Is the un-conference the next Big Conference?

I think not. But that is the buzz that I’ve been hearing?  And it get’s me all rankled up.  Really?  Are people beginning to think this.  I’m probably hot and bothered because I’m part of a team planning the next Missional Learning Commons here in Chicago in a couple of weeks.  I just don’t get it.  But if I were to guess, here are some of the reasons why some a concerned that the unconference is becoming the next Big Conference.

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.~wikipedia

1) The unconference is becoming more common and more common: Anti-Cool Reflex. I think for many on the edges of the church, who for good reason engaged in the emerging church conversation or are interested in missional theology, we have created an anti-cool reflex, or dare I say, hipster reflex, that says once something starts catching on we must immediately distance ourselves from it.  Now that unconferences are catching on, many people just hit the cynical button and start poo poo-ing. So I’m calling this the Anti-Cool Reflex.

2) The unconference is connected to some ‘sponsor’: Anti-Sellout Reflex. Yes, note the scare quotes.  This I believe is a very selective knee-jerk reaction.  Just because an unconference is sponsored by something doesn’t mean it is selling out.  Sure the sponsor is hoping to gain something by sponsoring, but often they are also interested in helping, and maybe are themselves acting out of certain values or convictions.  I believe this is a very selective (self-righteous?) criticism because the money/marketing potential for a missional/emergent sponsor of an unconference is so minimal compared to the money/marketing info racing in/around/through all the technology that these critics are probably using (FB, Android/Google, Twitter, Apple, MS, etc…).  If we are so worried about being ripped off or controlled then logically we would need to unplug from most social networking and the internet. “But those things are essential carriers of my anti-sellout message!”  Yeah, exactly.  Case closed.  Can we please put the Anti-Sellout Reflex to bed.

3) The unconference takes so much organization: Anti-Institutional Reflex. Now, if you couldn’t tell, I have no time for the previous two reasons to be against the rise of unconferences.  But this one does have some merit.  There is certainly a link between business/organizational models and how one plans a conference.  And I’m all for have a different organizational model when it comes to being the church, and therefore you would think this would roll over to how one plans an unconference.  But having a different organizational model doesn’t mean not being organized.  Sometimes it is good to be anti-institutional, but that can’t be a general rule, and it certainly shouldn’t be a reflex that one throws around without first investigating.

The real question for me is, What are we for?

Well, moving from the abstract to the concrete, I would say the unconference I’m helping to plan (Missional Learning Commons) is attempting to be

1) for families.  Most church conferences are not geared toward having entire families participate.  Well, this is taking quite a bit of organization, but we felt the need to offer some form of childcare because we believe the missional church should engage families, not just men who typically leave their family to attend a conference. For this reason we have actually attached a fee (kryptonite for unconferences) to this year’s MLC. But the fee doesn’t go to speakers of rental fees, but toward offering childcare so that entire families can participate.  So if we are selling-out by charging a fee because we want families to come then we are guilt.  Of course I’d like to think it is us being innovative in sharing the cost of participants.

2) for places. We believe that place and embodiment are important, so when Northern Seminary offered use of their conference center we accepted.  Certainly Northern is hoping to associate their brand to the missional movement and maybe attract students, but they are accessibly located by several Chicago freeways, have local hotels, and other conveniences.

3) for hearing from ordinary people. I think the biggest benefit of the unconference is the typical use of local, engaged people rather than big names.  The unconferences I’ve been part of seeks just to hear what God is doing on the ground in and through ordinary communities.  The age of disconnect big names who ride in to inspire the masses are over.  Let’s learn from each other.

4) for relationship and networks. The MLC is also connected to Ecclesia Network because we believe in the formation of organized movements, of creating a web of local/regional/national relationships for the furthering Christ’s kingdom and the reformation of the church in North America.

Basically, if you are not for these thing, the please feel free not to come to the MLC or any other unconference.

But if you are for these things, and many others, we would love to see you on Oct. 29-30, and I would love to hear of your unconference too.

This post sponsored buy some caffeine (homemade double-shot), air, a desk, a comfy chair, electricity, Ben Sternke (donated the poster and MLC site), fb, twitter, google, wordpress, wikipedia, apple, Wadle and Silvy Show (radio) and other people and stuff.