How to organise a large YWAM gathering

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If you have to organise a conference for YWAM or a gathering what would you do? What lessons have been learnt by those who have organised things in the past?

These notes are intended for Gatherings of 50+ in size but could apply to any size conference really.

Nomenclature and First Things First

What's in a Name?

But to begin, let's deal with nomenclature:

A meeting for consultation or discussion.
An exchange of views.
To meet in order to deliberate together or compare views; consult: conferred with her attorney.
a conference (usually with someone important); "he had a consultation with the judge"; "he requested an audience with the king" [syn: audience, interview]
a conference between two or more people to consider a particular question; "frequent consultations with his lawyer"; "a consultation of several medical specialists"
the act of referring; "reference to an encyclopedia produced the answer" [syn: reference]
The act of consulting or conferring; deliberation of two or more persons on some matter, with a view to a decision.
The public square or marketplace of an ancient Roman city that was the assembly place for judicial activity and public business.
A public meeting place for open discussion.
A medium of open discussion or voicing of ideas, such as a newspaper or a radio or television program.
A public meeting or presentation involving a discussion usually among experts and often including audience participation.

They're All the Same!

If they are all the same then it doesn't matter what we call our get together.

First Things First

What does matter though is why we are getting together and this needs to be spelled out crystal-clear before we plan otherwise what we plan may obstruct what we hope for! If we hope to discuss and pray, then make lots of time for interaction. If it is communication then leave NO TIME FOR interaction -- but then don't get together, don't invite anyone, simply send an email!!!!

So then, why we are meeting matters and should colour every aspect of the planning of a large gathering -- or small for that matter!

How to Organise a Large YWAM Gathering or Conference

Purpose and Agenda

Why are you meeting?

What will you be doing?

What is the point?

Questions that need to be asked. Some new thoughts are that conferences don't need as much structure and agenda's; they can be self-organising. These are sometimes called "un-conferences" or "open space" conferences.

What Will it Be Like

YWAM conferences are interesting beasts. They have some or all of the following components in them. In some ways they are more complex than other international conferences run in the business/academic world.

  • International - this means delegates will come a long way, will arrive in airports and a variety of locations and have complex travel arrangements
  • Key speakers are often required and need to be flown in and given an honorarium. (This can be a huge cost area)
  • Multi-lingual - this may mean translation will need to be provided for groups from nations with few English speakers. Also please note you might have MULTIPLE languages to support. (Cost - translation equipment - expect to pay more than 500 euros for professional headset hire. Some bases have their own translation equipment)
  • Require lots of small meeting places in addition to a big meeting space for Plenary sessions. This is because we are relational and also we love meetings!
  • Require a worship band, hence competent musicians who can draw a collection of people together and make a worship band. They will also be requested to sing in multiple languages.
  • Require a good PA for the worship band.
  • Need some space for displays and book tables.
  • Need some extra recreational time (volley ball, football) for those of an active disposition
  • May provide children's activities and a whole programme for the children. This makes for a wonderful time but is costly in terms of venue and pa hire and of course requires specialised personnel.
  • Needs to have a good feel. You will need to provide somewhere for the delegates to relax, like a cafe or bar.
  • Often want to have a little excursion to a local point of interest. (Adds complexity)
  • A GENESIS link might be requested which will be a technical and cost challenge to implement (although help from the GENESIS Cemtre can ease the costs compared to trying to do it yourself and buy equipment).
  • NEEDS TO BE CHEAP! People will grumble about the cost of a conference.


Location Location Location!

This author feels strongly that a good location, very close to a major/budget airport is the best location for a YWAM conference. However, locations can be chosen according to Historical Significance or simplicity for organisers.

It has been my experience that there is a trade-off between the ease of getting to a conference and the numbers attending. I think there is an impact that a historical place brings but that will be lost on those not getting there! It is incredibly stressful running a small conference and very easy to make a loss!

  • Better location - Greater numbers (i.e. cheap flight to a hub airport and a 30 mins max ride to a conference centre)
  • Remote location - Smaller numbers (i.e. expensive flight to a regional airport then a 3 hour bus journey to a cheap hotel for the conference)

Communication About the Gathering

Making Time for Communication at Conferences

  • Events should be designed for maximum interface (Coffee breaks and long Lunch queue's are very important)
  • Ideas:
    • "Birds of a Feather" sessions for informal groupings around ideas
    • "Sprints" intensive work sessions around specific projects.
    • Mixing time over meals - questions for provoking discussion and getting to know you.
  • Conference takeaways...



Make a realistic budget! (example)

Pay attention to Speakers fees and travel. Plus all speakers need housing, which you will have to subsidise from the conference budget. If you can see that you will overspend bring in the others responsible to make a decision early on what to do about it. There is very little surplus likely from a conference.

Make sure you request a BIG deposit from delegates (50 euros or more). If you feel the need offer a reduction in fees for those who pay deposit early. You will start paying straight way your deposits to secure things, or buy materials and you will need to cash flow. Most conference centres will invoice after the event so you will have time to pay the balance.

Work out what your breakeven numbers are: fix this clearly in mind!

How are you going to pick up people from Airports? If you need to provide a ferry service, remember to charge the delegates for this.

Plan well ahead - you will kill yourself with stress if you don't plan at least 6 months ahead. e.g. to give a delegate a special gift with a YWAM logo will take time to research and time to manufacture!!! Plan to order a month before delivery or you might never get the stuff!

Hints and Tips

  • takes 3-4 people full time for 2 weeks before and one person quietly handling registrations for 6 months.
  • keep at least two weeks before the event exclusively for prepareing with your 3-4 volunteers.
  • don't renovate or have a dts return during
  • aim low
  • Size -- possibly up to and over 172 people!
  • Be close to a transport hub
  • One person in registration at all times -- liaison person with centre etc
  • phone links between point people
  • point person and team to org registrations -- 2 hours a day for 3 months
  • point person and team to org sound, stage and meeting rooms
  • point person for worship (competent worship leader)
  • point person and team for transport before during and after
  • Registration in house with YWAM people
  • Big deposit - your costs start straight away. Never refund deposits!
  • Clear notice of a cut off
  • Paper trail -- print off emails and file -- especially for transport people
  • Translation equipment is expensive to hire and expensive to buy. One recent non-ywam conference bought small digital radio and headsets for all delegates. The translations were broadcasted on different radio frequencies. Cheap solution?
  • Need a small army of volunteers during the running of the conference

Nice Things to do

  • Excursions really can be a lot of fun - but see if you can provide a choice. The greatest gain is delegates having coffee with each other rather than an in depth programme.
  • Recordings: People like recordings of conferences to take back and share on bases. Try digitally recording talks. You can get 2 minutes to a megabyte (64kps, 44khz, mono mp3) so could fit 1400 minutes worth of talks on a CD!
  • Photographs of the conference are a great resource and will help people remember what they gained
  • Website: Try to provide a website where photo's, pictures and videos can all be uploaded asap so delegates have an immediate resource to pull on back home.


  • Keep two things clear - good tracking of expenses and good tracking of fees. Single bank account if you can. Single currency if you can (care not to make a loss on currency conversion)
  • Good paper lists - get it on paper and out of a computer. Have one single place for payments. Always write receipts. Keep on top of payments and expenses.
  • Many people pay fees in 2 or more payments
  • Get the most detailed people to do this job!
  • Run a special cash box.
  • Stay sane - Nichole says "thats very true!"
  • Many conference centres have safes to keep large amounts of cash safe overnight. Bank during conference if you can.

Ideas lang support. - tapes, cds, books immersion trips -- win win? Two's and three's goal -- trilang


There is a School of Event Management run by Kathy Bankert in Kona, Hawaii.

"School of Event Management students will learn the importance of Christians leading events with Biblical value. They will learn some basic skills in organizing events from vision, timelines, strategies, marketing, budgeting  networking, programming,  technical overview, team building, intersession, Biblical World view and leadership. Students need to have God's vision, His tenacity and the skills to follow an event through to completion, even when under spiritual attack."