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If you’re not at ECHO, you’re going to wish you were and you need to plan for it next year. It’s always a good thing to come to Dallas! I had a great time for my first day of the ECHO Conference.

I got to catch the pre-lab class on “Design” – which rocked. It was so refreshing to watch a talented artist, Barton Damer, peel back the layers (literally in PhotoShop) and show how he created the conference logo (seen above).

I then hung out with Cynthia Ware and talked with several friends that were in town from around the country. Then Cynthia and I attended a special lunch and got to hear what’s coming down the road for WorshipHouse Media.

The rest of the day was a blur of conversations, meetings, classes, talking with my friends that are exhibitors, BBQ for dinner, more deep discussions and meeting people in person that knew me from online (Facebook, Twitter or my blog).

I was most impressed with how the ECHO team and the host church, Watermark, handled the night main session with my friend, Mark Batterson. Hats off to my local tech buddies Ryan Howell (Watermark) and Jason Cole (Lake Pointe) who were making it happen, along with Les and the rest of their team. My intern, Jonathan, even jumped in on camera. So Bent Tree, Watermark, Lake Pointe and the ECHO team came together as one – it was beautiful. We have a great local group of tech directors. I saw most of them today, including my friend, Brian Davis, from Fellowship Dallas.

The worship last night was great (led by my friend, Will Pavone, from McLean Bible in Washington DC. I moved from serving in the Washington DC area to Dallas). The visuals and lighting were notable. They truly led artistically and tastefully. I was very impressed and want to get the backgrounds that they used for the songs – they were awesome.

They had created a nice countdown, made great use of a left, center and right video screen and had a cool brief conference starter video. Good stuff. Batterson brought it and was encouraging and appreciative to technical artists. It was good to see him and his digital/tech team (Dave Clark, David Russell and Jeremy Sexton).

I ended the night chatting briefly with some local friends, including new Dallas resident: Rhett Smith, and got some brief time with my college friend, Shawn Wood, who will be speaking today. I also talked with Tim Stevens and his associate from Granger. I’ll spend some more time later today with Tim.

I picked up Tony Steward last night from the airport and am looking forward to spending some time with him these next few days. I teach today and tomorrow and am looking forward to meeting more of you.

More later, including my new resource of the month: Unifyer – which is one of the sponsors for the Church 2.0 Local Forum in Atlanta next week and is a new partner with my ministry. I can’t wait to tell you more about what they’re up to!

DAY ONE: Great. Well done ECHO team. Looking forward to the rest of the conference.

I’m back in Dallas – got back late and am exhausted, but had a great time. Where do I start? So much was packed into my 3 days there. Today will be a little long, but I’ll just cover Thursday. I’ll blog about Friday and Saturday tomorrow. Here goes…

Day 1 (Thursday): Thursday I arrived at LAX around mid-morning and drove straight from the airport to the Dream Center. I have heard a ton about them, got to catch one of their services once on TV and heard Dr. Phil talk about them last week when I was home sick. After hearing how boldly Dr. Phil endorsed their ministry last week on national TV, I determined I was going to work them into my trip.

Dr. Phil talked about the difference they are making in their community – about how many homeless and hungry they feed EVERY day (hundreds). He went on to talk about how they give people a place to stay, clothes and many other opportunities (medical, physical and spiritual). As I drove up to the church, this was confirmed by the huge line of homeless people I saw stretched around the building and down the street. Each person was waiting to receive a meal and receive from the clothes and hygiene products they give out.

The Dream Center was founded by Tommy Barnett (who I have a great respect for) and his son, Matthew. You may remember Tommy Barnett’s name as the one who is ministering to and leading the restoration process of fallen pastor, Ted Haggard. Tommy also ministered to Jim Bakker.

I met Pastor Matthew Barnett’s personal assistant in the parking lot and she waited for me to park, welcomed me and guided me upstairs to Matthew’s office. He was on a flight and returning that evening for their worship service. She went on to tell me a little of her story – how God had used the Dream Center to change her life and how after graduating from their one year discipleship program she came on staff.

FYI – Everyone I met there was as friendly and hospitable as could be. We found out that one of their daily tours was just beginning so I quickly joined the tour (with a couple from Switzerland). For the next hour, the tour guide took us around their campus, told us stories, would point out different ministries going on and where people (of all ages) were living and introduce us to various staff and people that were in their discipleship program and living there.

After the tour, I went to go take a closer look at their recording studio. On the tour, our tour guide mentioned that they have recording studios where youth can come in off the street and record their music for free. What an outreach! I found my way in and stumbled upon their worship band, which work in the studio and played some of their original music for me. Their worship band, Press Play, just signed a deal with Universal and will be coming to a store near you soon.

As I was hanging out with some of the band, the lead singer of Press Play and head Creative Arts/Worship Pastor, Dave Hanley, walked in and introduced himself. I got to talk with him for a while, catch a little of his heart and vision (I believe he’s been at the Dream Center for 12 years) and hear one of his newest songs.

They invited me to come hang out at their rehearsal for that night’s service, but I had to leave and go meet a friend for college that I hadn’t seen in 11 years. Many people also invited me to their Thursday night worship service, but I had already committed to hang out with some LA friends.

I drove away thanking and praising God for what I had seen with my own eyes – such an amazing ministry. I’ll be mentioning them for sure in my “Church 2.0” book. If you EVER get to LA, please go and visit the Dream Center. I think all Church leaders should go and spend some time there. I’m looking into going back for a week of ministry with them. To find out more about what God is doing through this amazing ministry watch the promo video below.

Day 1 continued: Thursday went on to include catching up and eating dinner with a friend from college and then meeting Tom Rice ( media producer, writer, filmmaker and Founder of eight20eight) who had invited me to an improv comedy show at the Groundling Theater in Hollywood.

What a night! I had a blast and could honestly go watch them every night. The theater is a cozy and intimate setting and you feel very close to the stage and involved as an audience member. It was kind of like “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, where they would call various actors forward and ask the audience to give them scene ideas.

Besides the amazing Groundling cast, I was wonderfully surprised by their special guests for the night: Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live), Michael McDonald (MADtv) and Gary Anthony Williams (Malcolm in the Middle).

That was a full and fun day topped off with a stop at In-N-Out Burger (you know I had to hit it once). It gets better – more details about Friday and Saturday on tomorrow’s blog.

PERSONAL:
To my friends, family and anyone interested – below is a video of yesterday (me baptizing my daughter). Grace was the first person ever to be baptized in our new baptismal pool. Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions, as we also had a baby dedication and surrounded a couple in prayer who are 7 months pregnant with their son, who is expected to die at birth or shortly after.