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!


You?ve probably been to a conference before. If you?re at all like me, you?ve been to a number of great gatherings with a central theme or brand but very few with a central story. Annual events, like the SALT Conference, have to use story to make sure their gatherings stand alone from every other gathering, much like the environment you are in every Sunday morning. We use series, themes, and branding to make our weekend services feel fresh and alive.

Series, themes, and branding are great ways to keep the perception of change in our gatherings, but real change takes place in unique stories we tell.[quote]Real change takes place in unique stories we tell.[/quote]

In 2013, our team began planning the very first SALT Conference. It was our first event together, but we found that our team?s central focus was to know the story we were telling and not just the brand we were selling. I remember a meeting early in the planning process where we talked about the idea of main sessions telling a story. We hadn?t seen it done before, but we knew that we didn?t want our attendees to just see and experience main sessions; we wanted them to feel and remember the main sessions. Our team knew this simple principle: branding is seen, story is felt.

For those who were at that first year, God gave us a powerful story to tell in a very visually tangible way. It was the greater story of the Gospel: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Recreation. Every keynote set the stage for the next, and every main session was less about the topic and more about the story arch. Like a giant puzzle, our attendees went on a journey as the set design and the visual look and feel morphed before them as the story unfolded.

If we?re going to be a generation unafraid to use technology, art, media and environment, then we need to begin spending more time thinking and planning the story rather than just our series.[quote]We need to begin spending more time thinking and planning the?story?rather than just our?series.[/quote]

Jesus knew the power of story, possibly better than anyone who has walked the earth. He knew that people can relate to a good story. He knew that people remember a good story, and ultimately He knew that we would tell others great stories. So He taught in story?parables.

We took a big risk the first year at SALT as we explored the idea and power of storytelling. We allowed our stage design to literally evolve over the course of our three days. In the first session it was a wall of very organized tiles that were projected on, lit up, and pulsed at the beat of the music. All was right in the story, just like creation was when God made the world.

The next morning we turned a page in the story and we looked at the fall of man and our desire for control in every area of life. At the end of that session, the entire set came crashing to the ground as a demonstration of our control nature. We were left with a broken set and no resolve. The tension of that moment sat with us all day long.

That night, we were met with a sixteen foot tall cross standing in the middle of the room and not a single screen, projector or piece of technology on stage. Just the cross and a bunch of candles. The difference: the cross was made out of the broken pieces of that fallen set. It was a picture of exactly what God does for us when we meet Him at the cross. He takes our broken, control-oriented selves and nails them to the cross on our behalf, so we can have the relationship He so desires.

After a powerful evening of redemption, our final main session set design was a simple white canvas screen that covered the entire room. A symbol of the purity that comes out of the cross, but also a setting for images of creation to be used and recreation to be told through the set.

When we introduce story, we introduce intimacy. When we limit our Sundays to clever branding, we limit our ability to impact our communities.[quote]When we introduce story, we introduce intimacy.[/quote]

It?s our hope that story becomes the new series. It?s not something SALT came up with, but it?s something we want to champion in our gatherings at SALT. It?s the first thing our team talks about when we?re planning a new year or another conference.

Let?s begin introducing story into our Sunday mornings and weekend services.

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