Built around in-person gatherings, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA never relied much on event technology. But, like many other faith-based event planners, Cathy Reich, CFMP, the church’s event coordinator, realized she was going to have to pivot fast when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many in-person conferences.
“We never provided a livestream until 2020,” says Reich. “We have an event that has always been face-to-face only.”
Two years later, Church of the United Brethren in Christ’s next event is scheduled for fall 2022. While the pandemic remains, live events are rebounding. Indeed, the UBW Women’s Conference will be meeting at Blue Gate Garden Inn in Shipshewana, Ind.
However, there will continue to be an online version of the event for those who are not able to travel.
Because the conference usually consists of women’s groups from churches that send individuals for the in-person event, they can now also register a group for the online event. The added benefit? After the event, Reich and team make sure all the women can share their experiences and learn from each other, and that the online groups will be more included in the conversations because they also heard the content that in-person attendees witnessed.
The pivot demonstrates that the faith-based women’s conference was extremely pleased that the online version of the event extended their reach further. The unforeseen obstacle, COVID, “gave us greater confidence to provide a hybrid event moving forward,” says Reich.
Lessons From 2020
Once Church of the United Brethren in Christ realized the 2020 conference wasn’t going to happen in person, they decided to move forward with a strictly online version instead of canceling or postponing.
“We quickly secured a host church, utilizing their volunteer staff for production details,” says Reich. “Our speaker was prepped that she would be speaking to a camera and possibly only a handful of people in person.” Luckily, her reach would go much further than that.
Typically, the conference draws about 240 people from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The number increased significantly in 2020.
Going virtual wasn’t the only new element Reich and her team tried with this monumental change. They also incorporated these elements:
- The speaker prepared end-of-session question sheets for each main session to encourage discussion.
- They allowed people to register as individuals, or with a group viewing the event together.
- Those viewing as individuals were part of a Zoom meeting and had a practice session prior to the event.
- Those viewing as a group were given a streamline link.
- All who registered received a goody bag in the mail with items embracing the theme.
Each attendee received a pink bubble pack envelope prior to the virtual event. Inside, they found a cotton pouch that had the conference theme “I am His” emblazoned on it with a simple red heart, as well as a mirror with the same logo. The goody bag included lip balm, hand sanitizer, a puzzle piece, a notebook with a pen with the UB logo on it and a keepsake print saying “I am His.”
“We received a great response from our attendees, and had the largest attendance in history,” says Reich. “We went up to 300 attendees. I believe this was due to the ability for women to attend who normally would not or could not travel to the event.”
Reich says the feedback they received post-conference was that several people participated who would not have gone to the face-to-face site. Also, those who were housebound were able to participate, some even with help from healthcare providers.
“They loved it. Those who viewed in groups appreciated the questions for discussion. The individual online participants were able to be part of a discussion group through Zoom, led by one of our leadership team,” adds the faith-based planner.
What did Reich learn personally?
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and use the unique talents of those around you. Honestly, much prayer and trusting people with knowledge that I didn’t have regarding technology. God places people around you with unique gifts. It is important to develop great working relationships with those who can assist where you are inadequate. That’s how the body of Christ works best.”