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Cost It may seem odd to start with something so “unspiritual,” but the truth is that this is a central, driving factor. I recently spent thirty minutes on the phone talking with a missions organization about format, details, locations, and more only to find out they charge 4x more than we’ve ever charged our students in the past. The reality is that you know your budget, your students, and the socioeconomic culture of your church. So, if a conference costs $500 to attend, and your students can only afford to pay $150, don’t even investigate it. In other words, don’t go to the Mercedes dealer when you can only afford a Kia. Location This is a tricky balance to find, but it can make all the difference. You want to find a conference located far enough away to be an “adventure” for your students, but close enough to be practical and cost-effective. Last year, we drove our students to New Mexico (from Indiana) for a mission trip. It was such a long drive that the return trip almost ruined all the good that had been done throughout the week. But if you go to a conference an hour away, you will likely have less students and you may have to deal with students wanting to leave for baseball games or football practices. Choose the location wisely. Track record and other Youth Ministers’ Opinions With all the different options out there, it’s easy to be sucked in by some sleek graphics and a nice website. Take some time to do the research and find out the track record of the conferences you are interested in. How long has it been around? What have others online said about the conference? What speakers / bands / talent have they had in the past and what does that say about their credibility? Most importantly, what have other Youth Ministers near you said about the conference? Was it beneficial to them and their group? Talk to the YMs in your area to get an impression before you decide. Format – Does it fit our needs? We recently took our college age group to Passion, which is an amazing conference. However, the reason we wanted to take our group was because we wanted to build some momentum and unity for our college ministry. While Passion was great, the brutal schedule, the immensity of it, and community groups that split everyone up, I barely saw my students all week! Find a conference that will meet your specific needs, and that values the same things you value. Doctrine We’ve probably all been burned on this at some point, so it’s probably good to note. I don’t want to spend an entire week “undoing” or “unteaching” everything that has been communicated from the stage doctrinally. Typically, I try to stick with conferences that share my doctrinal perspective. At the very least, make sure you know what you’re getting into before you attend. If you’re from a Baptist background, you might want to know before you attend a conference run by Pentecostals. These are just a few of the criteria I use when choosing and evaluating a summer conference, but I’d be interested to hear what would make your list. What are you looking for in a summer conference for your youth group?