by Pamela Carey
A sunny 78 degrees and a mild breeze pretty well describe the Orlando scene at Disney’s Coronado Resort in January and the San Diego scene at the Town and Country Resort in March. At both locations hundreds of people from all over the world will gather this coming year with the same goal–ministry to children. Many of them have a story to tell about how they landed at INCM’s Children’s Pastor’s Conference, and how they became addicted, contagious or both.
So here is mine…
I entered full time ministry to children in 2004, and was offered an opportunity to lead the children’s department at my church. With very little knowledge of overseeing an entire department, my inspiration cup sat nearly full, but my experience cup sat nearly empty. All that soon changed.
A woman at a local Children’s Ministry workshop noticed that I looked a little overwhelmed and kindly shared, “This is your first year as a ministry leader, and I know what you are going through. If you don’t do anything else, get to the Children’s Pastor’s Conference. It will change everything.” In a rush, I failed to write down the information, and I forgot the conference name before I got home.
Almost a year later, I saw an INCM ad for CPC, and my memory jolted. “That’s It!” I said. “That’s the Conference.” I did not know what I was getting myself into, but I remembered she said it would change everything, and it did.
The first CPC I attended, I met many people who passionately understood the tears and the triumphs of the children’s ministry plight. Sitting among hundreds of children’s ministry laborers I began to understand that I was a part of a world-wide movement to win young hearts to Christ, and every aspect of the conference serves as a tool to take back to the local church to advance the revolution.
Each year we attend the conference more members of our Children’s Ministry team attend. Yet, ironically, people rarely return from the conference saying, “I had a blast.” Instead, they almost always say “I can’t wait till next year!” I suspect this holds true for many CPC attendees, and I think I understand the attraction.
What makes CPC so addictive that people look forward to coming year after year?
Perhaps it is the incredible amount of events that get packed into four amazing days. For instance, the pre-conference church tours give us awesome exposure to creative ministry spaces. Our church recently built a new church building, and the tours helped our ministry team build long-term and short term goals for creating kid-friendly areas that go beyond paint and posters on a wall. They also helped us develop our CM policies regarding class structure, check in procedures, and security measures.
Along with church tours, CPC serves up over one hundred breakout sessions that tackle everything from building a ministry team to building a budget to building yourself. One year, two of our children’s church leaders struggled to keep children’s attention during large group. The week after they returned from CPC, they were able to capture children’s attention for the entire large group period using three fun techniques they learned in the Children’s Church Live breakout. Sessions on volunteer recruitment helped us shift our recruitment approach so that volunteers serve in areas more suited to their gifts and talents. This year, Wowed by the Web introduced me to several internet tools designed to expand my communication with, tech savvy families. No matter the topic, something targets everyone.
Ideas and information received in breakout sessions extend to CPC’s enormous resource center where it is not uncommon to find conference presenters and breakout session leaders going beyond simply promoting products. Instead, you can often find them coaching one on one, answering questions, offering detailed demonstrations, and suggesting uses for resources that fit our individual ministry need. The resource center puts a flood of ministry solutions at your fingertips, and it does not take long to get swept away by the undercurrent. Never is there a dull moment in this massive hub with steady streams of materials, prizes and freebies handed out almost by the minute.
It is evident that INCM understands the labor intensive calling of the children’s ministry worker and that ministry to children is one of the toughest jobs you will ever love. They feature awesome experiences that realign you with God’s awesome calling on your life. My favorite time of the day is when everyone gathers for lunch or dinner general sessions. Every presentation, worship leader, and speaker brings renewed inspiration and much needed encouragement to the ministry worker’s soul.
Also nestled within the conference agenda are other venues such as prayer room, walking club, and concerts, which further allow you to tailor your conference experience to fit your interests. A highlight for me each year is the late night entertainment. One of our CM team leaders described it as tapping in to the playful kid in all of us because it always involves a fun challenge. The first year I attended, the challenge was a mega scavenger hunt throughout the entire resort. Another year it was a game show. My favorite was the year we completed a round-robin relay competition called Organized Mass Chaos. With so much to do, it is easy to see why droves of children’s ministry workers look forward to attending every year.
What is so contagious? Any CPC attendee could generate a near incessant list of things they catch from attending the conference, and I would probably agree with all of them. However, for me, the most contagious aspect of CPC is the tremendous value placed on cultivating the children’s ministry worker.
Consider the line-up: Dynamic speakers, workshops, entertainers, resources, and worship are all packaged in a sunny resort destination. INCM does not tell us they believe in the children’s ministry worker. Instead, they show us. They pull together every waking ounce of top notch support they can pack into four days and serve it generously to us year after year.
Each year at CPC, sometime around the final hours of the conference, I notice Judy Comstock and the CPC workers. Their eyes are a bit weary and their gaits a little slower. Yet, there is a spirit about them that suggests they would not have it any other way because they have poured out their very best for the children’s ministry worker. Their attentiveness and dedication to cultivating the children’s ministry worker has contagiously rubbed off on me.
As a children’s ministry director, CPC teaches me to always strive to do my ultimate to provide the best support, appreciation, and encouragement to those who labor in love. We now host Children’s Ministry Summits for all children’s ministry workers at our church, and we celebrate, inspire, and equip workers using every achievable means our hands and hearts can clutch. Our CM summits are a modest feat compared to the magnitude of the Children’s Pastor’s Conference, but we pour out our best to ensure that every worker leaves our children’s ministry summit feeling the same way we feel leaving CPC – highly valued. That is what I caught from CPC.
Part of our church’s mission is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, and CPC prepares us to do just that. Each year we attend, we bring more ministry team members than the year before. Many of them have already begun saving money towards next year’s registration fees. Can’t blame them; the conference is addictive. The knowledge they receive coupled with pure excitement has sparked the interest of other team members, and now those workers want to attend next year. No surprise! The experience iscontagious. Lasting memories are enough to build anticipation for the next year. If memories are not enough, then opportunity for encouragement and renewal might be. Whatever draws us begins to draw others. People want to know more about this conference that sends you home with a handful of new friends, an armful of resources, a mind full of knowledge, and a heart full of renewed inspiration.
Five years have passed since a woman at a local ministry workshop introduced me to CPC, and these days I give the same advice to children’s ministry workers. I share my story and tell them about the conference, but I don’t tell them it will change everything or be a turning point in their leadership. I don’t explain how it will revive their passion for ministry to children and expose them to a global movement committed to winning kids for Christ. I simply say, “Do your best to get to the Children’s Pastor’s Conference. Some claim it’s addictive; others allege it’s contagious. I say it’s both.”
An unusual trade mark for a children’s ministry conference, but indeed, very true.
See you next year.
Pamela is the Children’s Ministry Director at Progressive Community Church in Stockton, California. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Human Development from the University of California, Davis and a Masters degree in Education Administration and Leadership from the University of Pacific. A former fourth grade teacher, Pamela holds a sincere passion for kids and a mission to equip families to live out Deuteronomy 6:4-9. You can email her at[email protected]