This special July issue of Sunday| Mag explores the creative process of SALT Nashville, a?creative arts conference. I (Jonathan Malm) know firsthand that putting together a conference is a lot like putting together an Easter service. The goal of this issue is to take a look at a conference and see what things we can learn for our own creative church endeavors. Enjoy!
In the opening session of the first SALT Conference, Glenn Packiam said the following about creativity and technology in our services:
?Everything speaks. Everything in our churches speaks. We have no problem quoting the Psalmist who says ?day and night the heavens pour out speech,? and we have no problem saying ?creation speaks? but I wonder if it?s also true that our mini creations also speak. That the little things that we create with lights, visuals, sound, feel, and color; that all of it speaks. The question is what is it saying??
For our team, this became a core principle for any gathering we put together?that everything would have intentionality at every level. From set design to keynote speakers and every tiny little detail in between, we want everything to tell a cohesive story.[quote]The little things that we create with lights, visuals, sound, feel, and color; all of it speaks.[/quote]
First impressions matter. Though we didn?t have access to a wealth of volunteers to cover the parking lot with smiles, our hope for registration time was to become a welcome party. The giant banners welcomed you with a DJ spinning some fresh music while a slew of happy faces told you how glad we were to see you. The entire purpose was to make you feel special and create a personalized welcome for everyone.
Furthermore, SALT is a creative conference, and we don?t believe that our speakers or building should take the burden of creating a creative environment. We want to be all in creatively, so we have to be intentional about placing creative inspiration at every corner. For example, last year we had an LED Mason Jar Chandelier to mess around with, change colors, and ask questions about how it was built. Why? Because it?s creativity and it?s telling a story.
Too often, our time is focused only on the look and feel of the services or the worship that we curate for a major event. What would it look like for that story to begin taking place before anyone steps a foot in your building? What if you had a massive party outside to greet first time visitors or had places of inspiration scattered throughout the lobby of your church?[quote]What would it look like for that story to begin taking place before anyone steps a foot in your building?[/quote]
Our team is passionate about well-placed and well-designed signage. For those who attend SALT, they?re almost all first time visitors to the building, so we have to make sure we?re thinking like a first time visitor would when we?re creating signs. Have you ever walked through your building and put yourselves in the shoes of a first time visitor, asking ?where is this particular classroom? or ?where would I find the bookstore??
Design matters. Great design invites people into a comfortable space and makes them feel welcomed. Though the host church from SALT 2014 had great signs, they didn?t fit our brand. So we paid to re-make them all, including every map, every room identifier, and every sign. Is there a consistency and cohesiveness in all your signage?[quote]Great design invites people into a comfortable space and makes them feel welcomed.[/quote]
From the stage design to community groups, the flow of the event or the things we program speak as well. For SALT, one of the things we hope for our gatherings is that people will connect with other people who fit a similar role.
I?ve attended too many events where it?s just expected that people will connect. Take SALT for example: a group that?s primarily made up of introverted personality types. They aren?t apt to walk up to a complete stranger and introduce themselves. Therefore, our programming (and schedule) must provide opportunities for you to meet others.
This is done in the context of SALT Community Groups. It provides a comfortable environment where it?s safe to talk about things you need help with, celebrate your wins, and help one another out on topics that are relevant to you.
We spend a great deal of time finding phenomenal community group leaders who have a heart to connect people. We spend money on flights and hotel rooms to make sure they can be with us in Nashville. And we spend a lot of effort coordinating the process to make sure every attendee is seated at a round table with 6-8 people they may have never met before.
Why? Because being known and helping to know others is such a vital part of us being a community of creatives and artists. Year after year we hear stories of transformations and revelations that occur in this session. Programming goes far beyond the five main sessions, because everything speaks.
Nearly every conference I?ve attended has great speakers and incredible teaching. Is it enough to just get great information from a conference or a gathering, though? No. Your hope for new visitors on Sunday mornings isn?t that they gain mere information, but rather learn something that leads to transformation.
In the main sessions of SALT, all of our keynote messages are designed to connect to the previous one. From the first year?s story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Recreation, to the study of Nehemiah in the second year, there is an arch that ties every session together. We believe story is important and we believe that it?s not enough to just have a recognized speaker teach on a grab bag of topics throughout the sessions. We want them to play a role in a greater story.
Every one of you is telling a story through your first impressions, your signage, programming, and messaging. The problem is that some of us don?t know what that story is saying.
Everything speaks in any environment, from the parking lot to the advertisements in the hallway; from stage design to the songs sung. If everything is speaking, though, what is it saying?