7 Things That Happen At Every Christian Conference Seminar

If there's one thing Christians love, it's a conference. We all revel in the chance to get together with other like-minded people, and spend a few days in a cultural bubble where no-one ever swears and everyone buys a pile of books they'll never read. These events always have a host of fascinating foibles, and while some of them are specific to individual events, others transcend across the whole genre. And to anyone who has ever attended a seminar, workshop or other breakout session at a Christian event, there are a handful of sights, sounds and occurrences which will probably be all too familiar.

It starts late

The seminar presenter is always faced with a judgement call at the beginning of her talk. As she looks out at rows of empty seats as the clock ticks past the advertised start time, what should she do? Does she risk blowing her great opening joke before legions of people blunder in late, laden with incriminating coffee cups from that store that was marginally too far away to walk to in the break? Or does she wait, uttering a hopeful 'we'll just wait to see if a few more come' that could come back to bite her if they don't. Almost inevitably, most speakers err toward the latter, the knock-on side effect of which is that they'll run out of time at the end, and have to deliver their final bullet point at speeds undecipherable to the human ear.

Someone realises they're in the wrong room

This also seems to happen regularly at the cinema, suggesting both movie theatres and Christian conference organisers need lessons in better signposting. A few minutes into the seminar, a person in the very middle of the venue realises that what's being from the front in no way relates to the session on 'Becoming a more Christ-like Husband' which they thought they'd signed up for, and makes a loud and very obvious exclamation of their mistake as they disruptively shuffle out of the room. Awkwardly, this almost always means the person has inadvertently attended a talk on 'Beating your pornography addiction.'

The sound doesn't work on a video clip...

...or there's some other technical failure. Despite all the pre-event testing, despite the fact that a professional AV company is on hand, all Christian presentations involve at least a small tech-based slip up. As a result, Christian speakers have developed a familiar self-deprecating patter to keep the audience happy in such situations, although they rarely admit that the problem might be due to the fact that they ripped the video clip illegally from the Internet.

Someone has a coughing fit

Apparently if an audience is starting to exhibit a disproportionate amount of coughing, you're almost certainly boring them. Coughing can both be psychosomatic, and contagious – in a non-medical sense – so when people are distracted during a silent public talk, they'll not only cough but inspire a chain reaction in others. This is the slightly awkward version of conference coughing – at the much worse end of the scale is the total, out-of-control coughing fit, whereby a person is slowly turning pink while everyone around them fumbles around in their bags for a bottle of water. At British conferences, these coughs are alternated with repeated utterances of the word 'sorry.' Even unto death.

The speaker lies about 'coming back to that point later'

It's a classic Christian speaker trick, and revealing it feels a little akin to busting the walls of the Magic Circle. You know you've not quite explained yourself properly, or worse, you lose confidence in what you're saying as you're saying it. So by promising to return to this later, a speaker both assuages audience confusion (I'm sure that'll make sense when he explains it again), and gives himself an escape route after badly losing his way.

There's a self-deprecating book plug

Christian writer/speakers are wracked with angst about self-promotion. Publishers insist on it, and while a few broken platform-seeking souls revel in the opportunity to talk about their own work, most of them find the experience excruciating. As a result speakers feel both duty-bound to talk about their latest book during a seminar, and honour-bound to openly discredit themselves and their work at the same time. An average plug speech goes something like: "I've actually written a book on this subject, although lots of other better ones are available. If you can bear it, it's available in the bookshop. Probably on offer!" This is also why most Christian speakers are useless at selling stuff on eBay.

Someone asks a question, but it really isn't a question

We all know exactly what I'm talking about. In fact, you could probably write a completely seperate article entitled 'Nine non-questions asked in Christian Q+A times'. At the end of a session, the hands go up in the crowd, and everything is going swimmingly until 'Mike the Church Planter from Norwich' is handed the microphone, and proceeds to tell the speaker (and the rest of the room) his own opinions on the topic, a personal story of how God has used him powerfully, and a couple of humblebrags about how he doesn't understand how the church is growing so fast. At the end he'll clumsily wrap it up with a line like "so I just wanted to know your thoughts on that", but WE ALL KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, 'Mike the Church Planter from Norwich.'

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.

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