Unleash is a conference that brought together 700 attendees who are planting, getting ready to plant or have planted a church. “If you are an existing church plant, we want to pour into everyone on your staff,” says Alicia Files, the faith-based event planner for the Converge conference that took place Jan. 26 to 27.
For 170 years, Converge has been helping churches multiply, train their leaders and take on global missions. They also hold several national, regional and small statewide conferences for ministry staff. Those faith-based events include S2, which takes place in Arizona every November, and Converge Reach, which will be held in Colorado in June 2022.
Files is the CEO and executive director of Lofthouse Collective. While she’s an independent contractor who runs her own event company, she has been part of the Converge family for more than 10 years. This was the third Unleash her team planned—one was canceled due to COVID-19. In addition, Files plans the organization’s three national conferences, which attract around 1,000 attendees.
The energetic, music-filled Unleash conference for ministers, their staff and church planters around the country took place at Bright Ministry Center in Orlando. The 52,000-sq.-ft. venue sits on 87 acres and serves as Converge’s headquarters, and is also the space for a church plant called Harvest Florida.
“It’s a conference for every ministry leader and their staff. It’s for those in youth ministry, women ministry, and even admin and support staff. We know that beyond the church planter, there is a team of people behind them,” says Files. “You need to support all of them.”
The church planters came to Orlando for more than 30 workshops providing practical teaching and advice across various topics of ministry. “We had five main sessions with worship, emcee moments and keynotes. It is about getting God to speak into attendees’ hearts,” says Files. “We work at positioning them to be emotionally moved [via] a speaking map that we follow to help them spend time with God and discover what they need to hear that day. Then we challenge them to take a risk or do something new.”
What’s a speaking map? Turns out it’s a very intentional way to plan out the flow of your general sessions.
“That’s what we call it when we plan sessions,” explains Files. “We give the speakers the theme or challenge of the conference; they pray about it and decide, ‘What do we want to challenge people to consider this year?’ Then, across four or five sessions, we plan how we get them to a point of reflection by the last session. How do we get them toward that next main session so the event flows and moves them to the overall goal of the conference?”
“I loved a session we did that was about ‘Remember Your Call.’ I thought that was a powerful session. It’s so easy for us to look at the pastors and leaders on Instagram… [who] may have a bigger realm of influence than you. You just have to remember your call and where God leads you. That was the session I remember being really impactful.”
Aside from planning out sessions, scheduling speakers and handling rooming lists, videography, multiple hotel blocks, sponsorships and F&B, Files’ team also crafts the social media, email marketing and sponsorships for the event. “Our content writer does the email marketing and our photographer does the social media,” says Files. “A content manager takes notes throughout the sessions and they post those takeaways on social media. It’s a great recap for attendees and future attendees to see what’s being discussed.”
Today’s faith planner has to make sure the message lives on between conferences. Hence, Files has a videographer and photographer at the event capturing interviews. “In between marketing the conference, we want to pour into attendees and potential attendees,” she says. “It’s like, ‘You may have missed this on-site, but Louie Giglio, Toni Collier, Andy Stanley or Joseph Sojourner had this to share.’”
She also does a recap video of the event in the last session of the event. “It’s a great way to show the highlights from the last few days. It’s a reminder that you were inspired, what was learned, and we hope that’s how they feel when they walk out.” Then her team uses those interviews and recaps to hype the next conference and keep past attendees and potential future attendees engaged. “It shows that you’ve got to be here. It’s powerful and impactful and also—bring your team!”
Files works alongside a team of about 30 people to pull it all off. “Thirteen of us flew out to Orlando, while seven people were remote,” she shares. “There are also lots of volunteers at the host site too.”
Files’ main goal is to create a space for ministry leaders to feel taken care of and appreciated.
“We have design elements and beautiful signage and make it look and feel like an exciting and fun space to hang out. We brought out all Portofino lighting to light the whole space and beautiful centerpieces,” she says. “Ministers and their staff are preparing for everyone else week after week after week. So, when they step onto campus, we want them to see that we’ve been preparing for them instead. We need these lay leaders to come to the conference. We want to challenge them, help their church be a light and to take the next step for God.”