It’s not by chance that Gideons International attracted about 1,000 international attendees from 92 countries to its in international convention this past July. The organization has made a concerted effort to have more people from around the world experience its convention, whether they are attending live or virtually.
Here are six ways that Gideons has looked beyond borders to grow its meeting.
About eight years ago Gideons realized that it needed to expand its efforts to spread the word of God outside of the U.S., says Marc Plew, director, conferences and conventions, at Gideons International, Nashville, Tenn. Right now, Gideons is placing, or giving away, 87 million bibles a year with a target of placing 120 million by 2020.
Given the declining church attendance in America, Gideons had to look overseas—but not just anywhere. “What we did was look at three countries—India, the Philippines, and Nigeria,” says Plew. These are countries where Christianity is growing and the people are predominantly English-speaking. Not that English is a requirement, but it does help facilitate growth, Plew says. Gideons established a headquarters and several regional offices, called national associations, in each of these countries. It’s been an effective strategy as the number of Bible placements has tripled in those areas.
Identify Future Leaders
Gideons also has headquarters throughout Europe and Asia. Leadership in each country identifies future leaders and encourages them to attend the international convention, held in the U.S. each year. In 2013 it was held at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, July 23–28, with about 4,300 attendees.
For some of the poorer nations, Gideons offers to sponsor attendees—that is, pay for airfare or hotel rooms or help out financially. “In some of these countries, there’s no way people could afford to come to America,” says Plew. “We use our international convention as an opportunity to give people a greater vision of the worldwide ministry and show people that they are a significant part of it.”
The organization also uses the headquarters around the world to promote the international convention through local communications, publications, and meetings.
Roll Out the Welcome Mat
“It’s a double blessing because not only are they able to come here and grow, they are able to share their stories with us,” Plew says of the convention’s international attendees. U.S.-based members are able to “host” international counterparts for breakfast or dinner during the conference. The get-togethers are held right at the convention center, but the important part is that the hosts are connecting with people from other countries. Local hosts sign up and can host anyone they wish, perhaps someone from a part of the world they are interested in. They talk about their countries, families, and cultures, and form relationships. In some cases, they may not even speak the same language, but the connection is still made. “It energizes both parties,” says Plew.
Gideons also has an International Fellowship Banquet on the opening night of the convention—a night that used to be reserved for the keynote address. (That has been moved to the next day.) The banquet serves to welcome and celebrate the 1,000 or so international attendees from 92 countries, some of whom come dressed in their native attire.
Have Interpretation Devices
To make sure that international attendees feel as if they are truly participating, translation is crucial. All content from the general sessions and the breakouts is simultaneously interpreted into 14 languages via headsets. “We want them to be just as much a part of it as you or I,” says Plew.
For the 2013 convention, Gideons added a hybrid component for the first time. It streamed out 14 sessions, mainly the banquets, keynotes, and high-interest breakouts. The investment was well worth it as the live-streamed segments garnered about 12,000 views from people in 60 different countries—reaching people in all corners of the world that might never be able to attend in person.
The live-streaming also served to promote the convention to those who might want to attend in the future. For the 2014 event in Philadelphia, Gideons will expand the hybrid portion of the meeting.
Gideons also introduced a mobile app this year, which gave the organization a chance to connect with members in a new way. Plew says that planners have been able to use the app to push Gideons’ messages and promote the convention to the growing number of people who communicate primarily through mobile devices.