Updated: Dec 7, 2022
The Friends Church Multiplication Conferences were birthed out of discussion of faculty members at Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas. Dr. Jim Le Shana, then vice president of academic affairs took the leadership, and several conferences were held on the campus of Barclay. Friends leaders from all over the United States gathered to hear gifted speakers who had experience in church planting and shared their knowledge, experiences, and challenges with those gathered at the conferences. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which closed down large gatherings, Dr. Le Shana and his team decided to continue the movement via Internet, using programs like Zoom. They also decided that they could expand it world-wide and make it available to Friends around the world who were involved in church planting or who wanted to be. The program was carefully orchestrated and provided to anyone around the globe who wanted to join. Many did join from their home locations.
The conferences had been held on a two-year cycle. So, it was determined to present the conference again in 2022. Now, although COVID-19 no longer caused meeting restrictions, the conference leaders decided it would again be beneficial to provide it to interested people world-wide. Not only did they want to provide it to an international audience, but they also wanted to expand the participation of presenters from international settings. Therefore, leaders from several countries made presentations in one form or another, some only briefly, some giving an account of church planting in their home countries, and two international speakers in the general sessions— Dr. John Muhanji, FUM leader in Kenya; and A. A., EFM missionary and church planter in Bangladesh.
Those who registered for the conference were given a link to join the conference Online. A menu was provided with the options to listen to the speakers in the general sessions. Some of these were pre-recorded, so could be listened to at any time on YouTube. Others were presented via Zoom and recorded for later viewing. In the way of introduction, several people from different parts of the world participated in the introductions of each general session. Some gave a brief testimony of their work; some were invited to read the Scripture and pray; others introduced themselves and their ministry and, then, shared announcements about what was to come in the program. One of the especially delightful parts of the introductions was the singing of the international choir, which participated twice. This was coordinated by Dr. Jared Ross, music ministry professor at Barclay College. Singers from all over the world were recruited to simultaneously sing a chosen song. Each of those chosen to sing was highlighted with their name and country of origin at some point of the song.
The main speakers were Dr. Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College; Dr. John Muhanji, director of African Ministries of the Friends United Meeting in Kenya; Dr. Larry Walkemeyer, director of Equipping and Spiritual Engagement, Exponential; A. A., Evangelical Friends Missionary in Bangladesh; and Matthew Cork, Superintendent of Friends Southwest and lead pastor of Friends Church, Yorba Linda, CA.
Dr. Ed Stetzer lead off the general sessions on Wednesday evening, Nov. 9 with a compelling exposition of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20. He noted that one of the key words is the word “all,” used four times in the passage—“all authority,” “all nations/ethnic groups,” “all my teachings,” and “all the ages.” Then, he noted: 1) The Giver of the commission is Jesus, who has all authority; 2) The goal is making disciples of all nations/panta ta ethe; 3) The guarantee—the promise of Jesus to be with us always.
Dr. John Muhanji spoke in the second general session on “Why Quakers Need to Apply Multiplication.” He noted that the first commandment God gave to Adam and Eve was to “multiply and fill the earth.” Jesus demonstrated multiplication (Matt. 14:15-21); the early Church demonstrated multiplication in the Book of Acts. God has given us an assignment to multiply, and He trusts us to do it.
The speaker for the third general session was Dr. Larry Walkemeyer. He spoke on “The Shape of a Multiplication Church.” In his message he used the analogies of the church as a tower, where people gather, but do not scatter out, and trellises, which function to expand and hold up the fruit. He listed 11 characteristics of a trellis-shaped church. Dr. Walkemeyer also noted that God, in the book of Genesis, twice gives the command to multiply. And he cited a church planter, who said: “Movements are started by leaders who have died to their own success.”
A. A. spoke in the fourth general session with a call to “Let Us Multiply Together.”
A. A. told of how he started a church in Bangladesh in 2005 with four family members. Through the years they have faced sever obstacles to the preaching of the gospel. Nevertheless, by the years 2020, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, they had planted 70 churches.
Matthew Cork tied the bow on the conference in the final general session with a message titled: “Being a Difference Maker in a World of Indifference.” He started his message with the illustration of the largest tree in the world, a Banyan tree in Kolkata, India. This tree is at least 250 years old, and the main trunk died and was taken out almost a century ago. Nevertheless, the tree survives and spreads today, because the roots go down vertically, then go out horizontally to raise up new trunks. This tree cannot be killed. Like that tree the gates of Hades cannot prevail over the Church. And the church, like that tree needs to continue to send out roots that will sprout up in new churches. This is possible through the resurrection power of Jesus.
Both Thursday and Friday mornings began with a prayer gathering, followed by the general sessions. In addition to the general sessions with their stimulating messages, those who registered were able to join a variety of affinity groups both in Spanish and English. Some of these gathered by area, others by affinity of interest. These allowed participants to get acquainted with others and share perspectives regarding the conference. A variety of workshops was also provided, most of them pre-recorded in order that anyone could get on when it was convenient to them. Then at the end of the general sessions 1, 3, and 5 a Fellowship Reception was held where the participants could chat with each other, make comments on the sessions, and ask questions.
One wonders sometimes if a conference like this really has an impact, serves as a catalyst, provides an incentive to put the ideas presented into action. In the opening introduction Nick LeMonds gave testimony to its effectiveness. As a student of Barclay College, he attended the conference held on that campus in 2018. At that time, he committed himself to be a church planter. After graduating from Barclay and seminary at Azusa Pacific University, he is now planting a church in Oregon. Whether as a result of these conferences or not, we heard reports of church planting movements among Friends around the world. For instance, Matthew Cork reported that Friends Southwest has been called to plant 10 new campus meetings related to a mother church, 40 new churches, and to raise up 200 new leaders in the next 10 years. Evangelical Friends Mission has a goal of starting 5 new mission fields with 10 new missionary units by 2025. Both Rwanda Yearly Meeting and Burundi Yearly Meeting have sent out exploratory teams with the intention of sending their own missionaries to those places in the near future. A new organization is in the planning stages—The Evangelical Friends Church Planting organization. There are now more than 25 new churches being planted by Friends in the USA and a goal to plant 200 more within the next few years.
To organize an Online conference of this type is a complex undertaking. It means coordinating participants from around the world. It requires experts in technology. It requires interpretation into various languages. It requires skillful administrators to organize and orchestrate it. In addition to the amazing administrative skills of Dr. Jim Le Shana, there was a skilled and faithful team working behind the scenes to carry it off. We congratulate all of them on a job very well done. We were told that at least 400 people registered from 30 different countries. The number of those registered does not really indicate the number of total participants, as many gathered as groups in watch parties.
On a personal note, I will confess that I did not intend to register for this conference for a couple of reasons. First of all, I find it much more difficult to sit in front of a computer screen watching a conference than it is doing it in person. Secondly, participating in a conference this way is much less personal and lacking in the great fellowship that one enjoys in a gathered group. However, there is no better way to expand the conference to an international setting. I was induced to register and join in. I’m very glad I did. I was blessed, moved, motivated, stimulated and challenged. In addition, I met some new people, albeit at a distance, that I would not have met otherwise, and I was able to reconnect with some old friends. May God use this conference to His glory and honor.