church leaders today as it relates to church marketing. On one hand, it is correct to say we shouldn’t sell Jesus. When I put myself in Womack’s shoes, I realize he goes to work every day and figures out how to get people to buy stuff they don’t need. This is not what church marketing means! On the other hand, good church marketing and communication is all about telling a story and getting people to listen and respond. If you don’t want to call it marketing, then find another word. Until then, church leaders who get better at reaching more people for Christ and making better disciples of Christ will continue to use church marketing as a method for the message.

On the first day of the actual conference, Donald Miller spoke in an afternoon session and had some great points about Christian culture. He recalled the 1925 Scopes Trial, and said that the “Christian bubble” can trace many of its roots to this time period. Miller pointed to many Christian schools, colleges, universities, publishing companies and other organizations that all began around that time as Christendom created its own “Salt Lake City.” Among Miller’s points, his primary one was that we as Christians need to realize that “other people exist.” What a lesson for churches to be aware of how they communicate themselves to their community. Church is not the central part of life, people are. And so many more people exist than the people we are already in relationship with.

Later this same evening, I was able to spend some time over dinner with a dozen or so leaders from various churches and organizations. Invited by Dawn Nicole Baldwin (a fan of Church Marketing Sucks) of Aspire One, I was able to meet and mingle with some pretty cool people if I do say so myself. Say hello to David Hoyt from Maximum Impact, Paul Braoudakis from the Willow Creek Association, Tony Morgan and Kem Meyer from Granger Community Church, Matthew Harper, Michael R., and Scott Evans from Outreach, and Roland Jacobs, Dawn’s partner from Aspire One. What an honor to spend some time with people who care deeply about the Church, and equally so about marketing and communication methods that work. I left with a handful of business cards in anticipation of further being able to serve these newfound heroes.

On the final day of this two-day event, Malcolm Gladwell spoke about social power. I learned later that interesting enough, Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is being used by many church planters. The concepts and ideas Gladwell has about building groups of people and networks are very applicable to church plants and churches wanting to grow. One of the biggest problems facing America, says Gladwell, is the rise of isolation. We are becoming more and more isolated which is messing with the way we communicate, relate, and connect. What a timely message for churches as we seek to enfranchise the disenfranchised, and re-connect the disconnected.

What a stimulating few days!

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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10 Responses to “Catalyst 2005”

  • Perry
    October 10, 2005

    GREAT CONFERENCE! My world was rocked, especially by Andy’s last message.
    Different point of view–I thought Hybils knocked the ball out of the park, I really enjoyed what he had to say–it caused me to look at a lot of decisions I have made in my life.
    Probably just personal preferences though.

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  • MJ Taylor
    October 10, 2005

    I loved Catalyst too – this is the first year I attended and I was totally refreshed and encouraged.
    I liked Hybels and Maxwell, but my group felt the same way that you did. Also, there was quite a bit of technical difficulty during the Labs on Wednesday.
    I think the dominant service in the exhibits was church video/multimedia services. It will be interesting to see who is successful in the long run.

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  • kristin
    October 11, 2005

    Well, knowing who the speakers were, i was expecting good things before i went… but i wasn’t expecting to be as impressed as i was. this was my first year to attend.
    to tell you the truth, i was most excited about hearing from Donald Miller & Malcolm Gladwell… i was a fan and had read both of their books before i even knew about Catalyst.
    i had never experienced or read any of the other speakers so
    i wasn’t sure about what they had to offer. boy, was i pleasantly surprised.
    i think my favorite speaker was Erwin McManus. it was a real treat of an experience. glad i went. just when you think that all christian events suck… you find out otherwise. there’s no doubt that Catalyst will continue to grow in success… it was great.

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  • Micheal
    October 11, 2005

    Catalyst was a great event. Before going I had a rough few weeks in my ministry. The messages allowed me to look beyond my problems and to reconnect with my love of ministry. After the event, all I want to do is love my students and show them Christ. This was my second Catalyst. Next year will be my third.

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  • aaron
    October 11, 2005

    Couldn’t have said it better myself about the speakers. Adding this blog to my RSS feed list.

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  • A Christian Blog
    October 11, 2005

    More Catalyst Links

    In case your wondering, yes, I will wrap up talking about this subject soon. This is probably my last post about it specifically. Here are some links I’ve found from around the internet on views about Catalyst 2005. Some I really agree with, …

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  • s.e.whitby
    October 13, 2005

    Wish I could have made it this year. Malcolm Gladwell would be worth the price of admission alone. Blink and Tipping Point are great – should be required reading for most church leadership teams – but his writing for the New Yorker is even better. Check out his Ketchup Conundrum analysis of why there are 200+ types of mustard in the grocery store, and only 2 or 3 ketchups. It actually applies to what we do. I promise.

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  • Steven Strunk
    October 14, 2005

    As a marketing consultant for one of the sponsors of Catalyst, I’ve attended the last two years. Like everyone so far I was blown away by the entire experience. Again.
    My role with the organization I represent puts me in contact with some of the hearts and brains behind Catalyst. I mention this only as a platform to relate something that some of you may know and most of you probably suspect — these guys are for real.
    As someone who travels to event after event and lives in the world of church resource marketing and event planning, I can’t tell you how energizing it is to do something like Catalyst. The experience stands out in large part because it is pure and organic (and yes, it is possible to achieve these things out of the for-profit sector). I pray the Catalyst “attitude” becomes the norm rather than the exception in my lifetime.
    To all those who attended, thanks for your support of the sponsors/exhibitors. It was a joy meeting so many of you.

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  • Paul Cohen
    November 7, 2005

    Chick-fil-A speaking about building a platform for excellence? How about for starters stop supporting industrial chicken farms that are inhumane to animals, people (directly and indirectly), and the environment, all things God has placed in our care?

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  • gustavo varil
    October 17, 2007

    Man, let’s face it. Catalyst is a huge a couple of days the organizers pocket a good chunk of money that small business would envy. They’re doing a good job in targeting this naive and confused young generation of evangelicals whose churches have failed to provide with good teaching.

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