By Matt Proctor
I set my single-trip driving record in July 2002. I was 32, a Bible college preaching professor, and I drove from Joplin, Mo., to Columbus, Ohio—10 hours—with only one stop. (My bladder couldn’t handle that now at 53.) Why the urgency? I was registered for the North American Christian Convention pre-conference led by Dave Stone and Rick Rusaw, and I didn’t want to be late.
WHY I LOVED THE NACC
At that NACC, I struck up friendships with both Dave and Rick, who remain some of my best encouragers 20 years later. I doubt I would have met those guys outside the convention, and I could say the same for a dozen other friendships. Those weren’t the only gifts the NACC gave me:
- In 1993, as a young Southern Illinois preacher, an NACC workshop on transitioning to two morning services helped me avoid mistakes as our church made that move.
- The Indianapolis NACC in 1995 started with a Sunday evening service, and as 40,000 of us in the RCA Dome shared Communion, this small-church preacher felt like part of something big.
- In 1999, Mark Scott’s Bible study through 2 Timothy at the Denver NACC changed the way I read that letter, and I’ve taught his outline dozens of times since.
I could list others, but I’ll mention just one more: When I agreed in 2010 to serve as president of the 2013 NACC, I had no idea my wife, Katie, would be diagnosed with cancer in February 2013. But the Lord knew, and leading up to that year’s convention, as our family shared the news, thousands of churches mobilized to pray. This tribe we call the Independent Christian Churches—who called the NACC their family get-together—interceded for my wife, and I’m convinced that immense outpouring helped preserve her life.
Katie’s still cancer-free, and I am forever grateful.
You can understand, then, why I felt melancholy the evening in July 2018 when the lights shut down at the last NACC and the room went dark.
The NACC had been good to me . . . and good for our movement . . . and I pondered the loss. Where would I find the encouragement this gathering had given? Where would I (and future generations) start the kind of friendships I’d found there? How would our fellowship of churches stay connected?
WE DIDN’T STOP SEEING EACH OTHER
It’s been five years since the final NACC, and the good news: I still go to the North American Christian conventions. And I think you should too.
You’ve probably noticed I’m using the plural “conventions,” and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first it’s worth noting that our movement still has lots of get-togethers. We’ve stayed connected at:
- Topic-specific gatherings. Folks gather to learn about topics like eldering (e2elders.org), preaching (preachingsummit.com), camp ministry (cclcamps.org), campus ministry (aofcm.org) and church planting (exponential.org, which has now exploded far beyond our fellowship).
- Region-specific gatherings. While many state Christian conventions have ceased, Christian Church members in certain regions still get together at events like the Michigan Christian Convention, the Missouri Christian Convention, Johnson University’s Homecoming, or Ozark Christian College’s Preaching-Teaching Convention.
- Age- and/or gender-specific gatherings. Of course, our movement still has a myriad of men’s and women’s gatherings, senior adult conferences, kids camps, and teen conferences.
Maybe not all of these qualify as “conventions,” but the Restoration Movement didn’t stop seeing each other when the NACC closed shop. That’s good news because, even in the New Testament, churches connected with other churches in their geographical region (2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2), shared Bible teachers and resources (Acts 8:14; Colossians 4:16), combined offerings for benevolence (Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1), jointly discussed doctrinal and evangelistic issues (Acts 15:1-35), and cooperated in missionary efforts (Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 20:5). Kingdom collaboration was the norm.
At our best, the Independent Christian Churches have also been interdependent, so I hope you and your congregation are involved in some of the get-togethers I’ve mentioned.
But I do also want to share a simple challenge: I hope you’ll go to the North American Christian conventions too.
WHAT I MEAN BY “CONVENTIONS”
When I say, “North American Christian conventions,” I mean our three biggest national gatherings that are still largely Independent Christian Church folks: the International Conference on Missions, the Spire Conference, and the RENEW.org National Gathering.
