By Rob Kastens
“Risk the Ride” was the theme for this year’s National New Church Conference—April 25-27, Orlando, Florida—and what a ride it turned out to be! I have attended three of the last four conferences, and this year’s event was a tremendous leap forward in many ways. It was probably the largest and most comprehensive gathering of church planting leaders in the world.
Passion for Planting
The conference program was excellent. Main session speakers were a “who’s who” of church-planting writers, scholars, and practitioners: Gene Appel, Ed Stetzer, Dave Ferguson, Mark Driscoll, Bob Roberts Jr., Ron Sylvia, John Burke, Neil Cole, Larry Osborne, Bob Logan, Steve Andrews, and Dave Nelson. Their excellent presentations always left the audience wanting more.
In addition to the main sessions, the workshop tracks were extremely diverse and helpful. There were five primary workshop tracks in addition to small-group breakout opportunities. One track was for church planters who are part of the Acts 29 Network. A second track targeted church-planting ministers, while a third targeted spouses and family issues. A fourth track considered different models of church planting: house churches, urban planting, ethnic planting, multisite/multivenue, and parenting church movements. The advanced track provided 41 different workshop choices scattered over five workshop sessions.
The main session and workshop presenters had diverse roles and church backgrounds, but all displayed a passion for church planting and insightful teaching. It was exciting to see people from many church backgrounds, all with a passion for planting churches and reaching people for Christ.
My team from Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, is excited about our partnership in the recent launch of Community Christian Church in White Marsh, Maryland. However, through this conference we sensed God wants us to do more. The NNCC renewed our passion for kingdom growth through church planting, as well as launching additional campuses and video venues. We sense God leading us to partner with others to plant at least 30 churches in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., region in the next 20 years.
Leading the Way
It was exciting to see how Christian churches have led the way in terms of church planting. This conference has existed for 37 years and our movement’s church-planting pioneers, organizations, churches, groups, and individuals have gained a national reputation. Executive Director Todd Wilson was the main connector who pulled many of these presenters, exhibitors, and conferees together, but his efforts stand firmly on the backs of pioneers such as Bob Sloninger, Paul Williams, Alan Ahlgrim, Marc Bigelow, Brent Foulke, Tom Jones, John Wasem, John and Dave Ferguson, Bob Harrington, and Paige Matthews.
A church planter with a megachurch background said he was shocked by the spirit of this conference. He said there was none of the competitive spirit he sensed at other conferences and megachurch gatherings. Instead he found everyone willing to do whatever they could to help other churches and church planters succeed at church planting. This conference was characterized by people willing to play whatever role they can to see more and more churches planted and to help those plants thrive and multiply.
In that same spirit, this conference created an impetus for networking and the potential of collaborative partnerships. Such partnerships are necessary for multiplying church-planting movements in North America as we find in other parts of the world. Church-planting organizations are shifting their focus from planting churches to facilitating networks that will plant hundreds of churches. Churches of every size are initiating partnerships to fuel church multiplication movements in their regions.
A Burning Desire
On Wednesday night, many of the leaders of church-planting organizations and church-planting churches gathered with presenters from the conference. The atmosphere in the room was thick with a tremendous sense that this was a momentous occasion, a God-moment we might recall years from now. The energy, enthusiasm, and common vision fueled a burning desire for each person and organization represented to pursue collaborative partnerships that become church multiplication movements.
Out of that context, the theme for next year’s conference is “Exponential: Moving Beyond Addition.” What if God is unleashing an explosive expansion of new churches in our generation? What would it look like? How do we cooperate?
God has a role for every church to play through partnerships to see churches planted throughout North America and around the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a part of such a movement of God and don’t miss the opportunity to participate in next April’s conference in Orlando. Together we can experience exponential growth of new churches in our generation.
Rob Kastens is executive pastor with Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland.