A question that many of us in the Mechanicsburg, Pa. office have heard many times, and with increasing frequency in recent weeks, is “Where and when will General Conference be next year?”
On one hand, General Conference should not be too hard to organize. Right? After all, the general location is legislated in the Manual of Doctrine and Government (MDG) and so it is clear we are going to the Southeast Conference. Easy. Done.
On the other hand, the Southeast Conference includes Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, all of which have congregations in the region. So where should we go?
In addition to the selection of location, there are two other very significant events that will happen before General Conference 2016 that make the planning more difficult. For one, all of the global workers and family who serve under the world missions department will be coming home for a Missionary Family Retreat. This retreat will happen a few days before the meeting of General Conference.
Retreats for our global workers are important, and typically happen within the region of the world in which they serve. However, they’ve never had the opportunity to join together in the U.S. at the time of General Conference. This will be a first.
The second event that complicates planning is that the U.S. pastors and spouses Ministry Enrichment Retreat will also be held right before General Conference (another first!). This event has been held in the past, but was a year when General Conference did not meet. Attendance at the most recent Ministry Enrichment Retreat in Dublin, Ohio in 2011 struggled to get the same attendance as past retreats. Because of that, we felt it was time to try something new.
What is the something new? It is a Missionary Family Retreat for all global staff and families, followed by a Ministry Enrichment Retreat when U.S. pastors and spouses will join the global staff, followed by General Conference 2016 when delegates and visitors will join the global staff and the U.S. pastors. Finally, the quizzers have their national final at General Conference.
When all of this is added together then, it presents a logistical challenge (to put it lightly).
So, where will we be?
Our original plans were to be in a large church in Miami. In doing so, we would be near our many congregations located around the greater Miami area. We visited a church facility with enough room to meet all our needs, and hotel accommodation close by. We were all set.
But the church had to cancel, which sent us back to the drawing board.
We decided to work with a conference-planning company who scoured the Miami and Orlando areas for a location large enough, flexible enough, convenient enough, and cost-effective enough to meet our needs. Between our staff and the company, we contacted over 40 different conference and retreat facilities. However, none fit our needs exactly. The search in the Miami area was reduced to one potential location: a large, high-end conference facility. They had what we needed, and when we needed it. But this came at a price—a very expensive price.
Desiring to be good stewards of the resources of our congregations as well as denominational funds, we decided to investigate other locations outside of Miami (but still in Florida). This led us to Stetson University in the small town of DeLand, about an hour northeast of Orlando. While not a professional conference facility, they do have what we need and are much, much more cost-effective. Their campus is beautiful, within a five minute walk to the town center (with stores and restaurants), and has the normal facilities you expect on a university campus—a swimming pool, gym, basketball courts, SOCCER FIELD (does anything else really matter??).
Leadership Council reviewed both options in detail. While the conference center in Miami has the benefit of being near our congregations there, the cost was almost three times as much for accommodation and food. In addition, the fees for things such as stage and set-up, A/V equipment, meeting rooms, and WiFi were also more expensive. Because of our desire to make these events as accessible as possible for as many people as possible, including bi-vocational and small church pastors and delegates, we have opted to go to Stetson University.
So, is this confirmed?
No, not yet! We have communicated our intention to Stetson, and they are in the process of getting the contract written. It is expected that this will take several weeks to finalize. While unlikely, it is possible that some last minute, unforeseen glitch could happen. Please pray it does not.
If everything goes according to plan, here is what you can expect:
Missionary Family Retreat: July 5–7, 2016
Ministry Enrichment Retreat: July 7–8, 2016
General Conference: July 9–11, 2016
Bible Quizzing: July 8–10, 2016
If you or your congregation are working on budgeting for these events, the cost for the Ministry Enrichment Retreat is estimated to be around $150–$175 per person for two nights’ accommodation (Thursday and Friday), including all meals. The estimated cost for General Conference (three nights’ accommodation and all meals) will be around $200-$225 per person.
If something falls through and we are unable to go to Stetson, we will go to the conference center in Miami (if still available). If that would be the case, the cost would be roughly triple that of Stetson.
As usual, in addition to the costs of the event, every person will be responsible for his or her travel expenses to the location.
It is our hope and prayer that theses events will provide a great opportunity for our denominational family to be encouraged, refreshed, challenged, and inspired, so that, together, we will leave committed to following Jesus more closely and serving him more passionately.