I’ve been to all three, and a few weeks ago, OCC’s Preaching-Teaching Convention hosted the executive directors of all three on campus (Dave Empson, Rick Rusaw, and Bobby Harrington, respectively). So, before encouraging you to attend these three “North American Christian conventions,” can I give you my quick take on the unique value and flavor of each? Here’s my own handy-dandy, homemade reference chart:
The RENEW.org National Gathering will convene in Indianapolis April 25-26, 2023. This relatively new get-together wants to “explore real-life theology that fuels disciple-making.” With a mix of worship, prayer, breakout sessions, and main-stage TED-style talks, the RENEW gathering tends to tackle theological, apologetic, and worldview topics to engage the Christian church leader’s mind, and you’re more likely to hear a presentation on the ministry relevance of Trinitarian belief at RENEW than at the other two.
It’s not a family conference, so there are no sessions or care available for kids. But because this gathering includes many noninstrumental Church of Christ speakers and attenders, you’ll meet some Restoration Movement family members you might not normally run into. Its church venue—Traders Point Christian Church this year—signals that its purpose is to equip you for local church ministry. By the way, it quickly outgrew its previous venue at Harpeth Christian Church near Nashville. Check it out at RENEW.org/events.
The Spire Conference will gather in Nashville Sept. 26-28, 2023. While this get-together is the heir of the NACC, it looks a little different than the old North American. With a mixture of worship, preaching, TED-style talks, breakout sessions, and ministry-specific “huddle” groups, the Spire Conference tends to tackle relevant, practical ministry topics to equip Christian church leaders.
It’s not a family conference, so no sessions or care are available for kids. But the conference’s broad range of ministry disciplines means there’s something for a church’s whole staff team. More so than the other two conferences, the on-stage speakers feature leaders from our broader evangelical family. Spire’s purpose is “to encourage and equip leaders who inspire a movement of healthy growing churches,” and its venue at a resort hotel—Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center this year—signals that one of its strategies for such encouragement is to provide weary church leaders with rest and recreation. Check it out at spire.network.
The International Conference on Missions (ICOM) will gather in Oklahoma City Nov. 15-19, 2023. ICOM is the oldest of the three gatherings (starting in 1948 as the National Missionary Convention) and it still is the largest. Its purpose is to “encourage, equip, and enlist workers for the harvest,” and it tends to focus on cross-cultural evangelism. But it’s not just for current or future missionaries. It tackles Great Commission topics for all Christians, and its worship, preaching, and workshops are intended to encourage every Christian church member’s heart.
ICOM features kid and teen sessions, making it a conference for the whole family. Its convention center venue includes a vast booth area for children and adults to explore. (The old NACC was never my kids’ idea of fun—not exactly Christmas in July—but it was Halloween, as they “trick-or-treated” through the booths, filling goodie bags with free candy, notepads, pens, throwing disks, and T-shirts. The ministry displays also introduced them to the creativity and size of our movement.) You’ll also be encouraged by our movement’s size as you meet more international believers at ICOM. Unlike the other two conferences, ICOM has a different president and different host city each year (Lexington in 2024, Atlanta in 2025), allowing it to connect over time with many regions and networks within our one big tribe. Check it out at theicom.org.
MY SIMPLE CHALLENGE
So, my simple challenge is this: I hope you’ll go to the North American Christian conventions—whether you’re young or old, man or woman, volunteer leader or vocational minister, West Coast, East Coast (or somewhere in between). If budget and time won’t allow you to attend all three, consider picking one as your every-year mainstay and alternating the other two as you can.
I won’t be making any 10-hour drives with only one stop anymore, but I’ll still be making RENEW, Spire, and ICOM a high priority. Like the NACC, these get-togethers bless our movement and bless me:
- I still get to run into Dave Stone and Rick Rusaw (and many other friends) at the Spire Conference.
- My 29-year-old son, Luke, now an Indianapolis preacher, tells me about the encouragement RENEW.org has given him as he leads.
- For the 2023 ICOM in Oklahoma City, Ozark Christian College will cancel Friday classes and charter buses for students to see how big our movement and our mission are. (Students probably will also fill up goodie bags at the booths.)
I hope you never need to mobilize the kind of prayer my wife Katie needed in 2013, but we all need the encouragement, wisdom, and help of our big tribe. So, I hope to see you at one or more of these three family gatherings!
Matt Proctor serves as president of Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Mo.