By Doug Lucas
It was a global gathering with a distinctly Latino flavor. From the free chips and salsa in the exhibit hall to the mariachi band on the main platform, the International Conference on Missions (ICOM) reminded us of opportunities among Spanish-speaking friends in our country and all over the world.
Much of this was due to the influence of 2013 President Jair Castillo who extended his life of influence in Mexico to ICOM.
But the convention’s impact extended far beyond the Americas. Meeting November 14-17, 2013, at the Kansas City Convention Center, ICOM hosted church leaders, missions advocates, missionaries, mission recruits, and many others.
Known as the largest missions-themed Christian church conference in the nation, ICOM is famous for annually pulling together a top-notch set of plenary sessions, hundreds of breakout groups or workshops, and hundreds of exhibits.
For many, there are more personal aspects of this famous gathering. For example, my wife, Penny, and I stepped out at just such a gathering back in the late 1970s to ask for prayer as we pursued a path in world missions. After the service, veteran missionaries came forward to encourage and exhort us to stick with our decision.
I’ll never forget that J. Russell Morse stood beside my wife in our closing prayer circle that night. Morse and his family have been responsible for starting vast movements to Christ among the Lisu, Rawang, and other tribal people groups in Southeast Asia. Some say as many as 400,000 believers can trace their faith back to Morse and his coworkers. For us, it was a tremendous encouragement—and that same spirit of advocacy, mobilization, and encouragement still lives today.
CONVERSATION WITH THE DIRECTOR
To catch the flavor of this year’s conference, we caught up with Dave Empson, ICOM’s executive director.
Dave, a couple of years ago the National Missionary Convention (NMC) changed its name to the International Conference on Missions. Would you remind us why you switched names?
We changed it because the name National Missionary Convention no longer described who we had become. What started 65 years ago had grown to the point we had to find something that better described who we are and what we do.
We still exist to encourage and equip believers everywhere to fulfill the Great Commission and recruit new missionaries. However, we have more international attendees every year. We are about missions, not missionaries.
The word convention seemed less and less accurate, as we set no policy, have no authority, and have no delegates. So we are more of a conference than a convention.
All in all, we’ve received very positive feedback on the name change.
2013 seemed like a banner year. Everywhere I looked there were crowds of people in the hallways, the workshop rooms, and the main sessions. Can you tell us how 2013 compared with other recent years?
Kansas City 2013 was a great conference, indeed, and it was our first time to gather in that city.
We used more than 3,200 hotel rooms.
We had 165 missionaries at the “For Missionaries Only!” preconference.
There were 86 decisions for full-time service.
We had 1,800 in our student sessions.
The exact number of registrants isn’t finalized yet, but we think there were close to 7,500 attendees this year.
We had the second-highest number of church/college registrations ever, with 277 this year.
The local churches of Kansas and Missouri met our financial goal before the conference even began.
And for the first time in a long time, we exceeded our offering goal; this year the goal was $60,000, and we received $62,750. Ten percent of that goes to the Kairos Benevolence Fund, and another 10 percent goes to a Hispanic Christian church we hope to plant in the near future.
Any idea why the site worked so well?
We liked Kansas City for many reasons:
• There are four Bible colleges within two hours, one in each of four directions.
• Researchers say there are more campus ministries in the four states around Kansas City than in any other place in the country. That means more college students, and we had college students from every corner of the country.
• ICOM has a great history with Kansas. Our home office was located in Kansas for 42 years.
• Kansas and Missouri (combined) have 600 churches, so there is a great potential audience there.
• Kansas City has a good regional airport.
The main sessions seemed particularly upbeat this year. Worship was passionate, the crowds seemed engaged, and speakers seemed on topic. In your opinion, what were some of the major themes you tried to convey—and how do you think the speakers did?
Many thanks for worship go to Andy Schroeder and the Crossroads Christian Church praise team from Grand Prairie, Texas. They were fantastic, every single time! Jair Castillo, this year’s president, picked Psalm 67, also called the “Old Testament Missions Psalm,” for the overall theme. We had our first non-English message this year. It was a great service. We also hosted a very different Global Prayer Service that featured five different focus points of emphasis: Tribal, Hindu, Urban, Muslim, and Students (for international students in our in colleges). We received many positive comments about this service. (To learn more, visit www.GlobalPrayerCast.com.)
What were some of the highlights for you? What made this convention special or different from all the others you’ve attended?
I liked a lot of aspects of the convention. Among them were:
• We started a new preconvention for church planters this year. I was very excited to see this happen. Whether someone wants to plant foreign or domestic churches, we have groups for either direction, and they want to meet future church planters. Leaders from Orchard Group, Stadia, Impact Canada, and a few other leaders partnered with us to try to recruit potential planters.
• I liked the Hispanic feel this year. We tried to tastefully flavor several aspects of the overall program.
• We were able to honor Colegio Biblico, a longtime trainer for ministry of young men and women from Latin American countries.
• We had a lot of Hispanic folks attending—without a doubt, more than I have ever seen before.
• Once again, our conference weekend bore the personality or character of the president. Jair Castillo is a godly, humble man. Like Wing Wong, president in 2011, Jair’s quiet and joyful nature set a warm spirit for the whole weekend.
One of my main goals was to bring to the forefront that we need to welcome, accept, and invite our Hispanic neighbors and friends to be among us. This is imperative because Hispanics make up 16 percent of our national population. In addition, there are at least 135 Hispanic Christian churches despite there being no national organization developing a strategy to reach Hispanics.
What special plans are there for the Columbus, Ohio, conference next year?
We are beginning a five-year push of the four points to Restoration Revolution, known by the acrostic ACTS. David Butts of Harvest Prayer Ministries is the president next year. “A” stands for “ask the Almighty.” The conference’s theme will be “Vertical,” and it will take place November 13-16. Historically, our movement is known for at least three main points: observing the Lord’s Supper weekly, including baptism as part of the process of salvation, and being people of the Bible. I wish we were also known as a people of prayer. But not just to say we are a people of prayer, but so we would become more intimate with God. Today, the average Christian spends less than five minutes daily in prayer. Prayer is a key to more workers for the harvest (Matthew 9:37) and many other great things.
Obviously, with a conference like ICOM, you depend heavily on a strong force of local volunteerism.
Absolutely. Great gatherings, such as the one we just experienced, aren’t possible without a receptive and supportive spirit from among local churches and colleges.
Doug Lucas serves as president of Team Expansion, based in Louisville, Kentucky; www.teamexpansion.org. He has attended every NMC/ICOM gathering, but one, since 1978. He is founder and editor of a weekly online missions bulletin known as Brigada, www.brigada.org.
The 2014 conference will be November 13-17 in Columbus, Ohio.
For more information about ICOM, visit www.theicom.org. ICOM’s main office is located in Clayton, Indiana; its phone number is (317) 539-4231.