NWC 2019 Annual Meeting highlights making disciples through evangelism

With a theme of “Sharing Our Hope:Raising the Temperature on Evangelism” the 2019 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at HOPE Covenant Church in Grand Forks, ND, April 25-27.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg, who was re-elected to serve a third four-year term, shared, “I’m grateful to God to be able to serve the very churches and ministries that have played such a significant role in my own life.”

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of evangelism.

Friday Business Session

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting opened with the business session on Friday afternoon.

“We exist primarily for the benefit of those who don’t know Jesus Christ yet. The Church is the only organization that exists for its non-members, instead of its members.” said Paul Knight, Lead Pastor of HOPE Covenant Church, as he welcomed delegates and attendees and set the tone for the meetings that followed.

Michelle Sanchez, ECC Executive Minister of Make & Deepen Disciples, brought greetings from the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sanchez shared that “disciples making disciples through evangelism” is one aspect of ECC President John Wenrich’s six-point vision for the denomination. She announced that the ECC will soon be hiring a Director of Evangelism.

During his report, Superintendent Stromberg shared about the many good things that can happen when we join together, including sending missionaries, starting new churches, resourcing existing churches, facilitating group homes for the developmentally disabled, supporting Bible camps and much more.

He also reflected on his years of service to the Northwest Conference.

“Even with the changes and challenges through the years and all around us, aren’t you grateful that the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever?” Stromberg said. “While we can’t control what others do with the Gospel in our ever-changing world, we are responsible for the message that we have been given. And we are to hand it down to others faithfully.”

Stromberg shared that Director of Pastoral Care & Development, Jeff Burton, will retire from full-time ministry this summer but will continue to serve the NWC in a part-time capacity. Pastor Hollis Kim was announced as the incoming Director of Pastoral Care & Development.

In place of individual reports, this year’s meeting featured a NWC Ministry Director Panel where Conference staff shared how their areas of ministry oversight have seen fruit in the area of evangelism.

“We plant churches because it shows our love for those God has placed around us,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared. “More churches results in more church attendees. Church Planting is a very effective way for us to reach the unchurched.”

Brown explained that the NWC helps church plants reach new people through ongoing resourcing and coaching.

“Lost people matter to God, and they matter to us,” Brown said.

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted the work the NWC does to help its pastors have a healthier rhythm in ministry—and “have a life outside the Church,” in order to stay healthy and continue the work of being in evangelism.

“If you’re a pastor, you’re around a place that people will often go to when they’re in crisis. That’s a unique opportunity to present the Gospel,” Burton said. “Pastors have some really unique opportunities when it comes to evangelism.”

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, said research shows students often make a decision to follow Christ when they are in a setting that’s “away from their normal environment.” Special events like the NWC’s MOVE, Adventures in Leadership and MUUUCE, give students an opportunity to pause, reflect and experience Christ during this adolescent time of life.

“My role in this position is to help you and your churches help your youth workers thrive in ministry,” Olson said. “Youth leaders are a non-parental force for good in students’ lives.”

Olson announced the formation of a Youth Ministry Coaching Cohort launching in September. The cohort is a nine-month program to pair youth workers with coaches, facilitate retreats and walk with younger youth workers in their ministry.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, shared that many churches are seeing success in evangelistic efforts through affinity groups, created around common points of interest, that allow for fresh intersection with others—particularly those who are not yet followers of Christ.

“Intentional evangelism is a fundamental component to being and becoming a healthy, missional church,” Kramka said. “We know that to continue to foster healthy, missional, vibrant churches, much of our work is also about culture change—a cumulative development of patterns and habits that are developed over time by a group of people. We know we need to change our evangelism culture in the Covenant.”

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, said evangelism is most effective among kids and young people because children are so receptive to the Good News of Christ.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with and through children,” Stromberg said. “Ministry to kids is peer-based, family-based and intergenerational.”

