LAKELAND – More than 500 people who attended this year's Annual Conference at The Lakeland Center shared their insights in an online survey, and most gave high marks to the event overall, as well as to new opportunities designed to involve attendees in discipleship and mission.
More than 45 of the 322 respondents who took time to write comments described the event as the best annual conference they had ever attended, with some survey participants mentioning that they have been attending for decades.
|A spirit-filled crowd enjoys worship at the Service of Word and Table during Annual Conference 2013. Photo by Armando Rodriguez Jr.|
"The Spirit was present in a way I have not experienced in the 15 years I have been attending," wrote one respondent.
"The focus on disciple-making, the testimonies and the sharing around tables was a significant move in the right direction."
Said another: "When I left this year, I felt as if my soul had been touched due to the spiritual atmosphere. …I am looking forward to being at conference next year. If the church doesn't send me as a delegate, I'll go as a guest!"
The survey ended Monday morning. Conference staff will review the results with an eye toward improving the next Annual Conference, slated for June 11-14, 2014, at The Lakeland Center.
Generally, this year's new experiences, including food-packaging for a global hunger relief organization, personal testimonies of discipleship delivered live or by video and breakout sessions where clergy and laity members formed small groups to discuss their discipleship journey, received high ratings and positive comments as part of Annual Conference 2013.
However, not everyone was pleased with a conference format that placed less emphasis on department reports.
"We're supposed to be doing the business of the conference, not watching videos and listening to people bragging about what they have done," said one survey respondent.
Valuable discipleship experience
Out of about 460 respondents who rated the conference on a scale of 1 to 5, more than 85 percent said the event had value for their church, as well as their personal journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
|Robert McMichael leads a communion crowd in worship music. Respondents in an online survey cited music as one of the most enjoyable elements of Annual Conference 2013. Photo by Armando Rodriguez Jr.|
The overwhelming majority of respondents, 96 percent, were voting members, and about 60 percent were laity.
Faring less well in both numerical scoring and the comment section of the survey was The Gathering Area, a part of Ministry Expo intended to promote more personal and welcoming ways of communicating information about various ministries in the Florida Conference. The area featured a change from stationary booths to volunteers who were supposed to greet attendees and provide information.
Many who commented on the experience said it was a good idea but needed more signage so that visitors could easily locate information from specific ministries.
Next year's Annual Conference will return to Lakeland and be extended by one day. Bishop Ken Carter said delegates need four days instead of three to enjoy fellowship and worship opportunities as well as tend to church business.
Other insights from Annual Conference 2013 included comments collected on a board titled "What's your reason?" in the room where volunteers packaged more than 101,000 meals to be distributed by Stop Hunger Now to people in need, especially children.
Janet Kelley, who organized the activity with Rev. Pam Carter, said participants were invited to say what attracted them to the mission opportunity. Below are some of the comments:
• "I would like to end hunger because if I was hungry, I would like someone to help me."
• "I know what it's like not knowing when your next meal is, but God has granted me with food, so it is my job to help others not go through the same."
• "The fact that I get to change someone's life is just incredible. It's amazing that I get to make a difference; it's like witnessing a miracle."
• "I believe in the incredible potential God has placed inside of each boy and girl. The food is a step closer to realizing that God-given potential. Lives will be changed! 1 Samuel 14:17."
• "Food = opportunity. Feeding is a simple way to give back!"
Offering tops $100,000
Florida United Methodists gave more than their time, donating almost $102,000 toward this year's Bishop's Offering.
The offering is to be divided equally among three causes: Stop Hunger Now, a new facility for Florida State University's Wesley Foundation and a development program for young clergy of color.
The Florida United Methodist Foundation has pledged to match up to $40,000 in donations for the new clergy development program.
Based on donations so far, that translates into a foundation contribution of nearly $34,000 in addition to the $102,000 collected since Annual Conference, according to the conference Financial Services office.
-- Susan Green is the editor of Florida Conference Connection.