View of Left Bank and Lake Susan with gazebo in the foreground.

Visions for the Future

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Because this past Monday evening was one of those nights when neither my wife nor I wanted to cook, we found ourselves sitting outside a local restaurant, enjoying sunshine, good company, and, importantly, a meal prepared by somebody else.  

At some point, Jeannie pointed to the play area crawling with children just over my shoulder. “That’s smart,” she remarked. “Look at all the young families here, thanks to that big pile of sand for the children to play in.”  

I took in the scene and joked that perhaps the conference center should open a restaurant at Robert Lake Park. 

Though I WAS joking (No, really, I was ONLY joking!), Montreat Conference Center is in fact in a season of creative thinking, innovative ideas, and data study of current trends. Yep, we’re developing a new strategic plan. Earlier that day, we’d conducted two meetings with participating staff, board members, and community representatives to prioritize strategies and goals in consideration of future opportunities for ministry. Formally undertaken last fall, the plan is progressing, and much work remains to be done. While it’s too early to predict the outcomes, I’m going to make some assumptions, based on the direction of our discussions and available data – safe assumptions, but worth saying anyway.      

First, as it has throughout our history, our character as a Presbyterian institution will deeply shape the rest of our planning and, ultimately, all the programming we provide. Reformed values have influenced the discussions of our vision, mission, and guiding principles, and our denominational connection is abundantly reflected in the data of the last decade’s attendance, participation, and the revenue of our programs. (Our campus has continued to be a retreat destination for members of other Presbyterian denominations, as well.) Direct support of Presbyterian churches and ministries will keep its place as the central focus of our work.   

Second, the conference center’s programming will continue to evolve, perhaps more rapidly than it already has. While coming to Montreat is a “habit of the heart” for many Presbyterians, the importance of high-quality programming will increase, both in support of existing Presbyterian congregations and as a portal into the Presbyterian church. The recent growth of current offerings like Women’s Connection, The Manna Retreat for young adults, and our Lilly-funded programs in congregational vitality all offer lessons that we can apply and demonstrate our potential.  

The third conclusion, related closely to the second, is that the hospitality experience we provide will be of paramount importance. The conference center’s ability to attract, invite, and host people on our campus must continue to improve, and not only because of the challenges noted in the preceding paragraph. Hospitality revenue will also be critical for the support it provides for our educational and recreation programs. Along with the philanthropy of our supporters, hospitality revenue will continue to support the cost of everything we do and will be a crucial factor in the success of our ministry.   

Since the beginning of our planning cycle, we’ve asked for input from focus groups and community members representing various constituencies. In the weeks to come, we will publish a link to a new survey focusing on usage and engagement with current programs and places on our campus. Look for the invitation to participate. We want to hear from you!

Richard DuBose

Richard DuBose
President, Montreat Conference Center