thinking about catalyst?

Long, long ago (way back in October), I attended Catalyst Conference for the first time. In case you’ve never heard of Catalyst, it’s almost certainly the most prominent Christian leadership conference out there. Not only helping thousands of ministry leaders, Catalyst also aims to help anyone who leads: with or without a title, in a so-called “sacred” vocation or a secular one.

As a Collegiate Minister, I went into Catalyst 2007 with specific thoughts in mind, roaming the world searching for ministries that had impact on our ministry field. (Of course, I’m always excited to see anything that impacts greater Christendom, as well.)

Since I’m headed to Atlanta next, I may even try to visit those guys.

Quick facts for Catalyst Conference 2008

  • Dates: “Lab sessions” October 8th, Main Conference October 9th-10th, 2008
  • Cost: Anywhere from $139 (special student rates!) to $249 right now. It goes up Friday!
  • Location: Duluth, Georgia (Atlanta area)

Quick tip: Look all over their site at www.catalystconference.com. It’s amazing, you can see all the speakers, there are lots of free things (even audio and video from past years), and it has all the conference details you’ll ever need. And lots of little quirky things you won’t ever need (but they’re fun!).

After attending last fall, I planned to review the conference on the blog. That didn’t happen. But tomorrow (June 26th) is another pricing deadline for cheaper registration fees for the 2008 conference, so I figured I’d at least broach the subject and add my two cents.

I don’t need to exhaustively cover the conference itself; a quick visit to their always-amazing site will reveal that Catalyst’s organizers are fun-loving, creative, innovative, and energetic. You’ll also see that the conference focuses on learning leadership regardless of the “vessels.” So the platform will be given to Christian and secular leaders, to leaders with a broad application as well as those who have more specific ministry foci, people you’ve never heard of and people everybody’s heard of, and so on. A broad spectrum.

Catalyst is focused on “younger leaders,” although as the organizers grow older each year I imagine the upper limits of who a “younger leader” is probably continue to increase. But that doesn’t mean the lower limits are rising; you’ll see plenty of “young adults” at this thing.

In the end, I really enjoyed Catalyst – even enough to sign up for 2008 on-the-spot (having no idea where I’ll be driving to Atlanta from!). But I had some caveats, too, before I recommended it wholesale to every college minister (or other person) out there.

Here are those quick thoughts on Catalyst Conference. (Remember, the quicker you sign up, the better on the price!)

Save some book-reading time. One of the best ways I know how to explain one of Catalyst’s HUGE benefits is simply to say that it will save you days of book-reading time. From most of the speakers, it seems like you’re getting their “main thing,” all nicely packaged and straight from the horse’s mouth. For college ministers especially, staying “caught up” on the discussions out there can help a lot.

Get catalyzed to read some more. Okay, while this may contradict that last thought, you’re bound to find some guys you want to hear more of. So at least you can buy your books more selectively.

Amazing speakers. That being said, the speaker list is (always) amazing. It’s at their site if you wanna see.

Booths. I’m a big fan of conference booths. And while not every booth will be applicable to you (sanctuary chair purchases probably aren’t your area of oversight), plenty can point you to ideas, resources, and even other conferences that help.

Catalyzing (and encouraging). Catalyst is very well-named. The ideas presented are often quite big and even in many cases new, as speakers may use this platform to present their “next big ministry thought.” (The book unChristian was trumpeted early on at Catalyst last year, for example.) This conference will get you thinking (whether you want to or not!) about both getting from Point A to Point B and getting from Point A to Point Z.

It’s also catalytic to be around so many who want to lead innovatively like you do. When’s the last time you were around thousands who got excited about new ministry ideas?

Catalyzing those you bring. If I was presently leading a ministry, I would certainly consider bringing student leaders or other college ministry leaders to Catalyst. You know who else you can bring? Your church’s staff! Your bosses! Other local leaders! (What better bonding opportunity could there be?)

The ministry ideas will probably be quite new to many of those you bring, even if you yourself have stayed pretty “up” on things. And there may be no better conference for exposing others to a diversity of leaders who are impacting ministry thought today – and who in some cases have done so for decades. (Remember, your students might end up telling the story of hearing some awesome speaker in person for the rest of their lives.)

Freaking out. At the same time, all this “catalyzing” does create a tension, between where we are and where we could go. Sometimes, that tension can be a good thing. Other times, that tension can paralyze. Coming with the right mindset is important. If you bring those serving under you, helping them have the right mindset is vital, too. And for some, whose ministries aren’t ready for much new but need to focus presently on getting better at what they’re doing, Catalyst might not be a good fit – yet. (At least that’s my opinion.)

Cost. Catalyst’s cost isn’t high for what you’re getting, and group rates help a bunch. At the same time, you’ll have to get to the Atlanta area and find a place to stay and eat some food. You’re also bound to be tempted to buy once you’re there, whether you’re buying resources from the speakers (lots of speakers means lots of books) or Catalyst-related materials like special offers, CDs or DVDs of the conference, etc.

There is plenty to purchase, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your pocketbook and your sales resistance!

Meanwhile, Catalyst this year made their conference audio available after-the-fact, as well. That’s always an option, particularly for the Labs Sessions, since you can’t attend everybody anyway. Just a thought.

Without representation… yet. One last (small) negative is this: Don’t expect to have a whole lot focused particularly on Collegiate or Young Adult ministry. While those ministry areas are clearly on the rise, they’re not even represented as choices when you sign up (though Youth Minister is an option). So though the speakers will probably present plenty of discussions that connect with our ministries, don’t get your hopes too high for specific notes on how we can use these philosophies with these specific people groups.

So… those are my thoughts on Catalyst. Hope that helps. As I’ve said, it’s definitely worth at least considering – for you and those you’re connected with in ministry.

Written from First Baptist Church, Orlando.

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