This past weekend I had the privilege of presenting a keynote address and then leading two breakout conferences at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church’s annual teacher training event. You may have heard about this great New Orleans church – Dr. Fred Luter is the senior pastor and he is also the past president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This annual training event has grown year-over-year, and attendance at this year’s event was projected to be 800 people from 40+ churches.
The Sunday School Director, Minister Keith James, and the Assistant Sunday School Director, Valerie Burton, led an amazing event. Words will not come close to describing the atmosphere of excellence that I experienced, but I’m going to give it a try, anyway, and tell you where I experienced excellence. The people of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church absolutely knocked it out of the park last Saturday. I told them, and I sincerely meant it, that there is no way anyone, anywhere, will ever displace them as the place where excellence reigns. Here’s how they did it:
- There was excellence in communication. Prior to the conference, Keith James reached out to me with an invitation and clearly defined the parameters of my responsibilities. He followed up often, clarified questions I had, and continued to guide me through the pre-conference time. Once I landed at the airport and made my way to the hotel on Friday, I received a communication from Keith – he checked on me to make sure I had made it to town safely, and that all was well with the hotel they selected for me.
- There was excellence in printed materials. Keith and Valerie made sure that the conference brochure, a multi-page full-color piece, had clear directions for people so they were not confused about their conference and lunch options. Valerie even spent a few minutes before releasing conference attendees to their first workshop explaining the schedule, the people’s options, and other key pieces of information. It was all contained in the excellent conference brochure.
- There was excellence in the parking lot. As I pulled onto the church’s property that Saturday morning, I was greeted by two gentlemen who were directing traffic. 800 people were about to descend upon the church’s property, and these brothers in Christ were outside in the warm, muggy early morning hours guiding people to parking spaces. I was quickly directed to a secured lot where I parked and headed to the main entrance, only to be greeted by several others.
- There was excellence in the lunch hour. Two things really impressed me about the way Franklin Avenue managed the massive lunch hour. No, make it four things: (1) the meal was excellent…boxed sandwiches from Honey Baked Ham (2) I was ushered to the front of the line and told to eat so that I had time to relax before my final workshop of the day (3) the praise team that led morning worship shifted gears and provided some beautiful singing while the rest of us ate lunch (4) the conference attendees were broken into two large groups and they ate at two different times to make sure everyone was accommodated. This was done through colored wristbands. Just excellent!
- There was excellence prior to the conference. No one could have prepared me to have a hostess attached to me, but she was great. Yoskia (I am sure I just butchered the spelling!) brought me a breakfast tray to their Green Room. It was there that I was able to eat a bite, review my notes, pray, and clear my head before going out to deliver the keynote. Her service to me was so greatly appreciated! That’s never happened anywhere I’ve spoken and trained before, and it was a humbling experience. She continually checked back with me, but didn’t hover. She was available, but did not overwhelm me. Great job!
- There was excellence during the conference. I had two wonderful assistants during the breakout conferences I led. Gabrielle (Gabby) and Leslie made sure my handouts were passed out to all of the participants. Gabby had a series of signs with numbers on them; she held up these “countdown” signs starting at 15 minutes before I was supposed to finish my presentation. Every five minutes, Gabby held up a new sign showing me how many minutes remained. This was so helpful and kept me right on track. It was a “little” thing, but made a big difference. And that’s where excellence takes place – in the little things.
- There was excellence in evaluation. After each of my workshops, Gabby came to the microphone and instructed the people to fill out the evaluation form while the conference was fresh on their minds. These eval forms help Franklin Avenue personnel know what to tweak for next year’s event. Some presenters will be invited back based on the evals, others may not. Conference topics may be adjusted. Without the evaluation forms, excellence would not be achieved year after year.
- There was excellence in the volunteer team’s dress. The volunteers were easy to identify in their matching t-shirts. If you had a question, you knew who to reach out to at the event.
- There was excellence in the pre-conference worship. The worship team had the place hopping! The music was uplifting, energizing, and prepared our hearts for the day as we worshipped the One whom we all serve.
- There was excellence in the technical support personnel. Normally I’m running a PowerPoint slideshow, speaking, juggling a microphone, and trying to teach or speak. Not so at Franklin Avenue! My PowerPoint was emailed to Keith James, who turned it over to his technical team. They loaded it into their software, and throughout the keynote address and two workshops, someone in the sound booth advanced the slides and kept right up with me as I spoke. What a relief that was not to have to try to juggle everything!
- There was excellence in the planning. Valerie Burton told the participants that the planning for this year’s event began the day after last year’s conference ended. Now that’s excellence! You start very, very early. You dream, plan and envision. Excellence is intentional.
- There was excellence in prayer. One hour before the conference began, volunteers gathered to pray for me, the other conference presenters, and the participants. The entire event was covered in prayer, and I saw Proverbs 21:31 lived out. That verse says, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” The people at Franklin Avenue had prepared and prepared for this event, yet did not trust their own hard work and ingenuity. Instead, they cried out to God to bless the event and the guest speakers/presenters.
I am sure I missed some other ways that Franklin Avenue achieved excellence. I thought I used to put on good training events, but I was humbled this past weekend when I realized that my new friends at Franklin Avenue are at a level almost none of us achieve. Their example has raised the bar for me, and they have made me a better event planner because of their great example. I hope to be invited back some time in the future. I’d love to go back and invest in these dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. I love what they are doing, I love their pursuit of excellence, and I love their passion for training leaders.
Well done, good and faithful servants! I’m glad to know you and know of your great ministry.
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