Rethink church conferences—throw a party instead

January 28, 2015

Submitted by: Rev. Michael Dyrdal

By Amanda Willis

When Rev. Michael Dyrdal was serving at Brooklyn United Methodist Church in the ‘90s, someone from the congregation asked him: “Why can’t church conferences be more fun?”

That question got him thinking—and it inspired him to ditch the traditional church conference in favor of a party.

Every year since then, he’s made the annual church conference into a party with the help of committed laity—first at Brooklyn UMC in Brooklyn Center, then at his subsequent appointments at Rosemount UMC, Brunswick UMC in Crystal, and Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove, where he now serves.

Every party has a theme, and Cross Winds UMC’s theme this year was a luau. On Sunday, about 200 people from the congregation’s two Sunday services came together for the church conference-turned-party. They showed up wearing flowered shirts, sunglasses, and hats.

“This is a place where the creativity and the playfulness of the congregation really gets to shine,” Dyrdal said.

Between reports and budget discussions, members participated in hula-hoop and limbo contests and sing-alongs. After the celebration, everyone moved to the Fellowship Hall to enjoy a hearty meal.

The party approach to church conferences has increased participation at each of the places where Dyrdal has introduced it—but the impact was particularly significant at Brunswick UMC. Whereas just 10 to 15 showed up his first year there, nearly 200 packed the sanctuary in 2012, his last year at that appointment. The annual party became a must-attend event for everyone at the church.

“In this day and age when we need to be bold, take risks, and innovate, turning some of our practices upside-down is a great way to make these experiences so much more fun and meaningful,” said Big Waters District Superintendent Susan Nienaber, who was at Cross Winds’ luau. “After all, shouldn’t the business of church also be a source of inspiration?”

With strong support from church laity, planning the luau didn’t take long. A group got together in early January to hammer out the details, then smaller teams responsible for different parts of the event took it from there.

Other themes Dyrdal has worked with in the past include Super Bowl Sunday (which included dividing the church into two teams to play trivia), the Oscars (which included handing out 12-inch trophies to show gratitude for various accomplishments), and a cruise (which included a roving Elvis, a magician, and staff photos superimposed onto the crew of the Love Boat).

“It’s a ball; it’s so rewarding,” Dyrdal said. “I wouldn’t ever want to go back to the normal church conference.”

Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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