As I said the other day, Illuminate was a total success. Since Saturday, I’ve been in pure recovery mode. I’m just now getting back to somewhat of a normal schedule, but I hope to be back to full steam next week.

However, I did want to reflect on what went well and what didn’t.

First of all, let me tell you what we did. We had about 215 people attend Illuminate. About 65 of them were my volunteers and 150 of them from other churches. Craig Jutila delivered two keynote talks and Michael Chanley, Sam Luce and Jonathan Cliff each led two breakouts. I charged other churches $25 per person to attend. Each conference participant got a conference notebook (padfolio) which included conference cards (information about the conference, Gateway Church, the speakers as well as promotional items from our sponsors) and a shiny new pen. Woo hoo! Lunch was provided by Chipotle. We started at 9:00 AM and finished just a little after 3:15 PM. All Gateway volunteers came for fee and if they needed it, we provided childcare  for their kids. The idea behind all of this was to provide a phenomenal conference experience for our volunteers at little to no cost by allowing other churches to participate in this very affordable event.

The cons:

  • The food was a little messy and confusing – We didn’t think through this fully. We’ll probably use Chipotle again, but we’ll just think though the chips, sides and plates and napkins a little more thoroughly. I’ll also bring on a volunteer person who totally owns food so it’s not something someone else has to juggle along with everything else.
  • Some of the breakouts need to be better clarified – No doubt about it, I had top notch breakout speakers and I got overwhelmingly positive feedback for all of them. However, one or two sessions probably could have been better defined so it was more clear what people were attending. Also, my second breakout was supposed to be a Q & A driven session and I think the experience varied. I’m not sure if it was because some people expected something different than what we delivered or what. We’ll fix this next year in working out the bugs and also having the content, titles and speakers well developed long before the actual conference.
  • Registration was a little confusing for some – We used our web registration through Fellowship One to register churches. Once a church registered, they had to fill out a second form where they put the names of the people they paid for as well as their breakout and food choices. I honestly don’t think that it was all that confusing, but because things were on such a short time-frame, people got a little confused.
  • The stage programing was not as well rehearsed as I would have liked – This was the result of the rushed nature of Illuminate. At 2:00 AM the day of Illuminate, we were just finishing the ProPresenter slides and at 6:00 AM, my team and I were rehearsing introductions and transitions… all things I wanted to do the week before. As a result, we did what we could in the time we had to plan and all of us were just plain tired.

The pros

  • Significant response from the community and beyond – Although we really only began promoting Illuminate three weeks before the conference began, we still managed to register 150 people from outside Gateway. We had multiple churches say that they would have brought dozens if they had only had a little more time. Probably one third to one half of the attendees came from over an hour away. This tells me that there is a true need for an event like this and Illuminate met that need.
  • Illuminate was highly organized – I’m really proud of this one. From the notebooks to food and lanyards to quick check-in processes, people told us over and over again that things seemed well organized. We had very few questions like “where am I supposed to go?” or “How do I find this breakout?” because everything was clearly communicated either from the stage, from their breakouts or in printed form in their notebooks.
  • Content was amazing – This is easy when you have the likes of Luce, Cliff, Jutila and Chanley on the speaking roster. I had many volunteers say that they totally were not expecting Illuminate to be what it was. I’m so glad we’re changing their expectations. I had one volunteers confess later that she was planning to leave after lunch, but was getting so much out of the event that she didn’t want to miss anything.
  • Incredible Partnerships – I was totally blessed to have three amazing conference partners. Orange, Group Publishing and Yancy all saw the vision for what we were trying to do here through Illuminate and invested in those who attended. I’m grateful for the relationships I have with them but even more grateful that they were willing to take a chance with Illuminate. Especially since so much of it was last minute dealings as well. We were specific in who we asked to partner with us and I heard from more than one attendee that they were glad to learn about products and programs offered by the sponsors.

So, Illuminate was a success. I’m so proud of what my team pulled off. The biggest lesson we all learned though is that time is of the essence. We have already booked November 12, 2011 as the next Illuminate Conference in Austin, TX. Jim Wideman is the keynote speaker and I have verbal commitments from several breakout speakers that are going to knock it out of the park. Having all of this planned out months and months in advance will help us tremendously!

Here are some pics of the Conference Notebooks and materials included.