Three respected meeting planners say faith-based conferences are back in full force. That’s welcome news two years after the pandemic turned the world upside down.
“This market is coming back online faster than the corporate market,” says Jackie Middler, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. “People with faith know that good things will happen and God will walk us through.”
Connect Faith spoke with a dozen planners who had varying degrees of confidence in the meetings segment. While some, like Middler, say it is full steam ahead, others are a bit more cautious in their outlook. While it’s reasonable for planners to feel meetings and events are at half-mast or need a little longer to fully lift the anchor, it’s refreshing to hear contagious, overwhelming confidence.
Read on for results when we tested the waters of planners in the field.
Ready to Return
Randy Bryant, CMP, executive director of Florida State Association of Free Will Baptists, reports the five meetings he organized in 2021 were all in-person in the Sunshine State. Attendance reached about three-quarters of past levels—ranging from 20 to 110 attendees.
Bryant says the Florida Association of Free Will Baptists has a full schedule set for 2022 with a ministers' retreat that already occurred, an annual state association meeting scheduled for April, two Christian workers conferences in September and November, and a seniors retreat scheduled for October. Bryant is predicting unqualified success for the events: “I sense that people really need to get out and be with others.”
He believes the industry is only at half-mast because of the uneven nature of state and local regulations. “Many states have been safely open for some time, but quite a few are unnecessarily making things too difficult,” he opines.
Have the events been successful? “Absolutely!” he says with enthusiasm.
Keep Moving Forward
HelmsBriscoe’s Middler planned and held many events for her clients in 2021. Like the others, all were in-person. Middler says in the first and second quarters of 2021, she only had one or two events, but by the fourth quarter, the number was more than 20.
“The faith market is back, however attendees are cautious,” adds Middler. “With the upswing in [the] omicron [variant], we saw events moved a month out, but not canceled. My church clients are planning events and moving forward.”
Is 2022 looking up? “First quarter is seeing a slowdown or a move to second quarter,” she admits. But, she adds, “We are focused on smaller events and churchwide events with attendance under 500. We are slowly rebuilding confidence in our attendees.”
Bryant agrees with that assessment. “There are people that are still hesitant about attending meetings,” he says.
What happens when staff or volunteers test positive for COVID-19? “We either send them home or they quarantine in their room,” says Bryant.
This reflects the attitude of some planners to roll with the punches, and continue planning events to bring the industry back.
“Keep planning, keep moving forward,” urges Middler. “God is in control and he wants his message heard.”
Bryant agrees. “Hang in there. It may take a little while, but it will get better,” he says.