Sanity Check 101 Amidst Crazy Growth

FOCUS experiences a crazy amount of growth each event.  We sit down with Christine Sarnow to talk through how her and her team maintain sanity throughout the process!

Tell us about you. 

 I work for an organization called FOCUS, stands for the fellowship of Catholic university students. I found FOCUS in college. We had missionaries on campus and FOCUS is a Catholic campus outreach organization and I felt called to become a missionary. I was fairly reluctant about doing it because missionaries for FOCUS fundraise their own salaries, they move wherever they’re asked to go. Your first year as missionary, you go on a dating fast. So when I was graduating from college, I graduated with three degrees. I was ready to go do something special and somehow I felt this tug to go and meet FOCUS at one of our recruitment interview weekends. I actually had a terrible experience. I wasn’t involved in FOCUS on our campus really and didn’t enjoy the interview weekend. When I got the call to the offer to be a missionary with FOCUS, I went to a chapel to pray and the only thing that I heard was, will you drop everything and follow me? So that was in 2006 so I’ve been with FOCUS for nearly 14 years now, which is crazy cause you never would have thought, given that story how long I would’ve been here.

I worked on campus as a on-campus missionary for four years and our conferences, we have all of our missionary staff help out with the conferences on site. My fourth year as a missionary, I ran all of our speakers and entertainment for our national conference in 2010. The last year we did a new year’s Eve party and I basically had two full time jobs. But seeing it all come together was, it was incredible. It was incredible to sit back and watch everyone enjoy what you put together. I realized I had a knack for it. And so I moved to our national office in Denver after that and have worked there ever since. I oversee the whole events department. So what we do where 16 people at our national office and we predominantly work on these conferences, I’d say 60-65% of our time. And then I have staff that work on all the other events that we do. But you asked why I do what I do. And last night was the experience of really why I do what we do. So on the third night of all of our conferences, we have a adoration and confession night. If you could picture thousands of young people dropping to their knees when they see the Eucharist, we call it adoration. When they see the Eucharist comes out for adoration, they dropped to their knees in prayer. And then we offer the sacrament of confession that same night. And you see thousands get up when confession is announced. And the line weeps through our vision way all of our exhibit booths. And we have thousands of people in line who choose to go to confession where they get to be redeemed of their sins and freed. We offer freedom, you know, really through our Lord. And it’s incredible. And I always tell people, whether you’re Catholic or not, the vendors we work with, whether you align with everything that we’re teaching, you will not experience more joy and to be able to come and see how everything you do and the work you do has a meaning in someone’s life. It’s incredible. So every year, you might be thinking during the craziness, like, why do I do what I do and then see that and I’m like, this is it. 

How do you maintain the mission and keep it at the center when you’re scaling at this rate that you’re at? 

I tell my team and all of our staff that kind of become our hands and feet here on, on site that we always say. Now bear with me where where mission oriented faith based organization. So it’s just going to come out. But I always say that if we, if we run an amazing event, but we find ourselves further from the Lord and further from our faith at the end because we were frustrated, we were angry, we got annoyed with each other and we really let ourselves give in to that. We have failed because the goal is that each one of us grow further and further and become more and more of saints every single day. So on my team, I find that there’s a total transition when were just asked to do more work and were asked to do more work and were asked to change this and do this differently and we’re getting bigger. If that’s what we focus on, we get frustrated and exhausted and, and we stop thinking about how can we do it the right way. When we flip that mentality and we go to more of a contributive mindset and we remind ourselves what the mission is and will this help the attendee at the end of the day? Will this help our guests encounter our mission more? Everything switches in their minds and everyone refocuses and chips in even more. I think about it and I’m like, we couldn’t hire staff to do what my staff does. We’d pay overtime that was outrageous because my staff works, you know, 20 hours a day when they come and it’s not just my staff, it’s the whole organization because everyone’s committed to mission. I find in almost every single team meeting and almost every single conversation we have the continued reminder. Let’s go back to mission, let’s go back to mission. It takes people from kind of a comparison. It’s about me mentality, which we all have naturally to a, it’s about us mentality. How can we all together accomplish what we’re trying to do? 

Help paint the picture of what this looked like the 10 years ago that you guys started working together and the growth and what that’s looked like. 

So the first time we worked together [EideCom and FOCUS] was in 2011 and you guys reached out to us. That year was a rough year. So we did four conferences in one month. All across the country. And that was crazy. So one of the conferences was EideCom’s first time with us and those conferences were roughly a thousand people each give or take. Since then FOCUS has also been trying to hit it’s strive. We’ve been testing I suppose, or trying out different conference models FOCUS grows about 15 to 20% annually. And we have since our inception in 1998 and we see that growth here at our conferences, which is unbelievable. So in 2011, we tried smaller regional conferences. Since then we’ve realized that people like to come together in this one spot. Now we might try regional conferences again as they become not so small. The conference has continued to see that same growth year over year. In 2012, we introduced what this conference is, SLS, and that is intentionally a smaller audience size because the goal of the conference is a little different. So we say it’s to inspire and equip people who want to be leaders for what we call the new evangelization. These are people who have all opted in to say, yes, I want to offer people what I have found here. And so that conference continues to grow year over year. And then the larger conference that we do is called Seek. So last year we were in Indianapolis with over 17,000 registrants. So managing, not just the growth of the actual operations of the conference, but also the structure and the right strategy for us, that’s a continued fun challenge to work on. 

Tell us about your mentality behind engaging people in their living room. 

I actually see remote engagement as the future of our conferences. So rather than the main site being the main site as everyone thinks about it and remote insight, remote engagement being supplemental, I think the will come when remote engagement is our main Avenue of getting our message out. It’s so new and so different that it’s hard to think about how that strategy will look. a few years back we realized, people like to tune in online. So we started to invest in what that remote engagement looks like. And I would say especially last year was the first year we partnered with you guys and really kind of developed our strategy and said we are going to try to dive deep in. 

What advice do you have? 

Work hard. Events are hard work. I always say that there’s not very many glamorous moments of my job. 

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