The religious meetings market is often lumped into the so-called SMERF (Social, Military, Education, Religion and Fraternal society) market, a sector that has been resilient during the recession.
As venue prices have dropped, religious meetings organisers have found their choices increasing. Such is the power of the sector in the USA, there is even a Religious Conference Management Association.
The religious and association market makes up 95 per cent of Cincinatti’s convention business.
If the mainstream religions in the UK are not quite drawing the conference crowds of their US brethren, there are some evangelical branches whipping up the crowds.
The largest indoor conference in the UK is religious based and takes place at Excel London. Festival of Life, run by the Redeemed Christian Church of God, brings 40,000 delegates to its plenary session and delegates meet long into the night.
Sales Director at the BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, Kerrin MacPhie, is hoping to break into the lucrative market for large religious events.
“We are in discussion with the Jehovah’s Witnesses to bring one of their large meetings to Liverpool in 2012,” she says. “The meeting would take place in August, historically a quiet month.”
Along the North West coast, Southport hosted the Methodist Conference over the first week of July 2011 Southport Theatre and Convention Centre (STCC) was the venue, for 1,400 delegates.
Mike Booth, Sefton Council Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: “The Methodist Conference was a fantastic event for the town, generating a significant amount of revenue”.
Church organisations own some unusual buildings, although some play down their religious credentials and tell the CN confessional it is because there is a perception that they may not have bars or have archaic rules.
Upsides to choosing a venue with a religious connection can include a weight of heritage. The first meetings of the UN Preparatory Commission and Security Council were held in the Church of England’s Church House Hoare Memorial Hall, London, on 27 November 1945.
Neighbouring Methodist Central Hall is another Grade II listed building and claims to be Central London’s largest meetings venue, with religious events a third of its conferencing business.
The word ‘meetings’ is integral to the 500 Quakers’ Friends Meetings Houses. The central London Euston HQ provides hospitality to over 100,000 people a year and a £4.25m makeover will be followed by four new suites in September. Clerk to the Trustees Jonathan Fox says Friends House exemplifies Quaker testimonies to simplicity, integrity, peace and equality.
Paul Grey, Head of Hospitality, says the Quaker concern for the environment means they use organic, locally sourced and fairly traded produce in its restaurant.
God’s own country
Yorkshire has a good share of religious venues, with Bradford’s Abundant Life Conference Centre hosting Christian events annually attracting over 8,000.
Leeds Church Institute contracts its catering to CREATE, an organisation which helps homeless people.
Cathedral House is a £14m church development in Huddersfield and offers a 2,100-seat auditorium, while York Minster Chapter House is a meeting place of the College of Canons.
Bar House Convent in York has business Pagan style, with the Pagan Federation North East bringing their spring convention in 2012.
Bridlington Spa has recently hosted the Christ Church – Finding Life to Change the World for 650 delegates over three days and a Salvation Army Rally for 800. The venue reports eight repeat bookers from the sector, including a four-day event in July for the United Reform Church.
There is plenty of choice, both across denominations and for religious meetings organisers. Praise the Lord.
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