My liveblogging of the Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planters in North America, is over. Most of my posts were notes on specific sessions, and I never reflected on the conference as a whole. Here is a random collection of surprises, learnings, and people I met:
People I met:
- A pastor considering planting in Austin, TX, a population he describes as very post-Christian
- A church planter from St. Kitt’s who planted his first church “by accident” but now plans to start another
- A pastor wanting to revitalize a dying congregation using church planting lessons
- A planter in California serving a population of Chinese & Hispanic immigrants
- A bi-vocational pastor in California who planted a church with a particular ministry to ex-cons, like himself.
- An engineer turned church planter in Portland, with a 4 year old church of 300, who described how web software is enabling church members to help one another.
- And many more! I wished I had more opportunities to meet other Canadians (nary a one), Anglicans (I met a few), people familiar with Fresh Expressions (none) or people trying to connect with the non-churched (several).
I did go to a specific networking session to meet some US Anglicans, but this was no highlight! As I shared the kinds of Fresh Expressions I am working on, trying to connect with completely non-churched people by serving their needs and building communities where discipleship happens and worship can arise, I noticed that US Evangelicals were thrilled. They are not as secularized or post-Christian as Canada, and so church planting for them is focused on the dechurched, but they could see this is where they’re headed and want to know more. The US Anglicans, however, seemed dumbfounded. This was depressing. I’m sure that’s not representative of everyone, but it’s who I met!
One overall impression: Canadian Anglicans are way ahead in thinking about reaching the non-churched. American Evangelicals are way ahead in starting new worshipping communities for the dechurched. We both have something to learn from each other!
Some of the big themes:
- Doing multi-racial ministry was a huge theme.
- Proclaiming the gospel as both a personal justification, and also about the Kingdom, of God. One speaker described this as the gospel on the ground, and the gospel in the air. They are trying hard to balance both ways of describing the same gospel, after decades (or longer) of polarity.
- Anti-Consumerism – This was a real thread among the speakers. It stood in stark contrast to our surroundings – a Southern Baptist mega-church with a Starbucks in it, at a conference with booths representing major Christian publishers, church planting organizations and anyone else who had something to sell! The deals were great, and I appreciated the free stuff, but it was a curious contrast with the anti-consumerist message. I’m still sad I didn’t win any of the three iPads, however!
- iPads – So many speakers made jokes, or used the iPad as an example of what’s wrong in society. But there were three available to be won at booths downstairs!
- Attractional & Missional – There is a growing sense that the church, as a whole and locally, can be both attractional and missional. In Canadian Anglican circles, we are calling this the Mixed Economy. In the US, they are using the language of being attractional AND missional, to the point of running a conference and publishing a book named AND.
- Jesus – Last but definitely not least. There was a real trend to get beyond labels and movements (missional, attractional, church growth, emergent, whatever…) and simply follow the movement of the Holy Spirit, and follow Jesus. There was a desire to strip away what is not of God, and simply plant the gospel in communities.
And finally, some of the surprises:
- The conference began with communion, not distributed to our seats, but done “drive-by” style. I hadn’t expected that at this conference!
- The conference ended with an invitation to be anointed. Same surprise!
- The size of the conference – I knew it would be big, but not 3000+ big!
- The free books and resources – my luggage was way overweight!
That’s all for now. I definitely hope to attend another year, but not alone. I was an anomaly in three respects – being Canadian, and Anglican, and focused on the non-churched as well as the dechurched. I would have gained so much more having some conversations with other pastors at the pub after each day, but most of the other pastors there did this with their own teams, and aren’t allowed to enjoy a beer anyway!
Anyone interested in attending the next one? It will be focused on AND – being both missional and attractional. Definitely worth attending with a Canadian Fresh Expressions team…and at least one round is on me!