Catalyst: The Feelings

October 15, 2007 by

Here it is, the good, bad and ugly about the Catalyst conference itself. I think churches can take plenty away from this in how the conference was executed. Most of these rules will apply to your churches and services as well.

Excellence + Surprises + Innovation = Good.
Every transition was nailed. Every unexpected turn was welcomed. There was so much positive energy in the place, and momentum stayed throughout the event because everything was nailed. There were no awkward, deflating pauses. In your church, keep it both interesting and well-executed. Change things up a little, do new stuff–just make sure everyone knows what to do and when.

Bigger is not always better.
The conference was bigger than ever before. In my opinion, this led to more headaches than anything. By the end of day one, we were nearly an hour and a half over. This had to be logistical–too hard to leave and come back for lunch, too hard to get 11,000 people to sit down, etc. They opened up the whole arena, which left for some empty seats, which was a little disappointing. If this was going to be so good, why were people not coming?

Excellence in message is, well, excellent.
At the core of this event, people come to hear great minds impart wisdom to them. The conference excelled tremendously here. What does your church aim to do? Why do people show up? Whatever your “thing” is; do it with excellent. Not every conference or church can be incredible at everything.

Consumerism is dead.
OK, overstatement. But people are ready to move beyond consumerism. Look at volunteering trends and giving trends (to things other than the church). There is a subtle movement beginning to consume less and give more. You can see it in participative media, proceed-donating trends and Radiohead’s new album. Churches and conference have to find new ways of getting funds other than a “latest, greatest, newest, best, coolest” product trend.

Give people a break.
They need it. No human can possibly consume information for large blocks of time without a break. Catalyst has done better with this in the past, but they were still pretty good this year. When you get a little bit of humor, some fun or something unexpected, it gets people back in a frame of line to listen and participate. Five minute breaks in an hour-long service would just be awkward, but don’t be afraid to mix fun or humor into your service.

Participation is the future.
I was left with a bit of a feeling of helplessness at the conference. In the last year, I’ve gotten so used to blogs, diggs and conversations that I wasn’t exactly sure how to sit and be a sponge. There was some “text in your response” stuff that was good and participative, but we have to solve the problem of how to make 11,000 feel like 11. Or even 1,000 or 150 feel like 11. Provide every way possible for your church attendees to participate; folks want to feel included.

Noise is a killer.
There was so much noise. The music seemed never-ending. The chatter was ceaseless. They gave out noisemaking trumpets. And that wasn’t even the worst. There was nowhere you could look and not be bombarded by advertisements. Literally, nowhere. Not even outside the windows, as there were advertisements on the windows. Just like people need a break from listening, they need a break from bombardment by offers and freebies and ads. Be careful that your church lobby doesn’t become a bazaar and that your service has some down moments to let people reflect on the high-energy times.

There you have it, seven lessons about church marketing I learned at Catalyst. Did anyone else attend? Do you disagree with me on these points? Did you learn something else? Let us know in the comments.

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

13 Responses to “Catalyst: The Feelings”

  • Todd
    October 15, 2007

    I was in attendance. I agree with what you shared, but I would underline, bold and highlight the too much noise point. Those nose makers were a BAD, BAD, BAD idea.
    I suppose, in fairness, there’s no way to know that adults would be so immature with those whistle pops and horns.

     | Permalink
  • Timm
    October 15, 2007

    They should be careful that some of the speakers don’t force-feed us their views. I didn’t agree with everything Shane Claiborne said, but was interested to hear his viewpoint. Then he lost me when we were all asked to stand and recite his self-produced “creed.” I didn’t participate because it wasn’t for me, which left me feeling a little awkward.
    We should all leave room for people to discover new views without being forced to agree with or adopt them personally.
    Oh, and the noise sucked.

