"Your building matters," said Bill Hybels during his keynote address at the inaugural Worship Facilities Conference and Expo (WFX) in 2006. The founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church had never been asked to speak on the subject of facilitating worship before, but in his culling down of that broad topic, he presented the above powerful statement. Ten years later, it's still powerful, and even more relevant.
"As churches have evolved to embrace concepts of building and equipping more intentionally, the church itself has evolved, as has the market. We've been able to stay relevant and grow as an event because we ask churches what they want to know versus assuming we know everything and telling them what they need to know," says Jim Wagner, general manager of WFX and publisher of its partner publication, Worship Facilities.
That same attitude of asking and seeking is what established the event's fundamental purpose, as well. "What we determined through talking to churches was that there werethere area lot of inspirational church conferences. There's nothing wrong with that, it's needed, but people working in ministry also need practical and useable information that they can go home and implement," says Wagner.
Following the first year, the vendor community realized that churches had these needs and demands and the expo portion grew. Plus, attendees realized how much there was to learn, so the conference continued to grow, too. "[We've] grown despite church construction being half of what it was in 2006," says Wagner.
WFX's carefully selected advisory council has continued to curate diverse programming informed by the needs of churches. What began as a conference focused on buildings and technology, soon broadened to include professional development for church tech directors and then added learning tracks about launching and managing multi-site churches. As a complement to tech and overall ministry, training and education for worship leaders has been developed. As social media's influence and power have grown, WFX has added communications-specific learning opportunities for pastors and staff. Today, WFX is truly an event that allows the whole ministry team to attend and grow and go home equipped to do their area of ministry better.
"Training and education come first. This is a conference-led event and we will continue to listen and provide what churches are telling us they need," says Wagner.
He goes on to point out a few defining trends that WFX will continue address: "Tech is commonplace, therefore the role of creative and tech arts flows into everythingfrom communications to multi-site considerations. As well, how churches develop facilities is moving away from large, single-use spaces to something more community-based. People want to gather in multiple and diverse ways and there aren't many 6,000-seat sanctuaries being built. The fundamental that hasn't changed is that buildings and technology are tools for ministry."
What else is to come in the next 10 years at WFX? That will be determined by the church, as it always has been. But the first decade's success has proven that WFX has filled a need simply by listening and seeking to understand. By continuing that practice, it will be able to connect churches with the tools they need to facilitate thriving ministries.