UMC to Host First-ever North American Evangelism Conference

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Sept. 16, 2015 /Discipleship Ministries/ – Denominational leaders, seminary faculty and local church practitioners from the United States and Canada, who either work or teach in the field of evangelism, will convene in Nashville next month for a historic meeting to discuss how to reclaim evangelism in today’s world.

“The United Methodist Church and Discipleship Ministries are proud to be hosting the first-ever ecumenical conference in North America that includes representatives from the Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic faiths,” said Dr. Timothy L. Bias, General Secretary (chief executive) of Discipleship Ministries.

The event, North American Conference “Reclaiming Evangelism: Celebrating Change and Collaboration,” will be held Oct. 29-Nov. 2 at the Discipleship Ministries office. The group of about 60 people also will include representatives from Pentecostal denominations, Orthodox Christians and Catholic theologians.

The conference is being organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), in consultation with the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).

”It is our hope and aspiration that evangelism can and shall be reclaimed through new ways of ecumenical engagement, born out of the deliberations of this, and similar ecumenical initiatives to come on evangelism, leading to fresh interest and commitment to our common call,” said Kyriaki Avtzi, program executive on evangelism for the WCC.

The impetus for the conference came from the Geneva-headquartered WCC, which is organizing similar events in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Each session will be contextualized for the location.

Last year, the WCC held a meeting with about 20 evangelical leaders in North America to plan the Nashville event and create the participant list.

“The WCC brought us together in Atlanta to dream about what topics we should discuss,” said Heather Lear, Director of Evangelism Ministries at Discipleship Ministries. “The topics are contextualized, so the things we’ll be talking about here might not be the same things they are talking about at the Asia conference.”

Avtzi described the planning meeting as a “valuable, hopeful sign of experiencing ecumenical partnership and cooperation through mutual learning and accountability.”

Each day's presentations and discussions will center on one of three primary topics: Reclaiming Evangelism – Theological Reflection, Sharing Inspiring Evangelist Practices from our Communities, and Reclaiming Evangelism in Theological Education.

Panel topics for the conference include:

  • Biblical Narratives of Evangelism
  • The Good News of God in a World of Poverty, Oppression, Marginalization and Violence
  • Cultivating Evangelizing Communities
  • Faith and the Generations: Catechetical Practice as Evangelism
  • Fostering Leadership for Evangelizing Communities
  • Shaping Evangelizing Communities for a Multi-Faith and Multi-Cultural Context

“We are called to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in our world – this we know. The questions of where, when, who and how are the content of this conference,” said the Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches.

“This significant and unique conference will, for the first time in North America, focus the whole variety of the Christian Church on the joys and challenges of evangelism,” Hamilton said. “The biblical narratives of evangelism and the relationship of evangelism to the reality of poverty will be some of the deep topics of conversation, reflection and forward momentum.”

Theological educators and representatives from denominational headquarters, as well as practitioners, will dialogue at the conference, Lear said.

“Folks who work with people in the field and understand issues that are happening in congregations will be talking with professors who are teaching the next generation of pastors. Hopefully, this will affect how evangelism and cultural competencies are taught in North American seminaries,” Lear said.

Members of The United Methodist Church need to be aware that their denomination makes ongoing efforts to dialogue and partner with other Christians, Lear said.

“Just because your church bears a cross and flame doesn't mean that you cannot or should not partner with the church down the street in impacting your community for Jesus,” Lear said.

Representatives from mainline Protestant denominations, who, like Lear, concentrate on evangelism issues, meet twice annually as a group called Evangelism Connections and will be a subgroup of the Nashville conference participants.

“Following the event, we're going to continue our work by unpacking the practical applications that will come out of this conference in ways that we can create training and resources together,” Lear said.

The WCC is a Christian organization dedicated to the search for Christian unity. It is a voluntary association of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior.

CCC, the broadest ecumenical body in Canada, represents 25 churches of Anglican, Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic traditions.

The NCC, a leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States, includes 37 member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches.