By John E. Wasem
For 37 years, churches in our fellowship have assembled annually for a summit meeting focused on the New Testament mandate of new church planting. While the Restoration Movement experienced explosive church multiplication in the 19th century, church leader awareness of church planting during much of the 20th century was limited to a minority of evangelistically minded people.
A core of “ecclesiastical entrepreneurs” convened the First National Colloquy on New Church Evangelism May 13-15, 1969, at Great Lakes Bible College, Lansing, Michigan. Thirty-eight men from 14 states and Canada who saw the need for a church multiplication movement registered for the event. The theme of the gathering—”How Can the Church of Christ Keep Up With a Growing Population That Will Double in the Next 30 Years”—was cumbersome, but according to an article in Restoration Herald that year, it resulted in leaders contemplating “a crash program of new church planting” Sessions addressed what needed to be done to seize the moment and confessed the “great lag in the education of the local churches in this regard.” The event ended with “an enthusiastic concurrence in a call for a similar meeting next year.”
The colloquies continued through 1975 when the title was changed to the National New Church Conference. Robert Sloniger led that year, and the Chicago District Evangelistic Association hosted the sessions in Harvey, Illinois. “The Joy and Privilege of Mothering New Congregations” was the theme.
Since then, the NNCC has been held in such locations as Greater Chicagoland; northeastern Ohio; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Lexington; Atlanta; Des Moines; St. Louis; Joplin, Missouri; and Lincoln, Illinois. Churches and colleges have hosted the event over the years. New church pioneers such as Virgil Felton (Michigan), Carl Moorhous (Illinois), Edwin Smith (Ohio), Jerry Kilson (Missouri), Wally Rendel (Kentucky), Glen Crouse (Indiana), Charles Johnson (Iowa), and Ralph Dornette (California) provided leadership and momentum to the early years of this annual springtime conference. The organizational structure of the NNCC was modeled after the North American Christian Convention; a broad, rotating representation of church leaders serves on each year’s planning team.
With the birth of a movement-wide emphasis on church planting in 1984 known as Double Vision, the energy directed toward new church multiplication skyrocketed. Alan Ahlgrim, founding minister of the Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot, Colorado, served as the initial leader of Double Vision and cast a powerful vision for our churches nationwide. As a result, the NNCC grew in size and influence with several hundred ministers, evangelists, professors, students, evangelistic association leaders, and elders attending the highly motivational and practical conferences.
Today the NNCC is recognized across denominations as one of the finest new church planting conferences in America. Its networking and programming continue to improve.
Today’s National New Church Conference reflects the relevance and creativity of the contemporary culture yet maintains the foundational vision of those few dozen soul-winners who founded it. The NNCC reflects one of the favorite sayings of Rick Warren, the best-known church planter in America: “Methods are many, principles are few,” he wrote in The Purpose-Driven Church. “Methods always change, principles never do.” The principles of the NNCC are firmly rooted in New Testament Christianity and continue to prove valid even in our warp-speed times.
John E. Wasem is director of the Emmanuel Institutes, Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee.