Starting From Scratch: What It Takes to Launch a Conference

Starting From Scratch: What It Takes to Launch a Conference

By Marc Boisclair, April 20, 2016

Annual District Convention, Iglesia Apostolica

San Bernardino, Calif.

Who: Ismael and Maria Uribe, Abundant Life Apostolic Church

When they joined Iglesia Apostolica’s network of pastors in 2006, Ismael and Maria Uribe—who immigrated to the United States from Mexico—were thrilled to establish their own ministry. They gave guidance and support to mostly other immigrant parishioners, first in Redlands and then at San Bernardino’s Abundant Life Apostolic Church.

Only two years later, conference planning fell into their laps. “It was kind of accidental,” says Ismael, who was asked to fill in for another pastor helping to organize the district’s convention, an annual gathering of 60 IAC congregations in Southern California. Before assuming any event duties, however, Ismael posed several spiritual questions to his fellow board members. “We asked ourselves: ‘What issues do we have [as] immigrants?’” he says. Then: “What challenges do we face in [enhancing] the mission of God in our midst?”

The answers helped transform what was initially a standard church meeting (e.g., meet, greet, pray and discuss administrative issues) into an inclusive, interactive event focused on attendees’ social and spiritual health. “We had babysitting for kids, but nothing spiritual,” says Ismael, who added program elements and activities, in both Spanish and English, appealing to small children, tweens and young adults. That raised eyebrows—and eventually attendance—from 800 in 2008 to 1,350 in 2015.

“At first, people thought it was going to be the same old conference,” he says, adding that parents in particular were surprised and pleased with the changes.

Maria, meanwhile, was busy jump-starting IAC’s sleepy annual women’s event into a full-fledged, can’t-miss conference. She moved it out of its mountain-cabin setting and into a comfortable regional hotel, hiring speakers to address attendees about physical and spiritual well-being. Attendance jumped from around 50 in 2008 to almost 500 in 2015.

What has made the Uribes’ achievements even more laudable was their initial lack of planning experience. They had no background in RFPs or negotiating, and no awareness of free services. By the second year, says Ismael, “Vendors said, ‘You’re asking for everything.’ I wasn’t. I’d simply learned about the process.”

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