If you’re from a small church, Ronnie Collins knows what you’re going to say.
You’re going to say the preacher of a big church can’t teach your small congregation how to attract new people.
However, Collins has read Rev. Jorge Acevedo’s book, and he is convinced the keynote speaker of Holston’s 2014 “Evangelism Conference” has something for small-church leaders as well as large-church leaders.
“Jorge understands small churches, and he encourages you to use the resources you have available to you – even if it’s just 10 people,” says Collins. “If we can get our churches to come to the Evangelism Conference and bring a team of people with them, I know they’re going to get something out of this.”
Scheduled for March 14-15, the Holston Evangelism Conference will be held at Cokesbury Center in Knoxville, Tenn. Acevedo is the lead pastor at Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida, where church attendance has grown from 400 to more than 2,600 in the past 15 years.
“Jorge will talk to us about things we all can do to live an evangelistic life, applicable to both small and large churches,” said the Rev. Will Lauderback. “He will talk to us about evangelism as a lifestyle, not as a set of practices.”
Lauderback is chair of Holston’s Evangelism Ministry Team, which is organizing the Evangelism Conference. Lauderback is associate pastor at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.
As immediate past chair of the Evangelism Team, Collins helped to bring Acevedo to Holston Conference. Collins is pastor at Out of the Box United Methodist Church in Hillsville, Va.
Collins said that reading Acevedo’s 2012 book, “Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World,” led him to ask Acevedo to speak to Holston.
The “Vital” book has been endorsed by several United Methodist leaders, including the Rev. Adam Hamilton and Bishop Ken Carter, who link the book with the “Vital Congregations” movement.
“Vital Congregations” is the denomination’s most recent church-growth program, based on research connecting indicators such as inviting worship and small-group ministries with the most successful congregations. Beginning Jan. 1, Holston pastors were required to record weekly Vital Congregations data on the related “Vital Signs” dashboard, an online tool designed to help congregations follow their progress.
Collins says he believes that Acevedo will inspire Holston pastors to follow "Vital Congregations" recommendations (such as starting small groups for different age groups and offering both contemporary and traditional worship).
“Most clergy are afraid that Vital Congregations is just another program,” Collins said. “Jorge is trying to make sure that this time we actually do something about it.”
'Go to' church
According to a recent UMTV video, Acevedo credits his Florida congregation’s dramatic growth to a prayer that has become the foundation for the church's mission statement.
"One of my mentors taught me a prayer and I learned it. 'Lord, send the people nobody else wants.' That was a part of the prayer that we prayed at that church,” Acevedo said. “When I came here, it just was a part of who I was. It had become a part of my personal spiritual leadership DNA."
Acevedo said that churches can choose to be a “come to” church or a “go to” church.
“Come-to churches were the kind of churches that just kind of open the doors on Sunday or Wednesday and say, 'Come to us,’” he told UMTV. “'Go to' churches are the kind of churches that throw open their doors and send their people out throughout the week to go to the community.”
Holston members who attend the main part of the March 14-15 “Evangelism Conference” will hear Acevedo teach and preach several times between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The Saturday schedule includes two workshops and lunch. [See brochure]
Participants who register before March 6 will pay $35 per person, with a discount rate of $200 maximum per church group. After March 6, registration cost is $35 per person with no group discount and no lunch included.
For the first time ever, the Evangelism Conference also includes a pre-conference activity on March 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
According to Lauderback, the pre-conference is “geared toward pastors” and features sessions on building healthy teams, team teaching preparation, and recovery ministry. Lunch is included in the $20 registration fee (for those who register by March 6).
For pastors of small congregations, Avecedo will show how the team approach works by teaming with leaders of other small churches, Collins said.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.