Why Leadership Conferences are Failing

Kyle Reed // @kylereed

I am making a big assumption here, maybe the first question should be along the lines of “Is leadership conferences failing?”
It depends on how you define failure. Failure for me at times is over stimulation. I can read blogs or watch TV with the best of them, but when it becomes a failure for me is when I become so over stimulated I am overwhelmed. There are times when I have to put myself in “time-out” from media just because I have exposed myself to so much stuff. I almost feel like I was abusing the tools because I was absorbing so much. In this context for me, failure is over exposer and mass quantity.

In this context leadership conferences are failing. Do you become a better leader because you have memorized every word of John Maxwell or because you have put what you have learned into practice? Or how about this, are you an expert on blogging because you read blogs all day or because you have taken the time to blog and have grown an engaging blog community? I would say the second option is true in both circumstances. So why do we equate more with success? Its like trying to open up a grocery store next to a super wal-mart, you have no shot at winning or being successful. Or to bring it back to church world, its like starting a church plant a block away from another church, seems to be kind of working against each other.

Perry Noble announced that his church, New Springs, will be hosting a one day Leadership conference featuring these speakers:

  • Steven Furtick
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Judah Smith
  • Francis Chan
  • Jud Wilhite
  • and me!  :-) (Perry Noble)

Now that is a serious lineup, and to be honest I would love to hear all of these guys speak. I would be there if I could. But when it really comes down to it all this is not the only conference or for that matter leadership conference going on in the next 5 months. If someone told me today that I could go to these conferences and they would pay for me (hint hint) I would definitely go. But in all reality that is not a reality and therefore I am left at home hoping to be a better leader and grow in my leadership. Where the failure seems to be happening is the flood of conferences and the disconnect between young leaders and current leaders.

I do feel like (and I have heard others say this as well) conferences are starting to become out of date. Look at Willow Creek, that place was a conference machine. Now they are down to about two conferences a year. This trend is starting to be noticed by others as well. Not a coincidence that online conferences are starting to appear as well.

With this announcement of another leadership conference that I will not be able to attend I am feeling left out and wondering what I am missing. You know, like when you don’t get invited to a party that everyone else is going to?  Difficult thing for me is that I feel like I am missing a chance to learn, grow, and network, unfortunately it will cost me close to $500 to do all of this, and that is just for one day.

Are Leadership Conferences failing?


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Kyle Reed

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Kyle Reed is a connector looking to connect with others. A 20 Something that is blogging his way through life and looking to connect through community. Also a team member of the 8BIT Network and brand evangelist. Find me on twitter: @kylelreed, lets chat.
  • dannyjbixby

    It's ok. Nobody else is going to the parties either.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

      Ya, but don't you wish you could go?
      I just feel like this is the idea of mentoring, you come to us.

      • dannyjbixby

        To that particular one…no, not really. But others, yes definitely I do.

        But I think that is more from my desire to be one of the “conference cool kids” than my desire to learn about church leadership.

        And that's my problem, not theirs…not saying it's yours either though.

        I don't have to go to conferences to learn about it. I don't have to be there physically for networking either.

        As for mentoring….I see mentoring as something other than those leadership conferences as well.

        • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

          okay cool. I got what you are saying, I am with you on the conference cool kids.
          I think for me it is wanting to be around those leaders that gets me, I want to be able to be influenced by them and surround myself by them, the problem I think for me is that it never lives up to the standards that I feel it should be. I always leave disappointed it seems.

          • dannyjbixby

            Maybe the disappointment stems from having high expectations. Or thinking that these events are going to be life-changing.

            For me, I get a good amount of influence from the leaders that are already at my own church…I don't really feel much of a need to go and soak up from those on “the circuit.”

            That and internet conferences, twitter, blogs, books….I think that I have plenty of opportunities to soak up wisdom and benefit from the experience of others without having to go to an actual event.

            • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

              And I think that is exactly where my disconnect is, I am not surrounded by great leaders (well I am but in a very limited role, either they sit on my shelf or on my computer screen).

              My expectations have really been a tough thing for me. I expect a lot of things, so much so that my mind starts to play out situations before I start something. I have such grandiose ideas that I cannot leave without being disappointed because of what i have set myself up for.

              Maybe the hype of these conferences is what is killing me. You always here people pep these things up by saying, “life changing” “you don't want to miss this” “you have to be here” “the best ever”
              that kind of stuff is what does it to me.

              • dannyjbixby

                “I expect a lot of things, so much so that my mind starts to play out situations before I start something. I have such grandiose ideas that I cannot leave without being disappointed because of what i have set myself up for. “

                I feel ya. I do the same thing. I used to do it a lot more…but have really been working at this over the past few years.

                I'm sure the hypefactory of these conferences doesn't help matters. Just know they're all liars and it may help ;)

                • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

                  Ya I have a really hard time combating expectations. It is like a sickness that I have. Wish it wasn't there but I am often let down more then my expectations are met. And usually that is in regards to myself.

