Building Community

CCCA National ConferenceI recently had the opportunity to attend  Christian Camp and Conference Association’s national conference. It was held at Ridgecrest Conference Center and the theme this year was, “Mosaic…accomplishing more together”.

We are long-time members of CCCA and were excited to have the honor of hosting this year’s conference. We were also quite nervous as this was the first time in almost 30 years that CCCA had chosen a member facility to host this very important conference. Last year’s conference was held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and the year before at Disney’s Coronado Springs in Orlando.

To say the bar was set pretty high would definitely be an understatement. However we had an ace up our sleeve that we felt would allow us to more than hold our own against those other very nice properties. The advantage we had is the same advantage you will find at any Christian conference facility, and that is the ability to help create community.

Hotels and convention centers are created to host meetings and conferences. They do a good job of providing sleeping rooms and meeting space. What they don’t do a good job of is providing a place where a group/organization can come together and build community. By this I mean they don’t really provide a place, or way, for attendees to come together and easily network in an informal manner, outside the scheduled meeting times. On the other hand, most Christian conference/retreat centers are created in such a way as to help make this happen naturally.

At Ridgecrest, this informal networking happened primarily over meals. The ability for everyone to come together for breakfast, lunch and dinner was huge. Last year at The Broadmoor, most folks skipped breakfast (cost too much), grabbed a box lunch in the exhibit hall and then scattered to have dinner somewhere in Colorado Springs. As a result, any community building that took place was on a small scale and had to be very intentional.

This year, in contrast, people would come into the dining hall at Ridgecrest and interact with different folks at every meal. By the second day you could see the results of this fellowship as people would wait until the last possible minute to leave and head to the next scheduled part of the conference. Old friendships were being renewed, new ones were beginning and a strong sense of community was being built.

I learned a long time ago that most meeting attendees will tell you they get as much, or more, out of networking as they do attending the actual conference sessions. If you are a Christian meeting planner, I would challenge you to give this a lot of thought as you plan your next event. Not only in designing the flow of the meeting, but also the location you choose to host the event.

So, what are you doing to help your group build community?

Time Out For Renewal

FamilyCamps_Pic_150x150.jpgAs many of us know well, it’s way too easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of today’s wired-in lifestyle. We get so focused on the next meeting, the next phone call, the next tweet or status update, that we forget the things that are really important.

Many times what gets forgotten, or pushed to the side, are our families. The following post was written by John Ashman. John is currently the Executive Director of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and prior to that was a VP with Christian Camps and Conference Association.

As you read it I would encourage you to think about your own family. Do you need to take some time out and renew your relationships. As you’ll see from this mom’s perspective, family camp is a great place to do just that.

Camp is a refreshing stream along life’s journey…

Laura eased open the screen door and stretched out in the rocking chair, favorite book in hand. Out on the lake, silhouetted by Monday’s sunrise, the canoe carrying her husband and two daughters glided silently through the water. A smile spread across her face as she imagined their conversation.

An earlier rain had refreshed the forest and the fragrance brought back some wonderful childhood memories. Overhead, two squirrels debated the ownership of a cache of acorns. The family from the cabin next door waved good morning and wandered off along the path to the point.

This placid camp setting was a welcome contrast to her familiar suburban scene. She glanced at her watch. Still 40 minutes ’til breakfast. She took another sip of coffee and closed her eyes. This was going to be a wonderful week.

At the urging of some friends from church, Laura’s family had decided to spend these six days at a Christian family camp. The place offered cabin or lodge accommodations, three family-style meals a day, horseback riding, biking, hiking trails, a challenge course, dirtboarding, fishing, canoeing, swimming, beach volleyball, a well-known Christian band, an impressive list of speakers, and more.

But the part of the brochure that caught Laura’s attention was “time out from the rush of life for spiritual renewal.” She needed that, and so did her family, much more than anyone knew.

Finding Time
These days, few of us wash dishes in the sink and ponder the world through the kitchen window. Instead, we stack the plates and utensils in the Maytag and rush to the next task. Come end of day, rather than sit on the front porch and contemplate, we click the mouse or remote and “process.” We live in a hurried, harried world. Freeways, cell phones, business appointments, micro-waves, school functions, online transactions, late-night news, and alarm systems form the borders of our behavior.

Our children aren’t strangers to stress, either. Pushed by parents or peers to perform beyond their years, they’re rushed into maturity by Madison Avenue and the media. It’s no wonder many kids emerge from their teen years frustrated, fearful, and fatigued.

Just over the hill, across the meadow, or through the woods, Christian camps are offering experiences that can arrest our runaway routines. Spending a week at a Christian camp, or conference center, will not immediately unbundle the anxiety of the twenty-first century lifestyle, but it will provide a refreshing break with a chance to relax, reflect, recreate, and re-evaluate priorities.

Time, which seems to be a rare commodity in the “real world,” is abundant at camp. There’s time to eat together, play together, and talk together. Parents can use time to assess family progress and form new goals. Kids can spend time enjoying the miscellaneous pastimes of childhood. So much can get done when there’s nothing pressing to do.

Finding God
At camp, God does not hide in the chapel, waiting for the evening service so He can reveal Himself. His presence permeates the program and property. God speaks on the ropes course, helping people discover the truth about trust. He’s present on the trail, teaching people through the intricacies of nature. He’s there in the person of a child’s counselor, bringing peace through the demonstration of patience. The messages spoken and songs sung from the platform are just added benefits.

