ORLANDO, Florida –
For Rev. Becci Loy, one of the more memorable moments of the Exponential East conference for church planters actually occurred away from the recent convention held in Orlando.
“Our ministry focuses primarily on young people and their families. We went this year with the desire to learn more about how to build and sustain our ministry,” said Rev. Loy, pastor of Emerge Ministries in Upton. She attended with one of Emerge’s lay leaders, Sue Sullivan.
“One day we were driving and talking and brainstorming ways to strategically use what we had learned,” Rev. Loy recalled in an email. “We pulled into a gas station and were met by a nun, Mother Elizabeth, who works at a local monastery. She approached us to look at our rental car because she liked it.
“She told us about an outreach she has built for young people in her community. She then began to share with us her convictions to ‘pour into’ them to help them be who God created them to be instead of who the world wants them to be. It sounded so much like our ministry, only run by a nun.
“Before we parted ways, she asked us to pray for her and she offered prayer for us. It was a divine encounter and confirmed the things God was speaking to our hearts through the conference.”
Rev. Loy was one of 30 people from the Kentucky Annual Conference who attended Exponential East, a four-day nondenominational convention at First Baptist Church Orlando. About 5,000 people from around the world attended, Terri Saliba, executive director of Exponential, said in an email.
The theme of the conference was “Hero Maker.” At the commissioning service on the last day, hundreds of people came forward for prayer and to make their commitment public, Saliba said, calling the conference “amazing.”
“Together, we are praying and believing that we will become multipliers who advance the Kingdom,” she said.
The annual gathering, held Feb. 26-March 1, featured some of the biggest names in church planting. Participants were free to select from dozens of breakout sessions on a number of topics related to disciple-making, interspersed with worship gatherings in the expansive church sanctuary.
Rev. Eric Bryant, director of New Church Development, led the Kentucky Conference’s delegation, which included current and prospective church planters, pastors of established churches, district NCD team leaders, and staff and volunteer lay members of church plants in Kentucky. (This writer also attended in his role as ministry assistant in the NCD office.)
“Exponential is a high-impact event, not only for the leaders who attend but for the churches and communities they serve,” Rev. Bryant said. “This event offers great training and inspiration for church leaders. Focused and intentional disciple-making, leadership development, and empowering others to lead and shine were some of the core themes that I heard this year at Exponential.
“For New Church Development in Kentucky, this event served as a way for us to strengthen our commitment and ability to plant vital new churches that can thrive in our changing culture. We brought church planters and members of their ministry teams, district NCD team leaders and young clergy leadership that represent our brightest hope for the church in the future. Our new MACC (Missional Academy Coaching Community) participants attended and spent meaningful time with their coach.
“It seems to me that the spirit was moving through our group and that we came back to Kentucky with a renewed sense that God is leading this new church movement in Kentucky.”
We asked other members of the Kentucky Conference’s contingent to email us their thoughts and impressions after attending Exponential. Here are some of their responses:
- Kathy Ekman, The Movement in Louisville: “I think my biggest take-home from Exponential was the call for leaders to examine our teaching and example … as preachers, church leaders, disciple-makers. I heard repeatedly the exhortation: ‘The gospel we preach determines the disciple we produce.’ If we truly follow Jesus’s words and example, the Gospel is not just about forgiveness and grace, but also about surrender and following.”
- Rev. Teanna Allen, The High Ground in Radcliff, who had attended two previous Exponentials: “My life and ministry have been transformed. I heard the word ‘intentional’ over and over from the Father – that I need to be intentional with my own personal studies, intentional with the ministry that He has given me, intentional with loving on the lost, but most importantly intentional with how to disciple His people.”
- Stacey Gibson, administrator and tots leader at The High Ground: “Exponential held some very healing moments as well as some very convicting ones. I think the moment Pastor Teanna and I realized what we could be doing to be Hero Makers, the tears flowed abundantly, our hearts were wrenched and we made a promise to bring back all that we learned and make heroes at The High Ground.”
- Rev. Rachel Wallace, associate pastor, Florence UMC: “I left feeling encouraged and inspired to find ways to shine the spotlight on other leaders in my church and to stay focused on our task at hand, which is to work for the Kingdom of God and God’s idea of greatness and generosity, and to not get caught up in the ‘greatness’ of the world.”
- Rev. Tyler Harting, Mill Springs Charge in Monticello: “The presence of the Lord was definitely at Exponential, and He kept laying a question on my heart, something that I had heard a few years ago: ‘Why are you managing ministry, when you are called to lead a movement?’”
- Rev. Elizabeth Smith, Brooksville UMC: “I learned that church planting is not for the faint of heart. It takes true dedication, commitment, sacrifice, love of God and other, and most of all, a willingness to let God lead as we follow.”
- Rev. Derek Robinette, River City UMC in Louisville, who previously attended Exponential before the launch of his multisite campus of St. Matthews UMC: “This conference reminded me that the church grows best when heroes emerge from within. This has been happening at River City as we have sent two people into ministry in our first two years, but it is always good to be reminded that church planting is ultimately about Jesus, connecting people to Him and helping them live out the calling God has for their life.”
- Hannah Bryant, River City’s children’s and youth coordinator: “Exponential provided me with lots of ideas and resources for the growing ministry that were incredibly useful for me. I am so excited to implement some of the information I learned back at the church.”
In addition to Exponential having a great impact on our group from Kentucky, the Kentucky group had an impact on the staff of the Comfort Suites hotel near Universal. One evening, Rev. Bryant attempted to purchase a soft drink at the front desk and the clerk simply stated, “It’s on the house! No charge!”
When he said that was unnecessary and he would be happy to pay, she insisted and said: “Your group has been a great blessing to us! Thank you!” She went on to offer testimony to what God had done in her life and how our group, through conversations and generosity, had touched her and the staff.