  • Kelly_Tabithas_Team

    This is just a guess, but I think that the big supply you pointed out is meeting less money and more online conference availability. For example, I am going to miss 4 to 5 traditional conferences in my niche this year that I would love to be able to attend. Instead, I will be attending 4 to 5 online conferences for very little money and no travel. The “in person” events definitely have their advantages, but it is not realistic for me at this time, and I found great quality in the sessions online.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

      That is exactly how I am, because of money i am staying at home and soaking up the online stuff.
      But there is something about going to a conference and being there. I really wish I could be there instead of online. But money does control this, unfortunately.

  • http://www.benlemery.com/ Ben

    I went through this crisis about six years ago when prophetic conferences were the “it” thing in the Charismatic circles. I remember one year I went to six or seven conferences, with many of the same speakers, in four different states. At the end of the year, I was exhausted, twitching (not really) and really didn't learn anything more than when I had started.

    Conferences are great for the experience, filling up a notepad and feeling like you just went to a buffet and pigged out. Eventually though, you digest and have to get rid of the waste, leaving you empty and hungry for more. So we continue to run to the next thing to fill ourselves up with, hoping that we can be full again.

    What do you know, just like we have to have a normal diet in eating, we need to do the same with conferences. If we are not taking time to actually do what we learn or come up with the ideas and strategies that God has laid on our heart for His purpose for our life, we end up just sitting on the couch waiting for the next best thing.

    It isn't about “have leadership conferences failed us” it is more about are we failing ourselves. I got tired of traveling and having to remash the event I went to for everyone who couldn't so I just started my own events. They were created specifically for the people who lived within two hours of me and we would try to get one or two people that could really pour into the group. If a speaker had a set speaking fee, they were not invited.

    I think where leadership conferences have failed is that the biggest names are on stage and yet there are many, MANY great people who can speak with an even broader range of perspective that never get invited to the big events. These are the people I find. They usually are the ones that leave people thinking beyond themselves.

    Anyway, you are like me, we want to be mentored; I simply got tired of waiting and did it myself. Seemed to work fine and I plan on doing it again soon.

  • dannyjbixby

    “I expect a lot of things, so much so that my mind starts to play out situations before I start something. I have such grandiose ideas that I cannot leave without being disappointed because of what i have set myself up for. “

    I feel ya. I do the same thing. I used to do it a lot more…but have really been working at this over the past few years.

    I'm sure the hypefactory of these conferences doesn't help matters. Just know they're all liars and it may help ;)

  • jaycaruso

    I discussed this once on my own blog, not so much in this context but in the context of the reason why people attend such conferences. I often think it comes down to who is going to be at the conference. I went to a 'Men At The Cross' conference (and Kyle on a side note I will be getting those books out to you this week) and there was maybe 1000 men there. This was a conference that focused on mentoring, the importance of it and why the world needs strong Christian men to help lead. A conference with that kind of content should have been sold out. One glance at the speaker lineup however, and it wouldn't register because no “big” names were on the list.

    That being said, the leadership conference Newspring is going to host will probably be sold out very quickly. It's easy to understand why. I'd like to attend a conference to see Marc Driscoll and Francis Chan. But if that is my main motivation for attending, then I am attending for all the wrong reasons. It would be interesting to see if Perry had said they were going to have this conference and didn't name the other speakers. Would it fill up?

    Our motivation is so key when it comes to our actions. If I am going to attend a leadership conference, it should be only because I want to see what I can gain from those leaders and how I can apply it to my own life, not to brag about seeing Francis Chan live.

    I think the local church has to be more involved. Thankfully, I attend a church that is constantly looking to raise up new leaders and I will be attending a leadership conference in a couple of weeks at my own church.

    So I don't think the conferences are failing. I think the people attending are failing because many are attending under the wrong motivation. Like I also said, the local church must step up, identify the leaders within their own church, and raise them up.

    • http://www.contentunderpressure.net/ Josh

      I was going to comment on this, but you've hit the nail on the head, in my opinion.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler Braun

    I don't know what churches have the money to send their pastors to 5 conferences a year (how else could there be so many conferences year round?), but all I know is that I can't even go to one. There is no money for that. We have to take it out of other areas to be able to go to conferences. Leadership Summit is the only conference that fits for me. I can go to a live feed somewhere local and hear great and different speakers (not the same pastors who do the conference circuit).

    Are they failing? It depends on what failing is. They are probably all great, but I won't be going to any of them.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylelreed

      Wouldn't that be failing then? The point of the conference is to have people attend, I would say to have young leaders attend. You are a person and a young leader and you are not going. There seems to be a disconnect there.

      • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler Braun

        I say failing might be too strong because they are all probably great conferences. Just because I can't and won't go doesn't mean they're failing completely.

        • http://bondchristian.com/ bondChristian

          Yeah, I think Tyler's right here. I would certainly hope that the sole purpose of conferences isn't just to get attendance up. If I were doing a conference, I'd be more concerned with the value those who do attend receive from it than worry about all those who couldn't come.

          Now I'm still not entirely sure they're rocking that, but I think the focus at least should be there, instead of on attendance.

          -Marshall Jones Jr.