Monday and Tuesday the 14th and 15th of September, I had the privilege of attending the Symposium on the Great Commission in Atlanta. Many ministers across the Church of God came together to discuss and renew our focus on the mission at hand. General Overseer, Raymond Culpepper applied the question Norman Schwartzkopf repeated in strategic sessions during the first Gulf War: Why are we here?
The mission is the Great Commission.
Dr. Culpepper shared statistic after statistic outlining how the church in America - across denominational lines - is either stagnant or declining. The only category showing growth was Pentecostal/Charismatic, and even that growth was not keeping up with the growth of population.
Various models were shared from oversees. Ministers from Cambodia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Germany, and Israel each shared either in person or live via webcam. The message was strong though not stated. We are doing something wrong in America, and God is moving oversees. It was stated, however, that the mission field is at home.
The implications of this conference are multiple. There is a change in our movement regarding missions. Missions is still a priority, but it is clear that missions includes the US. In fact, the need is great here. As a minister in the "least churched" region in the US (less than 2% of the population in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont is in church on a given Sunday) I see the need to recognize the mission field in your back yard every day.
Second, there is a change in the way we are doing large meetings as a movement. There has been discussion of a "National Assembly" in the US. Did we just experience it? The General's message spoke primarily if not exclusively to the state of the church in the US. Alternately, General Assembly is changing. With teen talent removed from the equation, there is plenty of room for change in the format of General Assembly. Bill Issacs, via twitter, shared his belief that this is a model that should be considered for General Assembly.
Finally, we saw the need to come together. Change is coming and we need to be wise as serpents in considering that change. I met with a pastor in Atlanta who suggested that General Assembly should be done electronically via Skype in multiple locations worldwide. While I agree that involvement would skyrocket, I disagree that such a process would provide a net gain. What you gain is much less than what you lose: Community. Our coming together is our strength. I facebook. I tweet. Clearly, I blog (though more seldom). Our generation maintains more relationships than any before, but they tend to be more shallow than any generation before as well. Nothing takes the place of coming together face to face (this is the theme of the upcoming Girls Ministry conference my wife is facilitating). This Symposium allowed us to hear the stories of fellow laborers around the world (albeit often via webcam - yes, I see the irony) and refocus our attention on the mission: "why are we here".
In the coming days I hope to reflect on the individual messages presented at the Symposium.