Stromberg shared that her ministry area works with Minnehaha Academy, with Covenant Camps and summer camp speakers, new church plants and established churches—in a variety of ways—to strengthen ministry to kids in the Conference.

“I work with a team of ministry leaders who are available as a resource to you, to help determine how children’s ministry can have a broader role in your church life,” she said.

Following a short break, it was announced that Superintendent Stromberg was elected to serve a third term.

Mike Brown then introduced three new church fellowship groups, including: The Crossing Covenant Church, Pastor Michele Arndt (Houlton, WI), North City Covenant Church, Pastors JD and ChristianAnn Larson (Minneapolis, MN), and Nuestra Esperanza Covenant Church, Pastors Hector and Betty Reyes (New Hope, MN).

Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Coordinator of Latino Ministry, shared that over 40 students are being prepared for ministry through CHET happening in two Covenant church locations in the Twin Cities.

“If you feel from God that there is something that you need to do to bless the Latino community around you, please reach out to me,” Dell’Arciprete said. “I want to be able join with you in what God is doing through your ministry in the Latino community.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris again expressed gratitude for the pastoral support from the NWC and its staff following the Aug. 2, 2017, explosion at the school’s Upper Campus, as well as for the financial support given by the NWC and its churches.

“May God strengthen you daily for the work God has called you to do,” Harris said. “Minnehaha is blessed to be under this umbrella.”

Harris shared a slideshow of photos from the life of the school that highlighted recent athletic and academic accomplishments of MA students, as well as highlights from the reconstruction of the Upper Campus. Substantial completion of construction is expected by the first week of August, with students returning this fall for the 2019-20 school year.

“We believe that when students shine in all the ways we want them to shine, especially in the dark, they attract others to them,” Harris said.

Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and denominational ministries and organizations at display tables, in special workshops and through one-on-one conversations throughout the weekend.

Friday Worship Service

The HOPE Covenant worship teamled attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Nine Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised $2,500 to benefit the HOPE Church Community Care Center & Food Pantry. Church representatives also brought forward prayer bookmarks collected as part of the ECC’s BLESS Intentional Evangelism initiative, which will be brought to Gather 2019, the national Covenant annual meeting in June.

All three of the New Church Fellowship Groups recognized during the Business Session earlier in the day, signed Covenant Agreements on stage during the service.

Michelle Sanchez, Executive Minister of Make & Deepen Disciples, shared a message titled, “Our Great Commission to BLESS the World.”

Sanchez challenged attendees to consider the question: “What is it that we can do now, as followers of Jesus, which we can’t do forever? The answers to that question are the things that we should be ‘majoring in’ now as the Church.”

To be “blessed” was God’s original intention for us all—it was His original intention for the world, she shared.

“We are here and God is calling us to continue the good work that He started. He came to bless,” Sanchez said. “The Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus is the best way to bless the world, because Jesus IS the blessing.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshops

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included the election of Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Paul Knight (HOPE Covenant, Grand Forks, ND) to a 1-year term, Linda Solie (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) and Chris Studenski (Emmanuel Covenant, Shoreview, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Sean Mahoney (Plymouth Covenant, Plymouth, MN) and Todd O’Bert (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,619,175, as well as the budget for Minnehaha Academy.

On Saturday morning, attendees also heard reports from leaders of Camping Ministry in the NWC, Women Ministries of the NWC, the NWC Ministerial Association, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Covenant Village of Golden Valley, National Covenant Properties and Covenant Trust Company.

Sharing Our Hope: Words of Witness

Following the Saturday Business Session, staff and lay leaders from several NWC churches shared examples of how evangelism is practiced in their local contexts. Teams from Excelsior Covenant Church (Excelsior, MN), Dawson Covenant Church (Dawson, MN), HOPE Covenant Church (Grand Forks, ND), Eden Community Covenant Church (Coon Rapids, MN) and Unidad Covenant Church (Fridley, MN) shared stories of life change through intentional evangelism.