Over 2,000 Christian leaders from across the nation will be gathering in San Diego this week for one of the largest and most influential conventions on church outreach in the world.
And after a year of dismal church growth figures and amid startling anti-Christian trends, organizers and past participants of the National Outreach Convention say the need for the Nov. 5-7 gathering is clear.
"There's nowhere like the National Outreach Convention to come and get ideas and inspiration and just get charged up evangelistically," commented speaker and author Mark Mittleberg.
"When you're with like-minded people who have a passion for evangelism, and not only that but you're with some of the top experts in the world in the area of evangelism … for me, it's a 'cannot miss' conference," added Dr. Nancy Grisham, founder of Livin' Ignited.
"There's an energy [at the convention] that just refuels me in a special way," she said.
Presented by Outreach magazine, this year's National Outreach Convention comes at a time when 90 percent of churches are not growing and after a year that saw only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church and only 50 percent of churches having at least one person come to Christ.
It also comes as one of the most significant shifts in the nation's culture is the declining reputation of Christianity, especially among young Americans.
A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity's role in society. According to a Barna study released late last year, however, just 16 percent of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), old-fashioned (78 percent), and too involved in politics (75 percent).
"Their (young non-Christians') perceptions about Christianity were not always accurate," commented David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group, "but what surprised me was not only the severity of their frustration with Christians, but also how frequently young born again Christians expressed some of the very same comments as young non-Christians."
As a result of the increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity, half of senior pastors interviewed by Barna for its study contend that ministry is more difficult than ever before.
With the ever-changing societal landscape, church leaders across the nation are being encouraged to attend – if not send an entire team – to this week's National Outreach Convention to gain concepts and ideas that can be used to help them develop their churches and strengthen their outreach.
"I think the greatest takeaway for us as a church is that our entire team gets to come together and hear concepts and ideas, and we're processing them together and we're going to be able to take all of that, digest it, go back home and then figure out how to interpret it for our context," commented Joe Handley of Rolling Hills Covenant Church. "That's the greatest take home value."
During the upcoming three-day outreach convention, pastors and church leaders will hear from leaders of some of the most innovative churches in the United States. Featured speakers include author and speaker Erwin McManus, apologist Lee Strobel, pastor Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, pastor Miles McPherson of The Rock Church in San Diego, and LifeWay Christian Resources director Ed Stetzer.
The National Outreach Convention also features an exhibit floor where participants can find and explore the latest products and services that can empower their church for effective ministry. More than 120 resource providers will be present at this year's convention.
In addition, there will be more than 50 workshops on topics including youth outreach, community outreach, creative outreach, and targeted outreach. Outreach ideas and innovations as well as emerging trends will also be shared.
Since 2003, NOC has been inspiring, equipping, and energizing church leaders who have a passion for reaching the unchurched in their local communities. It is billed as the single largest gathering of church leaders, and resource providers for the sole purpose of outreach.