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Creators Lab Proves the Kids Are Alright

Panelists at Creators Lab Communicators Conference

When it comes to Adventist conferences, when you’ve seen one, you may as well have seen them all. There is a sameness to so much Adventist programming. 

Conferences for Adventist communicators are not much different, which is what makes them disappointing oftentimes: crammed schedules with little time for networking, speakers who seem ill-fitted to discussing communication, the same topics and talking points as five years ago, and sponsors taking up close to half of presentation time. 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect, though, is the attendees, not because they behave badly, are unkind, or ill-mannered, but because it is invariably the same small group. Directors, presidents, and administrators make up the bulk of the group, often without the creators who actually make the organizations’ content. The reason is that the latter get priced out. Even some universities cannot afford to send students to conferences designed to connect journalism, communication, and writing majors to explore prospective job markets. Freelancers, frequently unable to afford conference admission, rely on sponsors to attend. Once inside, they are met with seminars and sessions that uphold systems that undermine their input. As a result, communications conferences create a never-ending feedback loop with little development, making the promise that these conferences are worth the price of admission less defensible. 

To minister requires communication, and to communicate means keeping in step with the necessary evolution of communication tools and media. As someone who has dipped their toes into communications for the Seventh-day Adventist church through freelancing, I have assumed the role of active observer. I also straddle the line between Millennial and Gen Z, taking my place in the perennial push and pull between the generations. Younger generations always come nipping at the heels of their predecessors, begging them, “Please, we have to move or we’ll miss it!” However, there is always a stage when we stop begging them to keep up and respectfully move ahead. 

From March 22-24, the first Creators Lab was held at the Oregon Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gladstone, Oregon. I have no doubt that its organizer, Kaleb Eisele, would humbly deflect accolades for revamping Adventist communication, but the recognition would be no less fitting. 

Worship at Creators Lab

The idea for Creators Lab germinated from Eisele’s attending numerous communications conferences filled, predictably, with more departmental directors than creatives who did the work. He noticed that freelancers and students, small business owners and congregants—all interested in creating—were either priced out or unaware of the conferences meant for them. He noted the conversations, sessions, and breakouts that repeated outdated material, sometimes fifteen years old, with the unspoken message, “It’s okay—you can use this application, program, or platform. See, you’re not a bad Adventist for jumping on the trend!” 

People resisted newness. Presenters hoping to share new, exciting AI features had to first persuade hesitant church members that AI is not evil, but a helpful tool. Many meetings focused on business administration or other tangential subjects besides communication. In effect, the conferences became an exclusive club rather than an inclusive resource. 

Rather than waiting for change, Eisele and the Oregon Conference communication department created what they wished existed. The Creators Lab conference came with accessible entry fees and skipped the hand-holding during sessions like “Creating with AI,” “Creating with Film,” and “Creating with Podcasting.”

Laia and Jo Amaya led the 100 or so attendees in worship throughout the weekend. Kevin Wilson, the viral chai guy, made chai live on stage in the event’s opening message on creating. Five talks on Sabbath, after breakfast and a sermon by Dr. Seth Pierce, focused on storytelling. Discussion time with the presenters followed each presentation to further explore their topics. 

Kevin Wilson, the chai guy.

The freelancers, filmmakers, writers, and curious congregants who attended had ample time to connect with one another and the presenters. Sabbath afternoon included a panel discussion on the blessings and challenges of communication. On Sunday, Lab Sessions allowed the presenters to give practical feedback to those curious about their craft. 

Creators Lab felt like coming up for air after a long time underwater. From the event’s professionalism and intentionality, to its keen awareness of the target audience, the conference exuded authenticity and hope that, especially against the backdrop of so many other stale conferences, felt astonishing. 

Every aspect of the event gave the sense that organizers wanted those involved to feel ownership and pride in Creators Lab. Those in charge made themselves available with listening ears and minds open to suggestions that might help better the event. 

The Oregon Conference communications department also seemed clear in what they wanted the event to be. It felt like an engaging place to create and play, a space to cultivate connection, foster collaboration, and build relationships. 

Guided conversation time allowed attendees to move from table to table and find kindred spirits. Cards with Creators Lab logo stickers were scattered on the tables alongside prompt cards with conversation starters like, “what smell brings back great memories?” and “what’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten and what makes it so special?” 

Discussion prompt at Creators Lab conference

Even the room design facilitated networking: triangles of canvas sails hung overhead, and a wide LED wall with sleek, engaging graphics added to the feel of being cocooned, placing attendees in the epicenter of a modern yet warm community. Everything seemed to serve a greater purpose, introducing participants to new avenues of ministry, giving guidance and permission to explore. Once stripped of administrative expectation, tradition, and excess, attendees were left with a space by and for Christian creatives to enhance creativity. 

By the end of the conference, attendees’ name tags were littered with logo stickers, and their phones were full of contact information for new friends and potential collaborators. 

For creatives who had worked with the church, we knew that this event would be a watershed moment. Creatives clamored for a chance to present, ministries asked to have booths and signed up to sponsor the event, and the Oregon Conference communication department’s investments into the local community engendered enough goodwill that some community members who weren’t even interested in Christianity wanted to help promote the event. 

Participants left invigorated. One young woman decided to start a blog charting her faith. Another woman resolved to start a supper club for women where women medical and holistic professionals could meet and converse, and one man left inspired to start a documentary project. In that room where some were able to hesitantly voice their hopes and aspirations, they were met with encouragement and practical support through a thriving network.  

Creators Lab is a shining example of what Adventist ministry can be—a space of innovation and collaboration. The conversations I heard resounded with deep humility and profound hope, and individuals hesitant to admit their creative dreams were urged to pursue them. 

The participants found a common language, spending more time speaking with each other than being spoken to. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds found their people, and for my part, I left feeling as though I had found a community of like-minded believers. The conference felt reminiscent of Jesus’ ministry, more focused on connection than on promoting metrics and business practices, and making community the bedrock of communication. 

I heard from sixty-year-olds who found God after lifelong atheism and 20-somethings who left the church, then returned. And whatever generation they came from and whatever their faith journeys, Creators Lab provided opportunities to move forward through a bright faith and an unquenchable hunger to declare the goodness of God. Creators Lab proves that the kids, whether sixty or sixteen, are indeed alright. 

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