Presbyterians have gathered in Atlanta, Ga., in hopes of birthing a new evangelism movement within its churches.
Part of the "Big Tent" event, the Evangelism Conference aims to infuse the passion for evangelism back into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has seen declining membership for decades. Its largest drop (2.5 percent) occurred in 2007.
"I want a conference that will satisfy the deep hunger in our church for evangelism," said the Rev. Eric Hoey, director of evangelism and church growth for the PC(USA), as reported by the Presbyterian News Service.
On Friday, James Mead, associate pastor of Chapel Hill Church in Tacoma, Wash., told fellow Presbyterians that they are missionaries and witnesses in their workplaces, their schools and communities.
"[P]eople are watching how you treat people, and you are making a witness, like it or don't, unless you manage to keep it a secret that you go to church," he said, according to the Presbyterian Outlook.
Mead urged them to be prepared for opportunities to share their faith by studying Scripture and meditating on how their lives have changed through Christ.
That way, when someone asks "Why do you believe?" the Christian will be able to provide a heartfelt and real answer.
He also challenged churches with shrinking numbers not to be afraid of change.
Recalling the words of an executive presbyter, Meade said unless the church makes changes, "This church is going to die. … You're going to grow old and die together. The last person can shut off the lights."
The Evangelism Conference is one of ten conferences being held in conjunction with the Big Tent, the first of its kind event for the PC(USA). The Big Tent is described as "a big Presbyterian family reunion" that will inspire members and make them "proud to be Presbyterian."
Addressing the 1,500 Presbyterians attending the Big Tent event, the Rev. Claudio Carvalhaes, an associate professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said the "big tent" label is appropriate for the denomination, explaining that "this church is a place where we all gather because of, not in spite of, our differences."
"We are all here because God opened a big tent – Jesus – who made us all children of God," he said, PNS reported.
Carvalhaes urged Presbyterians to become a more diverse church to include all races, ethnicities, ages and walks of life.
The Big Tent opened on Thursday and concludes Saturday.