Church Leaders Abuzz About Virtual Conference

Some 6,000 people have registered for an unconventional conference that features about 75 speakers and their nine minutes of wisdom.

"The Nines" is an entirely online event that takes place Sept. 9, 2009 beginning at 9:09 a.m. Central Time. And it's completely free.

"The economy has really affected a good number of churches, particularly smaller ones. And two of the first things cut from church budgets during difficult times are 'travel' and 'continuing education/conferences,'" Todd Rhoades, producer of The Nines, explained to The Christian Post.

Leadership Network teamed up with Catalyst – a next generation leaders conference – to try a "new way of gathering church leaders," he said.

The event is being hosted in Atlanta, Ga., but unlike most other conferences, there are no speakers or attendees at the venue. Rather, webcam videos sent from renowned and lesser-known church leaders are being broadcast to anyone who signs on to the event in cyberspace.

Speakers – which include John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Nancy Beach of Willow Creek Community Church, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Greg Surratt of Seacoast Church, and author Leonard Sweet, among many others – were asked to respond to the question: "If you had nine minutes to talk one-on-one with thousands of church leaders, what is the one thing that you would tell them?"

Although organizers expected only about 20 speakers to participate, they received nine-minute videos from 75 church leaders and communicators who were eager to share their passionate and personal messages with fellow leaders.

"The idea of The Nines is to have good, diverse, short form content, where speakers speak to their passion and strength about what God is teaching them right now," said Dave Travis, managing director at Leadership Network.

The videos, according to Rhoades, are motivational, inspirational, or informational.

Considering the conference takes place only on the screen, the event may draw some criticism from those who do not believe church video venues are effective or biblical. But Rhoades believes many churches have moved past that debate and that video is the new normal.

Although not all churches are using video teaching, Rhoades commented, "I think we've turned a corner in that many churches and pastors see the power of video and even online offerings. YouTube, Ustream, Hulu, and other online video venues, as well as the number of churches that are doing live streaming have really helped this type of thing be seen as more and more effective and commonplace."

If successful, The Nines could be a game changer, says Travis. But he adds, "Don't misunderstand me. I think people will always want to go connect face-to-face with other friends at conferences. I would hate it if there were only online conferences."

Participants have the opportunity to interact during the online event on blogs, Twitter and other social networking sites.

As Rhoades notes, being a pastor can be one of the loneliest jobs in the country and organizers of The Nines hope to encourage and connect church leaders through this event.

All 75 presentations will be available for free viewing after the conference.

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