Not Your Father’s Conference
The Exponential Conference was held in Orlando, Florida, this past April. Once upon a time Exponential was known as the National New Church Conference. It was a modest affair of a couple hundred church planting directors, planters, and recruits that often met on the campus of a Christian college.
I was president of the NNCC in nineteen something or other. It was held at Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee, and George Hunter, from Asbury Theological Seminary, was the keynote speaker. The Johnson students were pleasant enough, though I do not remember a whole cadre of church planting recruits emerging from the conference.
Five years ago we moved the conference to Florida and put Todd Wilson in charge. As a physicist for the Navy, Todd used to design nuclear submarines. Then he became a member of New Life Christian Church in Centerville, Virginia, and left his position with the government to join Brett Andrew’s staff. Nuclear physicist to pastor—happens all the time.
Todd began leading Exponential in 2006. The conference had 300 attendees in 2005, but it has grown steadily, with almost 5,000 at this year’s conference. That is actually pretty amazing, considering the entire staff consists of two full-time and two part-time workers.
The 2011 conference speakers read like a who’s who from the Evangelical world, from Francis Chan to Alan Hirsch to Rick Warren. One afternoon 15 of us sat in a room and talked with Rick and Bob Buford of the Leadership Network about the millennial generation. Actually, we listened to Rick, but it was fun nevertheless.
The Exponential board consists of two members from the New Thing Network, two from Stadia, two from the Orchard Group, and two from New Life Christian Church. Yep, all eight are from Christian churches. It’s interesting, though. I don’t think 50 people at the conference are aware of that. Exponential is not a “denominational event.” It is for anyone and everyone.
The truth is Exponential is Todd Wilson. It turns out that former nuclear physicists have lots of expendable energy. Todd is a one-man reactor, with never-ending creativity and not much ego—a truly good guy.
It is good to be a tiny part of something the Christian churches are doing for the church at large. It focuses our attention on unity again—finding agreement where we can, and saving the areas where we differ for another day.
The 2012 Exponential Conference will be in Orlando on April 24-26. As long as Todd is in charge, it will yet again be one crazy cauldron of church planting energy.