The South England Conference's Evangelism Expo 2020, attracted an attendance of over 900 at Newbold College on Sunday 5th January. The annual event is typically an occasion where SEC departmental directors and leaders share their plans for the year with local church officers and members. This year, however, the SEC leadership adopted a change in approach.
President, Dr Emmanuel Osei, announced that the usual seminars, workshops and training would not take place. Instead, directors, coordinators and leaders would use the time to listen and engage with members – capturing their thoughts and ideas to help shape the conference's strategic plan for the next quadrennium.
The Keynote address was delivered by SEC Church Growth Director, Pastor Wayne Erasmus. Through the story of Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19, Erasmus reflected that "holiness is something that is lived out in the midst of community".
The themes of community, and using Jesus' example as a model for church growth was echoed by the President, in his presentation entitled, 'Church growth: A Paradigm shift – Rethinking the way we grow our church.' He examined the successes, failures and challenges of church growth within the SEC.
Osei feared that in the past, the church was guilty of prioritising baptism when it should have been focusing on "going" and "making disciples, that build communities". Quoting Ellen G. White in 'The Ministry of Healing', he concluded that "Christ's method alone" – "mingling" with people, showing genuine sympathy, ministering to their needs, and winning their confidence was the most effective way to make disciples. Osei challenged the congregation, to not just be "a church in the community", but to become a church "for, and part of, the community".
The opportunity for members to interact with the leadership commenced with Oesi taking questions and comments from the floor. The audience then separated to attend breakout sessions across the Newbold campus, hosted by the various SEC departments. They were encouraged to approach any department that they had a passion or burden for, and given the opportunity to share their thoughts, ideas and provide feedback. Note-taking by department staff ensured that directors had a record of their interactions with members.
Directors have committed to visiting the churches across the conference to continue the "listening exercise" beyond the Expo. As a result, there is a hold on all departmental events for the first three months of 2020.