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GOF Conference was swingin’

Conference attendees enjoyed playing at the Route 66 Carousel Park

The Going On Faith Conference broke its own attendance record in Joplin, Mo., Aug. 24-26, as the heartland host proved a popular draw for church group leaders and travel industry professionals alike.

Total attendance at the conference topped 300 and included some 160 church group leaders from 20 states and Canada. They were joined by a diverse group of representatives from tourist boards, tour operators, convention and visitors bureaus, and attractions from around the country. Foreign delegates came from a number of countries, among them a number of tour operators and other representatives from Palestine.

The travel planners and tourism workers all took part in the various educational sessions, social networking events, meal functions and business opportunities that make up the Going On Faith Conference. The central components of the gathering were a pair of marketplace sessions, a series of prescheduled, computer-matched business meetings during which church group leaders and travel industry representatives sat down to collaborate on creating new trip ideas for the churches.

More than 3,500 of the six-minute appointments took place during the two marketplace sessions. The appointments gave the church travel planners an opportunity to learn about travel providers, destinations and attractions they did not know about before the conference.

“I’ve been going to GLAMER shows for 12 years, but this is my first time at Going On Faith,” said Harold Vanderbilt of the YMCA Men’s Retirement Club in Hammond, Ind. “I’ve got so much good information, and I can’t wait to go home and tell some pastors in my area about what I’ve learned. I feel very blessed to be a part of an organization like this.”

Expert advice
In addition to the two marketplace sessions, the conference also featured two educational seminars to help group leaders and travel sellers better understand the opportunities and challenges unique to the faith-based travel industry.

Travel journalist and Going On Faith editor Brian Jewell gave the conference’s keynote address, “Not Just Another Group Tour.” The presentation covered some of the challenges confronting today’s church group travel leaders and offered tips for overcoming these challenges by renewing a sense of purpose and using travel to create ministry opportunities within churches and communities. A full copy of the presentation’s slideshow is available online at 

The next day, travel industry veteran Cindi Brodhecker spoke to delegates about the diversity of faith-based travel. She encouraged planners to capitalize on the variety of tourism destinations and travel styles in the marketplace to reach the diverse mix of people in America’s churches today.

Entertainment and amusement

The Going On Faith Conference has come to be known for the variety of entertainment events that take place throughout the three-day meeting, and this year’s edition was no exception. As has become tradition, the conference kicked off with an ice cream social in the registration area, giving delegates an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and establish new relationships.

The Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau formally welcomed delegates to town during the opening ceremonies and dinner. During the meal, a local contemporary Christian music trio, Offset Sunset, played some original songs, as well as a variety of old standards to which the delegates sang along. A local magician who appeared at the conference last year returned to this year’s conference and performed a variety of crowd-pleasing illusions, with plenty of audience participation.

The next day, the Great Passion Play and the Rogers Convention and Visitors Bureau, conference sponsors, brought a musical team that performs at the Great Passion Play theater to entertain delegates as they ate lunch. Led by the company’s Sam Ray, the vocal and instrumental ensemble performed a number of spiritual songs and patriotic numbers and a hilarious parody of the Village People’s “YMCA” rewritten around the theme of the AARP.

During the afternoon, delegates left on sightseeing tours of Joplin, which included attractions such as a candy factory and a wildlife refuge. The tours ended at the Route 66 Carousel Park, a Joplin landmark that features a variety of traditional amusement rides and midway games. Attendees enjoyed a barbecue picnic, then quickly set about to enjoy their free rein at the park. While some competed at the go-kart track, minigolf course and batting cages, others enjoyed a round of bumper cars or a ride on the Ferris wheel, carousels, tilt-a-whirl, swinging pirate ship and other fun attractions.

The next morning was a special treat, as the Hughes Brothers Theater brought their entire cast from Branson to perform during breakfast. The minishow featured a live band, singing and guitar playing by the original Hughes Brothers and then impressive musical displays by their many children. At one point, dozens of Hughes family members were on stage entertaining the audience.

During the closing luncheon, next year’s host, the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented a dramatic and musical troupe from West End Assemblies of God in Richmond. The group performed a period production that told personal stories of people who interacted with Jesus during his time on Earth.

Thanks, sponsors!
A number of convention and visitors bureaus and other travel companies provided sponsorships that made the 2010 Going On Faith Conference possible. The Holiday Inn Joplin sponsored the ice cream social, and the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau and its industry partners sponsored numerous events and amenities, including the opening dinner and entertainment, the city sightseeing tours, the Route 66 Carousel Park picnic, the delegate binders and the travel industry reports.

The Globus Family of Brands and the Hughes Brothers Theatre sponsored the conference’s two breakfasts; lunches were provided by the Great Passion Play and the Rogers Convention and Visitors Bureau and by the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Educational seminars were sponsored by the Fireside Dinner Theatre and by the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Regency Hotel and the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper Show from the Rapid City region of South Dakota. Other sponsors included Team Texas, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Eureka Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, Carlson Hotels and Country Inn and Suites, Ask Us Travel and Tours, and the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Watch our WEB EXCLUSIVE video interviews from the conference by clicking here.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.