Really helpful discussion in the comments of the previous post [Recession: How bad is it?] about the recession and how its affecting our non-profits and ministries. I want to continue it here by picking up on some of the comments and questions that have emerged.
Its obvious that the recession is having a huge impact on all of us. On the negative side, budgets are cut, events are cancelled, and job security is soooooo 2007. On the positive side, organizations are forced to reexamine strategy, expenditure, and use this current recession as an opportunity to retool where necessary.
"This is helping us clarify what we are really all about and how to spend not only our money, but time, energy, prayer, and talent." Michael Kaspr
One of the culprits, as Becky pointed out, are these extravagant Christian conferences (PreacherFests) where participants are asked to pay an exorbitant admission price to go and hear their favorite speaker. Add to that a flight, meals, and a hotel room and there's not much change from A THOUSAND from which to buy the speaker's book to support this weird cottage industry.
Thats a heckofalot! Its also out of reach for many young struggling missional entrepreneurs and it sets an unsustainable example for the rest of the world who try to mimic the West.
The unsustainable lifestyle of some [a small minority] of professional Christian circuit riders is also on the chopping block. I heard about a well known Christian speaker that was invited to fly overseas to share at at an emerging church event in a particular country [not USA]. They managed to appease his life-style choices by putting him in a four-star hotel but he checked himself out and into a five-star hotel down the road . . . at their expense. I wont repeat the word they called him [rhymes with "banker"] but I will say that in today's climate, God's five star conference speakers will either have to suffer some two or three star inconveniences or struggle to find gigs at all.
Even better if we totally rethink this conference thang.
Our conferences? Over the past ten years, all of the events we (Boaz Project) have hosted have been free of charge. The only was to do this was to have teachers who could speak with little or no honorarium, invite participants from a smaller geographical location, parasite ourselves inside existing festivals, ask local churches for buildings and personnel, have zero promotional budget and request funding from foundations. Once or twice we partnered with another organization or seminary and there was a minimal charge. And quite often we have hosted roundtables inside existing festivals and the cost of that festival is usually (but not always) met by the participant.
In 2009, I expect to host events [and partner with others to host events] in at least a dozen countries. I am hoping the recession will have less impact than other more high-profile, high-budget events than depend on a high price of admission. Our events are usually smaller, more local, more invisible, especially if they are embedded inside other bigger festivals [like SXSW, Freakstock, etc]. As a rule, I like festivals more than conferences, as I said in a recent post called Festivals as a Way Forward, because they are much cheaper, leave a smaller carbon footprint and are not dependent on one or two Superstar Christian Celebrities who insist on fancy hotels and a hefty honorarium at the end - thus raising the price of admission and reducing accessibility to the people who really need to be there.
I try not to give preference to conferences that reimburse my travel and offer an honorarium over the more organic "emerging" events where there is no budget or funds. At least I don't think I don't. And when I am asked to speak, I accept whatever accommodation I am offered. Either sleeping on a couch, some tent space, or sometimes a hotel room when offered. Again, I accept the offer of hospitality and don't ask for an upgrade. Luke 10 comes to mind.
As a missionary, I occasionally have enough funds to help me travel and teach. Most of it has to be raised from others so I can do my job. So please don't take this as an insult to those who teach at conferences as a career. But be encouraged when I say that God is faithful - and some of the best opportunities are sometimes the scariest. You might not get home as soon as you want, and sometimes you might not get home at all, but its always worth it.
Sometimes I have been invited to speak at a conference where the admission cost is high and inaccessible to everyone except church and mission executives, but I have gone along anyway. Other times, I have turned down the offer because the conference is so expensive, inaccessible and unsustainable as a model. I figure that most missional entrepreneurs can't afford to be there anyway and the only people who will attend have an institutional/corporate budget behind them.
Honorariums? I have been speaking in Christian conferences for over 20 years. Probably hundreds of them. I have never once asked to be paid. I have never requested an honorarium. I have never suggested a fee. Highly unusual . . I know . . and maybe a little anal . . but I have felt led by God to do it this way. Yes, I happily receive gifts and voluntary honorariums but I don't request them nor do I have a "suggested honorarium" figure. In my reading of the New Testament, the financial responsibility lies more on the apostle/teacher than on the students.
Many of you reading this post have invited me to speak at your events and you know that what I am saying is true.
But enough of my whinging and whining about conferences . . . .
- What else can we do to enable training and teaching and gathering during this recession without resorting to unsustainable models?
- What else about the way we do church and mission can we change to be more sustainable and emerge from this recession in better shape?
- Where should we be funneling resources during these lean times in order to keep obeying the Great Commission?