How to get a standing room only crowd at training

I was asking a DOM recently about doing a conference in his Association. His response was, “No one comes to training anymore.”

The email came at an odd time for me. I had just returned from my third trip to Shiloh Terrace Baptist in Dallas were we had to bring extra chairs in twice to seat the crowd. People don’t come to training anymore? Don’t tell Jerry Allen, Minister of Ed at Shiloh Terrace.

The purpose of this article is to explain how you can get this kind of response to training.

The truth is, I don’t always get that kind or response. Sometimes the attendance is great, sometimes not so much. It is interesting to me how much the attendance varies.

The biggest variable is the leadership ability of the leader. Everything rises and falls on leadership. I was in Pee Wee Association (that really is the name!) in North Carolina recently for a standing room only crowd. David Benton is the DOM. David is a leader. David had a crowd there. That is what leaders do. I have seen it happen more times than I can count. One thing is always true: a leader has invited me.

Leadership is mostly about relationships. You can always tell with the effective leaders the way they relate to the people. They shake more hands. They know more names. They know what is going on in the lives of the people that attend. These people are not coming to hear me. They are coming because a much loved DOM, or pastor, or Minster of Ed has strong leadership skills. It is always the case.

When it is not the case, I hear the DOM mumble something about how people don’t support training any more.

But, this raises one more question: what can a leader do to get a crowd? If he is not a leader, nothing he does will work. If he is a leader, he still needs to know what will work to get a crowd. This is what John Maxwell calls the Law of Navigation. The Leader finds the way.

Having a proven track record helps. When you develop a reputation for providing quality events, people will come. When the organization (Church or Association) has the reputation of wasting people’s time, attendance is poor.

Match the size of the hall to the size of the crowd

One other little aside: if you want to fill every chair in the place, here is a secret. Don’t set up too many chairs. I learned this from a host in Texas, although, it has been so long I don’t remember the church or the host. Just as the meeting was getting started, enough people showed up that there were not enough chairs. He grabbed a couple of guys and asked them to help him set up some additional seating. He had some chairs ready to go at the back of the hall. I pitched in to help. As I was doing so, he said to me in an almost whisper, “I always do this—set up too few chairs and set up some more at the end—creates a real feeling of excitement.” I recommend you do the same. Set up 80% of the chairs you need and have some ready to set up as you need them.

I thought about how different than a lot of places where I have this pitiful crowd in a huge hall. More than once I have been placed in a 2000 seat auditorium with 100 people scattered through the hall. When that happens, you know before you start it is going to be a bad meeting.

Thing is, it doesn’t have to be. Set me in a room that only holds 100 and we will have a great time. Or, even if it is a big room, only set up as many chairs as you need. I hate speaking to empty chairs.

By the way, this is my plan to fill every chair at my church. We are raising money to replace the pews with chairs. I only plan to buy as many chairs as we actually have attend on a really good Sunday. My goal: before the end of the year to have a standing room only Sunday.

My bold letter plea has long been: match the size of the hall the size of the crowd. I’d rather speak to a crowd of 100 in a room that holds 100 that speak to 500 in a room that holds 2000.

If you have to explain why people should come hear a speaker, you are already in trouble with promotion

Simple principle: people like to come to people they have heard of.

Corollary: people won’t come to hear someone they have never heard of.

People assume they know everything that needs to be known. They assume they know the important stuff. They assume they know the important people. They assume if a speaker is someone they have never heard of, he must not be all that important.

A work-around is to tie the speaker to name they have heard of. I did a meeting at First Baptist Church, Atlanta a few years back. Dr. Charles Stanley was kind enough to write an endorsement for me. Ever sense then, I have encouraged churches to say, “We are getting the same training Dr. Charles Stanley’s teachers receive.” They may not have heard of Josh Hunt, but I bet they have heard of Dr. Charles Stanly. If Josh Hunt is good enough for Dr. Stanley’s teachers, he is good enough for our teachers. That helps, but there is a better way.

Imagine you could have Hershel Hobbs to come and do a Bible Conference, do you think you could get a crowd? (You can’t; he passed away in 1995.) Do you think you could get a crowd to hear Leon Kilbreth?  (He is with the Lord as well.) Do you think you could get a crowd too hear Ed Stetzer?  (He is living; I am not sure how much room he has on his calendar.)

You likely could get people to show up for these men because people have heard of them. People know who they are. They may not know that Hershel Hobbs was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention or that he chaired the committee that drafted the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message but they have heard of the name.

If you want to get people to come to training you have to either

1)      get someone people have already heard of, or

2)      make them hear of the person you get to do the training. (Kind like, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with!)

How do you do that? In my case, I have found a sure-fire way. It nearly always gets a crowd. Churches that do this one thing nearly always get a good crowd. It doesn’t matter so much how many pulpit announcements or posters or emails or mailing they do, although all those things can help. This one thing eclipses everything:

Get your teachers using Good Questions Have Groups Talking and you will get a crowd. This works so well, I offer a FREE Subscription for all churches that are hosting a conference for the 4 months prior to the seminar. Good Questions follow all three Lifeway Series as well as the International Standard Series so that most churches can use them supplementally to what they are using now. For Associations I will provide FREE username and password they can provide to the whole Association with a free pass to Good Questions for the 4 months leading up at the conference. Just email me my wife and she will set this up for you: missy@joshhunt.com

The best way to make use of Good Questions is to actually print copies for teachers, at least for a time. Just telling them about the resource usually doesn’t work. Hand them a printed piece of paper. Do it every week for a month or so. Some churches do this indefinitely, while others eventually let their teachers print their own.

The key is to start this several months before the promotion for the seminar. In my lessons I am somewhat self-disclosing. Over time, they will feel like they know me. I have had people come to me at seminars and say, “I just had to come tonight; I just had to meet they guy behinds the lessons.” One of the reasons we had a good crowd at Shiloh Terrace is they are long-time users of my lessons.

Churches that provide Good Questions to their teachers nearly always get a crowd. It is a little bit of trouble, but it FREE and it is the most effective way I know to get a crowd. It is indirect, but very effective.