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Convening Thought Leaders: The Evangelism Leaders Fellowship

One of my roles as Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism is leading the center’s various initiatives and fellowships. It is a role I relish, as I realize the potential impact of the great work we’re doing.

Last December, we set a goal to host a bi-annual private gathering of denominational and network evangelism leaders to help promote mutual learning for all things evangelism. Based on the successful Church Planting Leadership Fellowship model, we hoped to create a peer learning community for those leaders to seek ways to advance the cause of evangelism in their respective networks and denominations.

Over the next year, our staff came up with a strategy to determine what that community could look like, who should be in the room, and how we might best equip those interested with evangelism tools and practices. We ultimately decided to launch the Evangelism Leaders Fellowship (ELF). Sponsored by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, our team decided to create ELF as an invitation-only community that meets twice each year.

Earlier this month (on December 2nd), we hosted and launched that group of thought leaders. We convened forty-two denominational and network leaders at Wheaton College in Chatlos Auditorium to hear evangelism strategies, research, and best practices. I found it significant that leaders who may disagree on certain doctrinal issues would be willing to convene and discuss evangelism practices for the sake of the gospel. Honestly, how often do you see Pentecostals and Presbyterians in the same room? It was particularly encouraging to see that attendees were genuinely interested in hearing and learning from one another.

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College (try saying that six times really fast) began the day discussing ELF’s purpose. He shared his vision to gather key denominational and network leaders and to make sure the group reflected a wide range of voices in evangelicalism.

Stetzer then invited Joel Sutherland to share with the group. Southerland serves as the Executive Director of Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He spoke to attendees about evergreen NAMB strategies for evangelism that could work in other contexts, regardless of denominational affiliation. In presenting, Sutherland revealed key insights from his network’s top evangelistic pastors.

Both Stetzer and Rick Richardson, who is Professor of Evangelism at Wheaton College, provided attendees with solid research in trends and myths in evangelism. Stetzer discussed different evangelism methodologies, dating back to the 1950’s and talked about today’s concerns when it comes to evangelism. Specifically, he discussed the rise of the Nones (which he’s written on here at The Exchange) and evangelism in a post-seeker context.

Richardson presented some ongoing research he is conducting. Attendees were given an exclusive look at his work, as he pulled back the curtain on myths he’s unearthed in his current research project. In his presentation, Richardson provided persuasive thoughts on evangelism in light of those myths.

Mark Teasdale, Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary, shared some thoughts from his recently published book, Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically. In his presentation, Teasdale discussed reclaiming what he called holistic, effective evangelism. This holistic evangelism, Teasdale believes, would transform the way we evangelize in our culture. Though he shared snapshots from his book, he explored evangelism from a unique perspective that I gathered the attendees appreciated.

James Choung, the National Director of Evangelism for Intervarsity Fellowship, presented on sharing the gospel in an increasingly unchurched culture. Choung shared Intervarsity’s successful Big Story model of evangelism with attendees. Specifically, he discussed how and why the model was so successful in a culture that’s becoming more unchurched.

As the meeting concluded, attendees gave positive feedback on the inaugural gathering. Many were excited to get back to their local context to share some of the content presented in the gathering. The BGCE staff is grateful to all who participated to make our first meeting a success and look forward to seeing you all at our next gathering.

If you are a network or denominational leader (or you know one) and you read this post, I hope you felt that you missed out on some great material. More than that, I hope that you would consider joining us at our next gathering. We are next scheduled to convene on June 26th at our annual Amplify Conference in the Chicago area. Remember, ELF membership is limited to denominational and network leaders. And yes, membership does have its privileges. Those privileges include access to a members-only bi-annual journal on best practices and research in evangelism, an invitation to two ELF gatherings a year, two free Amplify Conference registrations, and other perks. You can find more information on joining ELF here.