By Jerry Harris
The 2018 North American Christian Convention was held where it started 91 years ago, in Indianapolis. This year’s president, Drew Sherman, his team, and the NACC staff pulled together an amazing experience with inspiring speakers, incredible worship, and great accommodations.
As usual at “the connecting place,” I engaged in countless conversations with like-minded leaders in our tribe, something for which the NACC is known. Some of those conversations were powerful to me. Leadership Huddles were a new addition; these ministry intensives and roundtable discussions drilled down into real issues leaders face every day in ministry.
Volunteers from area churches personally blessed me by helping both load and unload display equipment, as well as helping with both parking and shuttling.
A great, well-run convention experience is incredibly expensive to put on and registration fees cover only a fraction of the total cost. Churches and individuals have underwritten the convention’s costs for years, but diminishing attendances and an ever-increasing competition that comes from many specialized conferences have taken a toll.
The future of the annual gathering was a repeated undercurrent in conversations this year. Even with the enthusiasm and great programming, convention attendance has seen a steady decline for many years. People speculate why this has happened.
Some say attendance has declined because change is baked into the nature of our movement; others blame it on increasing costs to host the event and attend it. Some say it results from other opportunities available both inside and outside our movement, such as ICOM, Exponential, Catalyst, Orange, and others. (Leaders can invest only so much time and money to attend these gatherings.) Some say declining attendance is the result of changes within the convention related to sponsorship, leadership, or speakers from outside of our movement. Some have expressed concerns about what they consider trends toward denominationalism, liberalism, or a loss of our Restoration Movement identity. Some say the NACC’s time has come . . . and gone.
So, has the NACC become a dinosaur in our movement? Are Christian Standard and The Lookout just two additional dinosaurs in the terminal herd? How about our colleges? Are they part of a rich history that have already seen their best days? Can we say this about our movement as a whole? Are we just melting into the larger evangelical framework, losing touch with our distinctives? Can this also be said of our churches? In a new venture to develop a digital database for our tribe, Christian Standard Media and the Center for Church Leadership have discovered a 20-plus percent death rate has occurred among our churches over the past 15 years.
While some folks may be predisposed toward gloom and doom with regard to our movement and its institutions, I am filled with optimism about our future—and I am not alone. While an undercurrent of questions and concerns existed this year regarding the future of the NACC and its successor gathering, along with a quiet prophetic sentiment that the latter would fail to gain traction, I also sensed a great optimism about what lies ahead. All new things, it seems, are evaluated with skepticism, and this skepticism might be fueled by the nostalgia of former glory days. But there also is a great deal of excitement for the future of this big gathering—this critical piece of what holds this grand movement of leaders, churches, and ministries together.
The North American Christian Convention, which dates to 1927, was born out of a great need. The movement had lost its footing and was becoming increasingly denominational, liberal, and ecumenical. It was apparent in the colleges, in many churches, and in the convention of that day. The NACC rose as a critical response to remind us of our identity and our need for unity, but not at the expense of truth. It was commissioned to build leaders who would lead a movement of churches into a brighter future.
And it worked! Thirty-five new Bible colleges were born out of it, and they produced new crops of leaders to help churches hold on to their independence and devotion to New Testament principles. And that created something that is simply astounding . . . to this day! While other tribes are experiencing severe decline, independent Christian churches are breaking records in attendance, baptisms, missions, discipleship, and church planting.
Today’s need in our movement is different than it was in 1927. There are still undercurrents of liberalism and ecumenicism, but in many ways, the wider evangelical movement has gravitated in our direction. Baptism by immersion and weekly Communion are being embraced by more and more churches. Faith statements among many churches not historically part of our movement are grounded on the inerrancy of Scripture and the centrality of Jesus Christ. Many evangelical churches espouse their independence. While all of that is incredibly good and speaks well of the mark left us by the North American Christian Convention, it is not hard to recognize that it’s time for a new approach.
Today, we need to celebrate our wins while also aggressively pursuing our distinctives in order that we may continue leading the way for all churches to embrace Restoration principles. That’s what this new season is all about, and that’s what Spire is all about. Spire is the new name of what has been the NACC. Spire’s stated mission is to encourage and equip leaders who inspire a movement of healthy growing churches.
Spire will be built on Restoration Movement ideals and principles.
Rick Rusaw, who is helping with Spire’s formation, said, “Our churches have never been healthier, our ideals have never been more alive, and our identity has never been more at risk.” I totally agree with that statement. Spire’s vision is to seek measurable kingdom impact through practical ministry support that breathes life into church leaders by focusing on biblical authority, Christian unity, and the Great Commission.
In more practical terms, Spire will be a 24/7/365 platform. No vendor or parachurch organization will own or control it. It will be an online platform in which the entire tribe can participate, featuring the best of Restoration Movement independent Christian church resources and networking. It will focus on church leaders and their respective teams regardless of church size or ministry area. Leaders of small, large, rural, urban, or suburban churches, as well as parachurch leaders, will find the networks, resources, and connections they need at Spire’s website.
Spire will not create or sell things . . . it will simply be a networking hub through which leaders can find whatever they require to take the ground in front of them. Here is a taste from the Spire website of what will be available:
When I want access to great podcasts . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want the best leadership mentors . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want staffing resources . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want dynamic team resources . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want new ideas that work . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want a great team-building experience . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want leadership development . . . I go to SPIRE.
When I want a great conference . . . I go to SPIRE.
To learn more about what’s coming, I suggest you check out the new website at https://.spire.network, or better yet, plan on being a part of the first Spire conference, October 8-10, 2019, at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Florida.
Be sure to read the sidebar, “Thank-You.”