Real Ideas seeks to inspire higher

Annual gathering is set for March 2-4 at Van Dyke Church.

Matt Keller was on a movie date with his wife, Sarah, when he turned to her and said, “Hey, do you think they would let us meet here?”

That’s how a movie theater became the first home for the church they’d been dreaming of starting since they were high school sweethearts.

Real Ideas Conference

Preconference, March 2, $69
Conference, March 3-4, $169

Van Dyke Church
17030 Lakeshore Road, Lutz

Visit for information.

Keller leads Next Level Church in Fort Myers, which had 35 attendees at its first service on May 12, 2002, and now averages 3,000 to 3,200 at weekend services at two church locations.

Outreach Magazine ranked Next Level as the 52nd fastest-growing church in the U.S. last year.

Keller will be a keynote speaker at Real Ideas, an annual gathering set for March 3-4 at Van Dyke Church near Tampa.

“I will be sharing from my latest book, ‘The Key to Everything,’" Keller said in an email. 

“The only way for you and I to reach our full potential and consequently for our teams and churches to reach their full potential is by developing a lifestyle of teachability, as a leader,” he said, adding that he will identify five “roadblocks to teachability.”

Keller is expected to inject “a ton of encouragement” to those attending the conference, said Andrew Davis, Real Ideas conference director at Van Dyke.

“He’s just a firecracker,” Davis said, adding that one of Keller’s favorite sayings is “We don’t take no for an answer. We figure it out. That’s what we do.”

Other keynote speakers on the conference agenda are Bryan Loritts, pastor for preaching and mission at Trinity Grace Church in New York, and conference cofounders Matthew Hartsfield, lead pastor at Van Dyke, and Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor at multisite Grace Church in southwest Florida.

Before arriving in New York, Loritts was cofounder of Fellowship Memphis, a multi-ethnic church that began with 26 people in a living room and grew to several thousand. 

“He’s going to talk about leadership – how to lead well, even if you’re a staff member or a volunteer,” Davis said.

Loritts, author of several books, will lead a workshop based on one called “Right Color, Wrong Culture.” It will cover issues involved in moving a church toward multi-ethnicity, the conference website says.

Over the years, the aim of the conference has remained the same.

“Real Ideas is twofold. We give you nuts and bolts, but we also want to inspire and encourage,” Davis said.

Workshops listed on the conference website run the gamut of topics.

Matt Keller portrait
Matt Keller, pastor of fast-growing Next Level Church in Fort Myers, will share his thoughts on a "lifestyle of teachability" at the upcoming Real Ideas Conference near Tampa. Photo from Matt Keller.

Sherrie Leatherwood of the Van Dyke staff will talk about “Making Caring Fun,” which involves discovering ways “to strike a balance between living in despair over congregational hurt, and consistently walking in joy and contentment.”

Greg Robertson, Van Dyke’s executive director of operations, will present a workshop called “Managing with Clarity.” It will cover the practical aspects of church management, such as writing job descriptions, the interview process, hiring and firing, employee handbooks and other personnel issues.

There also will be opportunities to learn during lunch, including a session called “Pastors Q & A lunch,” featuring Hartsfield and Acevedo.

Other workshops cover social media, children’s ministries, mission trips and additional aspects of church life.

Sessions that deal with attracting and keeping volunteers are always popular, Davis said.

“The majority of churches that come don’t have a large staff. It’s usually five or six and everything else is done by volunteers,” he said.

The idea is to offer a wide range of workshops and to make the conference a valuable use of time for everyone, Davis said.

It’s a diverse lineup, and that’s intentional.

“We try to pull in as many different voices as we can, just to provide a lot of different opinions,” he said.

The conference draws people primarily from the southeastern United States, with most attendees coming from within driving distance, he said. Attendance is usually around 400.

To increase opportunities for learning and inspiration, conference organizers have retooled this year’s schedule. Instead of a half-day preconference, there will be a full day session, led by Hartsfield and Acevedo, focusing on developing healthy teams and processes.

During the conference, there will be five workshops, not four. And, instead of four general sessions, this year’s schedule has three. That makes room in the lineup for a worship experience that entire church teams can attend.

“Life is stressful. We wanted them to put everything aside, take a breath and just worship,” said Davis, also tech director at Van Dyke.

After the conference, there will be additional help available through webinars, Davis said.

“We really want to continue helping and talking,” he said. “We want to continue the conversation. That’s really the whole point."

– B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.

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