SEC Evangelism Expo Reveals Renewed Mission: A Fresh Vision of Christ

Christ in our hearts, Christ in our homes, Christ in our churches, Christ on the streets.

News January 25, 2024

09 January 2024 | Watford, UK [David Neal]

The new South England Conference (SEC) leadership hit the ground running on Sunday 9 January, at their annual Evangelism Expo held on the Newbold College of Higher Education (NCHE) campus. In just four months since taking office, the leaders, alongside department heads, have engaged in extensive deliberations, prayers, and consultations to chart the conference’s new course. Their direction of travel could not be clearer:

                        Christ in our hearts.

                       Christ in our homes.

                       Christ in our churches.

                      Christ on the streets.

Picture this – a bitterly cold Berkshire day on the first Sunday of January, with most members  travelling from up to two to four hours across the Conference territory to gather at the Newbold campus auditorium by 10 am. Approximately 1,000 local leaders, driven by their commitment to the mission, congregated to explore how to embody these values amidst the rapidly changing world around them.

SEC president Kirk Thomas makes an appeal from the heart. Calling for growth, a willingness to embrace change and emphasising Christ at the centre of SEC strategy, he said, “It’s time to learn and move on from the past.”

For leaders, the Expo delved beyond the usual ‘how to’ and novel ideas. It grappled with ‘change’ and ‘paradigm shifts’, addressing new cultural realities surrounding the church. “It is critically important for us to be aware of this,” shared Roger Hernandez, Ministerial and Evangelism director for the Southern Union Conference, USA, and the first keynote speaker. He emphasised the vital importance of understanding how our beliefs intersect with a culture repelled by ‘absolute truth,’ ‘combative dialogue,’ ‘demonisation’ of groups, ‘ideological border policing,’ and ‘shaming’ to ostracise. (1) Hernandez’s ministry partner and wife, Kathy, specialising in hospitality ministry, echoed their vision in a video shared during the presentation, highlighting the need to extend care beyond a simple greeting to guests.

Roger Hernandez shares some of the paradigm shifts the church faces today in relation to society and culture. Could a hospitality ministry be more effective in creating connection than engaging in ‘combative dialogue’?

Karen Glassford, Digital Evangelism Manager for Communication and Media Ministries at the General Conference (GC), followed suit. She underscored the rapid growth of digital evangelism and initiated a collaborative project with the SEC Communication and Media to pilot digital evangelism models with select churches. The potential impact of this project on connecting with an increasingly online community drew praise from attendees like Elizabeth Taslmacsi, a Brighton, Hove and Worthing district member. “People who live in our large towns and cities are quite isolated. We do not know our neighbours; we are afraid to talk about our faith… [This initiative] will create opportunities for greater involvement of members.”

Karen Glassford answers questions as she meets with Communication & Media leaders during an Expo workshop. A collaborative project between the General Conference and SEC is to be set up to pilot digital evangelism models with selected churches.

The morning’s final plenary session, led by SEC President pastor Kirk Thomas, conveyed a clear message: “It’s time to learn and move on from the past.” He called for renewal, growth, and a willingness to embrace change. Pastor Thomas urged leaders to ‘Go’ and be ‘Inspired for Mission’, emphasising Christ as the centre of the SEC strategy.

As the day progressed, 23 workshops, primarily run by SEC administrators and department directors, provided local leaders with a chance to engage with the new leadership. These workshops offered valuable insights into the new vision.

Three sample seminars reflected the depth of the agenda:

Youth Ministries – ‘The Future is Where You Go’: Newly elected Youth director Warren Gillen expressed his focus on connecting with senior youth aged 18-25 by understanding their spaces and engaging with youth groups.

Diversity Ministries – ‘The Church in 2024: A Place of Belonging’: director Max McKenzie-Cook and Dr Gifford Rhamie highlighted the importance of recognising and celebrating diversity within the Church as a means of genuine engagement.

Gifford Rhamie – “I want to suggest to you that if your church does not recognise the diversity it already has, and the diversity of the people groups in the community, then you are hardly going to be very engaging.”

Communication and Media – Effective Digital Evangelism: Sorin Petrof’s workshop, featuring plenary speaker Karen Glassford, explored collaborative plans for digital evangelism, signalling a strong interest in connecting with people in new ways.

Commenting on the workshop, pastor Bernie Holford, newly appointed as the pastor of the Hemel Hempstead church, said, “As an older person who hasn’t engaged with Facebook very much, I’ve realised just how powerful the digital evangelism approach could be from what Karen Glassford has been presenting today.”

The day concluded with participants mingling and reconnecting outside workshops, visiting the Stanborough Press store, and exploring various ministry exhibits.

Why the annual SEC Evangelism Expo?

In the words of pastor Steve Roberts, newly appointed pastor of the Lewisham and Downham churches, “It’s about fellowship, acquiring resources, and empowering churches for service, all contributing to advancing the gospel in the SEC.”

As leaders departed, NCHE Principal Dr Steve Currow reflected on the event’s success, noting the joy of seeing the campus buzzing with 1,000 leaders actively engaging in ministry partnerships.

The vision persists – Christ in our hearts, our homes, our churches, and on the streets. A vision that begins with Christ in our hearts.

“Into my heart, into my heart,

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;

Come in today, come in to stay,

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus” (2).

What better vision could disciples of Christ have for 2024 and beyond?

¹Hernandez was quoting Dan White, a US church planter.
²Come into my heart, O Lord Jesus,
[Photos: SEC Media and David Neal].

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