Preview of Fifth Annual Real Ideas Conference

For the fifth year in a row, Tampa’s Van Dyke United Methodist Church is preparing to share best practices with clergy and laity from across the state as well as parts of Georgia and Alabama.

Van Dyke’s Real Ideas Conference takes place March 3-4 on the church’s campus, with Senior Pastor Matthew Hartsfield and Jorge Acevedo, senior pastor of Cape Coral UMC, as the keynote speakers. A full cafeteria of workshops will be offered once again across a broad areas of ministry.

Approximately 240 individuals registered for last year’s event, according to Hartsfield.

“It’s a pretty eclectic bunch. That number, I would say, is pretty equally split between clergy, staff, and volunteer laity,” he said. “There’s probably more staff and laity simply because people can come with a team of people. I think last year there were 43 churches represented. It’s primarily United Methodist, but we don’t restrict it just to UM. We find from other years there’s some folks from other denominations and non-denominations. We celebrate the diversity.”

The event is unique, Hartsfield added, because of the “unique combination of inspiration and information. A lot of conferences tend to have a lot of inspiration at a 30,000-foot level. We really do create a lot of nuts and bolts and seminar information for participants. We really do break it out for very specific ministry niches. People roll up their sleeves a little more and kind of dig into the nitty gritty.”

Hartsfield said Acevedo has been a popular speaker at the conference in years past. The two pastors will pair up on a few Q&A sessions, as well as on a session called “Communicating to Change Lives.”

Other Conference items worth noting, Hartsfield said, include hands-on breakout sessions on children’s ministry and youth ministry areas. “Those are always a hit. We’ve got a lot of folks who really appreciate the workshops done in the areas of administration, and prayer and care.”

Most of the break-outs are similar to what was done in 2010, but are retooled and revised, along with a few brand new sessions.

“Most will address the things we’ve heard over the years as to what people want to concentrate on. We’re taking the best material and putting it through the strainer and offering what we think is some of the best stuff we’ve ever done. Some of the best we can offer to churches of what God has done among us over the 25 years of our church is to share places where we’ve tried and failed and learned lessons from that,” said Hartsfield, who is now in his 18th year at a church celebrating its 25th year of operation.

A new feature at this year’s conference is an intensive track curriculum taking place during the day on Thursday, before the official start of the events. The tracks will include opportunities to “hunker down” with the Van Dyke staff and go deep in areas such as worship, children’s ministry and other areas above and beyond what is covered in the break-out sessions.

The Real Ideas Conference, Hartsfield said, “kind of builds on one of the strengths that we’ve been able to leverage through this Conference, in that our staff does a lot of coaching, mentoring and networking throughout the year. There’s a lot of conference calls and visits to other churches. Our technical staff do many six or seven consultation projects throughout the year, to help churches with their sound, lighting systems, etc.

“We just love setting up other churches for a win. If anything encapsulates Real Ideas, it’s that we love other churches to be successful,” he continued. “I really give my staff a lot of freedom when it comes to spending time with pastors.”

Most of the follow-up after the conference is pretty informal, Hartsfield advised, typically left up to the individual participants—“how much they want to pick brains, how much they want to bore down to a particular area.” He said Van Dyke is planning on doing a few learning lunches for senior pastors, a new development to follow this year’s event. Acevedo will participate in these as well.

“We would love for every church in the Conference as well as Georgia and Alabama- West Florida, to know that this will be a time of great encouragement and equipping. We feel it will be very practical and hands on in a way that typically is not experienced in other conferences,” Hartsfield continued.

For more information and to register for the conference, visit

News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011,, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer, editor, coach and speaker based in Franklin, Tenn.

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