before The Youth Cartel even officially existed, i started dreaming about an event for youth workers somewhat fashioned around TED. but when adam joined me a little over a year ago, we chose to move it from idea to risk. we spent some time refining the idea, and set out a few “fleeces,” little bridges we needed to cross in order to feel an initial sense that we weren’t merely smoking our own idealism. we agreed that we would launch if, within a couple months, we were able to get:
1. a good location that would host the event for free
2. three presenters who would agree to participate with our “profit sharing” approach
3. one partner organization who believed in what we were trying to do, and would help with a bit of capital and some marketing
all three were fulfilled within one week.
so, for months and months, our little dream of an event that was fine-tuned for sparking ideas, trusting attendees, and doing things differently played out as the two of us revised speaker lists (starting with topics rather than speakers), created a website and videos, reworked budgets, made multiple to-do lists and spreadsheets of logistical details our company of two needed to pull off.
going into this past weekend — i’ll admit — i was more anxious and nervous than i’d been approaching a youth ministry event in many, many years. maybe it just felt like so much was riding on it (probably an overstatement; but that’s how it felt). as adam and i drove to the airport in san diego last wednesday (along with our friend tash mcgill, who’d flown in from new zealand to be our third emcee), we remarked that this sort of felt like a “coming of age” event for the cartel.
fast forward to session one, on friday evening: this session was focused on “the here and now,” with 6 presenters giving 12-minute talks on a facet of our current reality. halfway through mark moore’s opening talk, i started to calm down. i knew, somewhere inside, that it was working. when we transitioned from that first session to the first “digging deeper” session, where attendees chose one of the 6 presenters to spend an additional 45 minutes with, in a dialogue about contextualization and application, i started feeling thankful. every room had a grip of highly-engaged youth workers mixing it up with the presenters, leaning in (both literally and conceptually), wrestling and imagining and dreaming and asking and reflecting.
saturday’s “peripheral vision” session (6 presenters from other fields who we could learn something from — a hotspot of divergent thinking), and “horizon” session (5 presenters sharing a facet of where we might be or should be headed), continued to build my awe. it wasn’t awe in myself or adam. i was awed by god’s spirit, awed by thoughtful youth workers who were passionate about being stirred up, awed by speakers who stuck around as participants, awed by partners who helped us own the event (so far beyond being ‘exhibitors’), awed by seasoned communicators who — every single one of them — didn’t bring their shtick but worked hard to create original and compelling presentations that fit the uniqueness of the event (and awed when they gushed about being involved, even when our attendance of 200 people didn’t allow for hardly any of the “profit share” that might have been), awed by the conversations that just didn’t stop — in the lobby and hallways and the breakfast area of the hotel and even a couple pubs.
a few particularly memorable moments (there are way too many to list):
- gosh: i hardly know how to not cite something from every single presenter. seriously, there was not a single dud, not even one partial dud. but i’ll be thinking about brock morgan’s presentation about reaching teenagers in a post-christian culture for a long time. i’ll be thinking about what we learned from amanda drury about the role of testimony in the identity and faith formation of teenagers. i’ll be noodling more on bobby john’s quiet and gentle words about risk, and how my response is more important than the risk itself. and greg ellison’s staring us all down, for a quiet that seemed to last forever, then telling us all how it’s good to see us, as he’d been praying for us for weeks — that awkward/beautiful moment was surely memorable.
- countless people who paid to be there offered help. i was regularly moved by the question, “what can i do for you?” and when i started taking people up on those offers, they carried some of the load with confidence and completion.
- our partner organizations didn’t just exhibit. they hung out with people, engaged in lengthy conversations (and not just about their organizations). it reminded me of my experience at zappos, when i sat with a phone rep and listed in on a 90-minute conversation with a lonely guy who wanted to exchange a pair of shoes he’d bought for his mom.
- and then there was uncle wally. we didn’t want this event to have fluff. we were intent on an event that wasn’t a dog and pony show. but we knew we needed a few “breathers”, a taste of sorbet to pause between the courses of the meal. chris coleman was wonderful in leading worship. bone hampton gifted us with laughter. a classical guitar player brought a quiet touch of beauty. but an old hawaiian dude named uncle wally was the surprise hit. wally hobbled up to the stage with his ukulele and wide-brimmed hawaiian hat and played a few songs. he led everyone in a goofy little sing-along song that — in the magic you can only hope for when planning something like that — was embraced by the crowd (geez, he was like the hero of the event).
leading up to the event, it was starting to look more and more likely that we would repeat this thing. but during the event it shifted to “absolutely.” so, it’s official: The Summit 2013 will take place in atlanta on november 8 and 9. we sure hope you’ll join us!
i’ll wrap with this tweet from one of the presenters — april diaz:
Telling lots of people today that @YouthCartel #thesummit was the best “youth ministry” conference I’ve ever been too.