Now that I'm back home it's time to reflect on my time in Oklahoma City. Four days went quickly. Perhaps too quickly, as everyone I talked to was thoroughly enjoying the first of the new formatted Church of God Convention. We wanted it to go on, even if for another day or two!
As I've mentioned there was much anticipation for this event. If this new iteration would not fly it would not only call into question the future of our annual event, but also the direction to which our new General Director is taking us. But, have no fear, these questions and concerns are all in the past. This will someday be seen as a pivotal point in our history and will shape us going forward. Of course, there are some naysayers who think this whole thing was ill-conceived and a disaster. But, at this point their voices are largely overshadowed.
There's much that could be said to recap the Convention, and many others have done a great job of doing that. For example, just wade through the large of number of #BeBold2014 Tweets from last week. Instead I want to list a few key observations and reflections:
- Hard data on attendance is not available yet, but it was obvious to me that attendance was up from recent North American Conventions and that there was much more diverse participation from across the United States and Canada. In Anderson attendance was predominately from those who are close by (and didn't register). This year also saw a number of first-time attendees who came because of their interest in the new direction across the Church of God.
- Having said that, attendance was not as great as I expected. Crossings Church in Oklahoma City was not full (except on Tuesday evening when Sandi Patty was featured and many locals showed up), and from reports that I've heard attendance at Madison Park Church in Anderson was far from significant. While many key leaders from across the movement showed up, this is still far from being the one event that brings together the North American Church. IYC beginning later this week will still have a greater turnout.
- Regardless of how one parses the attendance numbers this year's convention was a resounding success. The key, however, will be seeing what happens next year and beyond. Will people who were there this year make this an annual tradition, or was this just the result of hype and novelty? And, will others, having heard the good reports from Oklahoma City, join the throngs in 2015?
- A major frustration expressed by many who did not (or could not) attend is the lack of online video streaming as has been the norm in recent years. The reality is that not everyone is able (because of health or financial reasons) to attend, and they need to experience some of what was going on, even if online video is only a second best experience. It is costly and there have been technical issues, but even if Church of God Ministries arranged for this to be streamed through a higher-quality paid service it would still be worth it.
- The venue at Crossings Church is spectacular. They have incredible church facilities, and it worked exceedingly well, probably better than most convention centers could have provided. I would have no problem if we returned there next year. The challenge for the new Convention committee, however, will be to determine if re-planting ourselves here permanently is a good decision for the Church of God, or if we need to move it around to other locations.
- Going back to attendance numbers, since this is still not bringing in the large numbers we need in order for this event to have more sweeping impact on our congregations and pastors, there still may be value in taking a look at doing this only once every 2-4 years. Building up to a major event over that period of time may allow for an even larger event as people plan and budget to take advantage of it.
- I want to make just two comments on the convention programming. As I've mentioned previously we have truly made the transition from campmeeting to convention. There still is, however, some awkwardness in that because of differing expectations. Some want nothing but worship services and preaching. Others want a more diverse program and without the pressure to force every gathering into a service with music, etc. Tuesday's marathon day, in particular, could have been more creatively structured and planned.
- Overall the quality of speakers and musicians was not only generally very good, but represented where the Church of God is today. Especially encouraging is the number of speakers from outside the Church of God brought in to broaden our horizons.
I was encouraged, blessed, and inspired by the Convention, and I know that it will have a ripple effect across the Church of God. It truly was a bold move, and one that should increase our boldness as a movement. I trust that the 2015 Convention will continue to challenge us as we go forward participating in God's Kingdom work.