How it all began.
I was a chaperone. That was it. I was helping a friend chaperone a youth trip. I had just finished speaking at a conference in Gatlinburg, and instead of heading home, my buddy was coming in for a large youth conference in Pigeon Forge and needed an extra male chaperone. I obliged. No big deal.
Now, I have visited Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for years and years for different student conferences since I was in middle school. I love it there. I’ve been spiritually affected there. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the conferences that take place there have made an impact on my life and walk. So I was happy to oblige. I had no idea that a simple chain of events would take me on a really interesting and quite fun journey.
During the free hours of the second afternoon of the trip, I wandered around with some students and my buddy in downtown Gatlinburg. Someone I barely knew stopped me and shared with me that his students were in town for a major youth event, that they were very fond of me, and that they loved the event. But the kids were not really happy or had trouble understanding what was being said. Would I be available to have a conversation with his students? I didn’t have a good reason to say no, so I accepted and offered to meet them in a few hours. To my surprise, over the next couple of hours, I ran into other chaperones, youth pastors, or pastors who repeated this conversation with me and asked the same two general questions: “Would I speak at one of these events?” and “Why doesn’t Inlightened Ministries put on one of these events?”
My answers were kind and simple: “I would love speak whenever I am asked to speak” and “Because Inlightened Ministries doesn’t have $100,000 or more sitting around.”
I spoke to the youth group later that day, enjoyed my time with them, and was grateful for the appreciation of both the students and the adults. Again, I was asked and answered those same two questions. In the midst of that experience, God began tapping on my shoulder, asking, “Hey, are you getting this?”
I went home and chatted with God about it for about 24 hours.
I picked up the phone and made one phone call to the hotel and conference center I went to as a student. My personal favorite. In about 15 minutes, I received a contract for every room in the complex and all of the convention space for an absolutely unbelievable price. Well, I was thinking big and needing more space, so I picked up the phone and called the hotel next door. Within another 15 minutes, I booked every double room they had for the same weekend. Then I called the quality and type of worship leader, speaker, and creative talent that had filled my time as a youth, as well as a production company that had fantastic equipment for lighting, audio, and video. I secured most of the personnel before the week was over. It was all a bit too easy. My board of directors at the time was quite skeptical but could not ignore the signs and the lack of closing doors.
So away we went. The goals of the conference were simple:
- We wanted to be the highest quality conference available for the money.
- But we also wanted to diminish some of the problems that often come with large group productions.
- We wanted all the rooms to be close enough to the meeting space so that everyone could walk to worship, even though it was winter. Park and stay!
- We wanted to have enough space to keep the students indoors while they waited for the sessions to open.
- We wanted students to never walk away feeling like they didn’t understand what was said or like someone was preaching to their leaders and not to them.
- We wanted program personalities who were not only of the highest level, but who also felt the need to connect with students and leaders off the stage.
- We wanted to give leaders something more to help them be better year-round. So we added leadership training.
- Finally, we wanted to make it affordable, so we set the price for everything we were doing that year at $89.
We were able to accomplish all of these goals. And we were thankful for it. In return, God blessed this ministry opportunity, and we saw over 800 students and leaders attend our first conference. We made budget and, surprisingly, saw baskets of crumbs left over!
So here we are. We are still driven by these same ideals, still working toward these same principles. It’s been almost a dozen years since that first conference, and we are still excited about loving teens, training leaders, and gathering talent, worship, speakers, and leadership professionals from around the country to speak truth into all who choose to attend The EDGE Conference. We are also still amazed at what God can do with a small but willing ministry to impact lives for His kingdom.
Thank you to all of you who have worshiped with us. And for those who have not . . . come and see! We would love to love on you at The EDGE.