Chuck Swindoll, author, radio pastor, and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, has long been a supporter of Christian camping for the entire family. Some time ago, he spoke about the value of total family involvement.

“All the Swindolls have enjoyed and benefited from Christian camping for many, many years,” he said. “In fact, I can’t recall an unhappy or unrewarding experience that we’ve ever had.”

When families get together in a camping situation, they relate eye-to-eye, maybe for the first time in months, without the distraction of television, radio, or phone in the background, he observed. They have time to think through their values and their priorities. And they have the opportunity to establish or strengthen their relationships with Jesus Christ.

The testimonies around Friday night’s flickering campfire stirred the hearts of the households gathered in its glow. Tears welled up in Laura’s eyes as her own husband of 16 years stood to his feet and uttered soft-spoken words of recommitment to Christ and family.

Following the service, the girls ran ahead to the cabin to pack for departure. Taking the long way back, Laura and her husband walked hand-in-hand, then arm-in-arm, speaking without talking. It was a wonderful week. Spiritual renewal did indeed take place. God’s voice was heard.

It wasn’t that He spoke any louder in the serene camp setting. For some reason, it was just easier to hear Him.

What about you? Has family camp played a part in your family’s heritage? If so, would you mind leaving a comment and sharing it? If not, I encourage you to consider attending a Christian family camp this summer. You won’t regret it!

Creating a Stand-out Meeting Experience

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for Christian Camp and Conference Association’s InSite magazine entitled, “A Stand-out Experience” (read article here). The purpose of the article was to provide Christian conference centers with some strategies they could use to compete with local hotels.

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At Ridgecrest and Glorieta, it’s not unusual for us to compete with a secular hotel or conference center for many of our groups. This has become especially true as we’ve added new and upgraded facilities that are equal to, and in some cases, nicer than our secular competitors. However, it’s not the nicer facilities that we believe differenitiate us from other hotels and conference centers. Here are the three things I believe set Ridgecrest and Glorieta apart from our competition and allow us the opportunity to create stand-out experiences for our groups.

Ministry Serving Ministry – Unlike our secular competitors, we are a ministry and we see our role as that of serving other ministries. Our sales and event staffs work hard to build genuine relationships with our group leaders. We want to know what their hopes and dreams are for their ministries and then look to see how we can partner with them to help achieve their ministry objectives.

Spiritual Environment – Ridgecrest and Glorieta were built for the specific purpose of helping to equip the saints. Our mission is to provide the best conference center environment for experiencing spiritual transformation and renewal. This is not to say the Holy Spirit can’t move at a secular hotel or conference center, but that’s not why they exist. Our purpose is to point people towards Christ and to provide a place where, away from the distractions of the world, people can have a fresh encounter with our Creator.

Personal Service – One of the realities of the hotel industry is the larger the hotel, the less personal the service. Even when the service is excellent (Broadmoor example), the great majority of the hotel employees will have no idea why you’re there. Again, not their focus. On the other hand, at Ridgecrest and Glorieta, we have a group of employees who pray each week for the groups and individuals scheduled to arrive that week. We work hard to communicate to all of our employees why a group is on campus and what we can do to personalize the service we offer to each group.

What about you? If you plan or go to meetings/retreats with your ministry or church, what makes them a stand-out experience?

Service Done Right!

WinterBroadmoorNite_interior.jpgEarlier this week I attended CCCA‘s annual leadership conference, HighDef09. The event this year was held at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs. To say this hotel is nice would be like saying Jimmie Johnson is an ok NASCAR driver (I’m not a big NASCAR fan, but I hear JJ really is a pretty fair driver.).

For those of you not familiar with The Broadmoor, it is a 5 star resort located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Since it’s the only 5 star resort this old Holiday Inn guy has ever stayed in, I don’t really have anything to compare it to other than to say it’s well beyond nice.

As you would expect, the hotel itself was beautiful and my room was probably the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. I especially enjoyed the flat screen TV built into the wall above the bathroom vanity. (Never had to miss ESPN!)  I also enjoyed the nightly turndown service, the well equiped fitness center and simply having to call Housekeeping when I was in need of ice (explained why there were no ice machines on the guest room floors).

All of the facilities and amenities were what you would expect when you’re paying to stay at a 5 star resort, so no real surprise there. What was a surprise to me was the overwhelming friendliness of every staff member I came in contact with. It wasn’t really until the end of the second day that I really began to take note of this.

As I was walking to that evening’s general session, I passed four different room attendants heading into the tower I was staying in. Each one smiled and spoke to me as we passed each other. That’s when I realized these guys obviously take customer service training very seriously. In many hotels and conference centers the primary emphasis of customer service training is directed at the front of the house employees (front desk clerks, bell staff, wait/banquet staff, etc) and not much attention is given to training back of the house employees (housekeeping, maintenance, kitchen, etc).

Based on what I experienced, this is certainly not the case at The Broadmoor. They understand that many guests have more interaction with housekeeping and maintenance staff, in and around the hotel, than they do with front desk clerks and banquet waiters. I have no doubt they spend a significant amount of time on customer service training with all their employees.

The end result is a very friendly hotel where service is done right. The really cool thing is that you don’t have to be a 5 star hotel to provide friendly service. All is takes is dedication to training all employees in providing excellent customer service.

Hopefully, when you visit Ridgecrest or Glorieta, you will experience friendly service from all of our employees. That’s certainly our desire. If that’s not the case, please do not hesitate to let us know.