Las Vegas expectations, Branson budget

No offense to Branson, Missouri. But it’s not Las Vegas.

Branson has shows. It has nightlife. It has hotels. It has entertainment. It’s promoted as a fun place to go because it is a fun place to go.

But it isn’t Vegas. Vegas has better nightlife. Better hotels. Better entertainment. Vegas is promoted the way it is because there’s only one Las Vegas.

That isn’t to say Branson isn’t fun. You can go to a place like Branson with a Branson budget in mind. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You understand and accept that a Branson budget has different expectations than a Vegas budget.

And with the right budget and expectations you can have a great time in Branson. Just don’t expect it to be like Vegas.

Expectations Mismatch

One of the things I sort through in working with church staff is that they often have Las Vegas expectations and a Branson budget.

I went to my first trade show when I was working in the health care industry. I was probably 22 years old and a new manager. One of my vendors invited me to an event at the McCormick Place a mile or so from my office in Chicago. So I went. Full registration was about $3000. But a day pass was about $900 and my boss said that was OK if I collected a few business cards and learned a couple things.

I walked around, I met people, I sat through a couple seminars, I ate the same crappy convention center food I ate at the Car Show. I hung around in the early evening for a cocktail reception and keynote from some person I’d barely heard of.

Other trade shows came and went. A full registration of $3000-$5000 didn’t really get you much. 2-3 days at a boring event, a swag bag, access to the exhibit hall, a couple cocktail receptions with finger food, some seminars, and a nightly keynote in a giant auditorium mostly empty with horrible staging and lighting. (Usually highlighted by some dude in a suit giving another dude in a suit an industry award to polite clapping.)

But if you met a couple of people or picked up a tip along the way, that was worth way more than $5000.

But the event itself? It was a Branson production on a Vegas budget. Three days away from work would bring a total bill of several thousand dollars including flights, hotels, food, and registration.

Flash forward a few years  and I went to my first YS convention in Sacramento. My church gave me an annual budget of $1000 to spend on a conference and since it was within driving distance Kristen and I were able to go together if we reported back on every seminar we went to and recalled everything the keynote speakers said to the elders.

Two people’s registration and a hotel for less than $1000? Really? My expectations for it were really, really low. Sub-Branson. More like a roadside carnival expectation for that price. Four days of stuff for two people under $1000… it didn’t compute.


I was blown away. There were lots of useful, encouraging seminars. There were two keynotes per day complete with music and trapeze artists and good speakers. There was an exhibit hall that gave away good stuff I actually wanted promoting products I could actually use.

I had a Branson budget but got a Las Vegas experience. It was kind of ridiculous, actually.

Lopsided to the point where it was embarrassing. 

As the years went on that lopsided feeling went away. I got used to a Las Vegas experience for my Branson budget. I started to expect that for just a few hundred bucks I should get more and more.

Of course, the economics of the two experiences I’ve described are relatively simple. The first trade show I described is the only one like it in a growing industry that profits billions of dollars. They can charge whatever they want and deliver almost nothing because there is no competition. The second trade show exists in a space with infinite competition and a shrinking population, which drives the cost lower and lower.

Managing Expectations

I was fortunate in that I had the other experience which told me that a normal trade show should cost thousands of dollars and have only a small number of deliverables.

Now that I spend the majority of my time working with church ministry people I find myself constantly managing expectations. (Not just on events)

They have Las Vegas expectations. Our tribe wants lasers, smoke, and Willie Nelson playing in the background while the emcee descends from a mini-helicopter onto a stage emerging from a 5,000 gallon tub of lime jello.

Yet they just have a Branson budget.

And that mismatch leaves me managing expectations.

So What’s the Point, Adam?

The point is not that I’m whining about the high expectations of church folks. I love my tribe. I think it’s awesome that people who serve the church expect to get the absolutely most out of their hard-earned dollars. They certainly do Las Vegas work for a Branson paycheck. So everyone that serves our tribe has an innate desire to deliver Las Vegas stuff for them.

My point is bigger than just my work. It’s about you, too.

We all have to manage expectations. We have to be transparent about what is and what isn’t possible.

We need to undersell stuff better.

A student watches the MTV Music Awards and is blown away. Then her youth pastor stands up a few weeks later and she says, “Our winter camp is going to be like nothing you can possibly imagine! I can’t tell you all the details, just come and it’ll blow your mind.

That’s a Las Vegas expectation you’ve set up. On your Branson winter camp budget can’t deliver something better than the MTV Music Awards.

Way to go. 

Or your staff will read in some magazine about a church who has a massive Christmas pageant that attracts ten thousand people and 1500 people come to faith in Christ… so your team sets out to create something like it with similar expectations. Well, you’ve got Branson quality talent to pull off something you’re expecting Vegas-style results from. And you probably didn’t remember the part in the story about how many years it took them to get to that point. That’s an expectation mismatch. The poor church staff will spend months working towards a goal that’s impossible. 

These mismatches burn people.

These mismatches burn people out.

These mismatches create distrust and bad habits and cause people to work/try/push too hard.

The point is this: Sometimes your job as a leader is to manage expectations.

Do that and you’ll build trust, build excitement, build unity, build health, and do it sustainably. 






2 responses to “Las Vegas expectations, Branson budget”

  1. Gene Avatar

    When I go to Branson I expect something *other* than Vegas, that’s why I chose Branson and not Vegas in the first place.

    But your point about how one of the more important aspects of our role as leader is to properly manage expectations is well taken. That’s one of the reason that I never encourage people to go to a show unless I know in advance that it is going to be good. I’m always testing the waters before I try to serve it to my people (youth or adults), I want them to know that when I recommend something to them that it really will deliver.

  2. Passionburnswithin Avatar

    So true. In my last church even though I was able to accomplish things far greater than what most could get out of our Branson resources there was an expectation among the church membership that we should have Las Vegas style results. What eventually led to my downfall was my inability to convince people to be realistic.

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