Simply turn on the news, watch a live stream or read a social media feed, and you’ll quickly see people’s perceptions of today’s society. One trend getting a lot of traction is our general distrust of traditional institutions. Organizations—whether they are associations, businesses or charities, or deal with education, faith or government—as well as conferences, meetings and leaders, are feeling the effects of this distrust.
So what’s happening in society to provoke this? Why do many feel as if these institutions—including your conferences and committees—are driving people away? Why do some say they are done attending events?
Smart people are asking the same questions. Researchers like Dr. Josh Packard and his colleagues noticed patterns in data they were collecting for different projects. They intuitively asked, “What’s different about this era that causes so many people to distrust our traditional institutions? Why are many done with the church, government, organizations and even conferences? What happened? Who moved our proverbial institutionalized cheese?”
That’s how my chat with Packard began. I initially read about his research in the fall of 2014. I later bought his book, “Church Refugees,” and reached out to him to learn more. Then I invited him to co-present with me at conferences because I found his findings vital to the meetings industry. This excerpt from our recent conversation discusses the impact of his research for events, conferences and meetings.
Your initial research focused on why so many people were leaving their church but not leaving their faith. How does this information apply to associations and conferences?
In short, I research the decline of voluntary associations. Religion is only one of them. Basically, people are leaving church for the same reason they’re leaving everything else—and when they leave, they’re creating new and interesting things in all of these sectors (e.g., the rise of home schooling as people disengage from traditional school, the development of homeopathic remedies as people increasingly distrust modern medicine). The same is happening in the meetings industry. People are not joining and not attending, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about networking and professional development. They’re simply finding new and different ways to get them.
What should meeting planners know about sociology and how it can help them do their jobs better?
Sociologists pay attention to trends and the ways groups of people act, or the way individuals behave within a group compared to being alone. In comparison to how psychologists pay attention to what’s going on inside your head, we pay attention to how you behave in a specific social setting like a meeting, dinner, learning opportunity or networking event.