     | Permalink
  • brandon
    October 15, 2007

    I agree for the most part with all of your sentiments.
    On consumerism… I was so annoyed with all of the selling… after all did I not pay to be here. I am sure I did not pay for the right to be marketed by every new best church idea. This is maybe the biggest reason I would consider not going in the future
    On the noise. It was way over the top. It was too much like a rock concert all the time. There was never a reflective moment in worship. I loved the songs, I just longed for a break at some point, but it never came.
    I really would have enjoyed if they had given more time to female leaders.
    That said, Francis Chan and Stanley’s talk on systems were worth the price alone.

     | Permalink
  • Cole Phillips
    October 15, 2007

    I know what you’re saying about the noise, however, I thought the worship music was incredible. At our church, we intentionally limit the time of our worship to a short set so we don’t blow away our guests, and I thought it was cool to be in an environment where we could just let loose a little and focus for an extended time in our worship. I personally needed it. And the band was off the hook!

     | Permalink
  • Jeremy Phillips
    October 15, 2007

    I attended and I did like that there were empty seats. I tried sitting right next to someone and the seat space was so small that I felt extremely squeezed. After that session I went out of my way to find a place where I did not have anyone directly beside me.

     | Permalink
  • Dan
    October 15, 2007

    I thought there were things that come have been cut (see session two). I agree with staying on schedule was a problem. There were a couple of times during worship I had to close my eyes because of sensory overload and felt worship times were a few songs too long. I liked the worship but there was (heaven forbid) too much of the same type/style so it got stale (especially if you went to the Labs as I did).
    All of the speakers were good but things were uber-congested by the break. As for the lunch lines being too long, here is a shock, try planning ahead and packing a lunch. My wife and I did and had a good time. If consumerism is dead, lets live it out by brown bagging it. It is cheaper by a ton. I was able to get in and out fine by getting there early to get a parking spot by an exit. Much of that can be avoided if we all planned ahead ate a PB&J for two days. Just my thoughts.

     | Permalink
  • Nathan Ketsdever
    October 16, 2007

    From what I read online I thought “the Church should be on the frontline of service” was at the top theme at the Catalyst Conference.

     | Permalink
  • Matt Holley
    October 16, 2007

    I love the Catalyst conference. This was my 5th year going and it just keeps getting better. This was the best year for speakers. Usually there is at least one that you just feel blah about, but this year, they were all great. I have to disagree with you about the music. I thought the music was amazing and was the perfect length and filled space perfectly. Great worship! I do agree about the noise makers. It has never been a problem like it was this year. Those trumpets they gave out would not shut up. There wasn’t a sense of respect from some. Overall, the conference was awesome as usual.

     | Permalink
  • Matt Holley
    October 16, 2007

    One more thing, the consumerism? Really? I think everyone should know that events like this need to be paid for and that sponsors pay to have booths. It’s less about consumerism and more about footing the bill. I think we see all that went on and underestimate how many thousands of dollars were spent so we could learn and worship the way we did. Paying for the speakers, singers, orchestra, band, piper, opera singer, Chinese drummers, toys, noise makers, note books, packets, designers, air fare, transportation, lighting, sound, techies, roadies, etc… is a butt load of money! It’s not like you were forced to go talk to the merchants. If we’re honest, we were all trolling around to find the coolest free stuff.

     | Permalink
  • brad
    October 16, 2007

    I wasn’t there, but a question comes to mind: why does an event like this cost so much? Why would it need to have so many booths and advertising dollars crammed into it that people are constantly bombarded with distracting messages? It seems incongruent to have content and context so disconnected.
    As per the comments about noise, here’s my armchair commentary: you’ve got a bunch of wacky, creative types (the kind attracted to conferences on the new and different), and you give them things to make noise with! Is it a surprise that things are going to get a little crazy?! :-)

     | Permalink
  • Heather Hudson
    October 16, 2007

    This was my first year at Catalsyt & I am still processing two weeks later. I thought it was great.
    Some things that would have made it better for me: earplugs(just to muffle sound), a later start or longer breaks (I was exhausted & that made it hard to listen at the end) and women speakers (other people who understand that being a woman in ministry feels like a disadvantage).

     | Permalink
  • Paul
    October 16, 2007

    Wow! Goes to show how we all have so many different tastes. The worship was awesome, the booths were great (everyone loved all the free stuff) and the booths also were there to highlight resources. Many people don’t go to just “have church” they come for ideas. The booths provide these, while also helping with conference costs. The conference theme seemed very “green” and about social action (last year the word was “missional”) I didn’t care much for the yahoo/google guy and the dude with his pants backwards was interesting, he had some very thought provoking opinions. Catalyst is the best conference I’ve been to and while I don’t agree with everything, I do leave challenged and changed.

     | Permalink
  • Top Bunny
    October 20, 2007

    OK, I’ve been to Catalyst before. I also worked for the company that put it on for seven years before I struck out on a different direction, so I can give some deep insights into certain things. I loved working on this event. It was always the most exciting thing we did every year. It was also the most frustrating. :) This event has really helped a lot of people, I am still reading complaints even in this blog that we heard for years and never got fixed.
    First, it is more about looking cool and getting ‘names’ than things making sense. They do like to out-do themselves every year. Trust me, after the Whoopee Cushion year, they were stumped for a long time on how to top it.
    Second, Consumerism aka, vendors lined up everywhere. The NFL and MLB have nothing on the sponsorships sold for this event. I could tell you things about this that would make your toes curl. Seriously, they cram every available space with a sponsor. The money earned here I can tell you is a TON. Hundreds of thousands. It offsets the high cost in certain areas that I will get to later. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more about the this area.
    Cost. This event does cost a load. As someone mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to. Mainly in the marketing of the event. This is where my knowlege gets very deep. How many of you actually need that huge workbook they give out? How many of you need the all flashy ad pieces to attend. I will venture to guess that most of you attend when you get word from your sales rep and are less influenced by the brochure and website. At this point, those running the event over there don’t know how to do segmented marketing. They throw away tens of thousands of dollars in things they don’t need to. A new website every year…at the price tag the ones they do cost? Yes I know those figures. And many people can’t view them. Repeated mailings that draw less than the direct mail average…more money in printing and postage that could be saved.
    Women speakers. For most of the events there is a lack of good female speakers. Not because they don’t exisit mind you. But it is an unconscious thing when they set up who they want to speak, it often just fell to white men. This has tried to be addressed and is hard to do. They want women speakers who people know – widespread – for this genre, it isn’t there. So they don’t take the risk of a lesser known speaker and pumping her up. The same goes for minorities. Let’s face it, the church we know is very male and very white. Unless we do something to change it, no reason for it to change.
    Catalyst is a great event, and I am proud to have been a part of it for as long as I was. Let me just say that unless you went to all of them, I have you beat. At times those in charge of the event let their heads and egos get in the way. They are quite prideful. I can go into that too much, but it isn’t the point. Catalyst leaves money on the table that could be passed to you in viewer sponsors littering the arena, or enhance your post event experience by giving you continued guidance, not just Catalyst Monthly, but actual accountability items. I would suggest using the sales team as more than just sales. Those folks for the most part have been there for years and are GREAT. They know enough to help you apply and use what you learn. This helps avoid the typical event downer that affects nearly 80% of conference goers.
    If you want to know more of the inner workings et al, feel free to reach out to me. No sour grapes, because I’m not the only one who voiced the same concerns on the inside. The braintrust of the three that put it on just weren’t open to outside views.
    Here is the bottom line and this is true when it comes to any business. Your voiced opinions mean nothing. Period. It is your actions that mean something. If you want to get your attention – don’t go. If the women speakers is a big deal, don’t go and thell them that is why. If it is the over-sponsorship, don’t go and tell them that is why. When they draw more and more people each year, they are meeting your need. We can say we want something a certain way, but unless our actions mirror it, we are doing noting. Consider how much we ‘talk’ about the global envirnment…we still buy SUV’s in droves, because we want them. Business will only do what you tell them to do based on your actions. Words told Coke that New Coke was a great idea. Actions told them something completely different. You want change, actions my friends, not words.

     | Permalink