2019 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting Highlights
by Dan Thompson
At Mercy Commons Covenant Church, we are part of the Evangelical Covenant Church Denomination, which is then divided into regions of which we are a part of the Northwest Conference. The following are some highlights of the 2019 NWC Annual Meeting.
With a theme of “Sharing Our Hope: Raising the Temperature on Evangelism” the 2019 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting 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.”
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.
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. “And we are to hand it down to others faithfully.”
“We plant churches because it shows our love for those God has placed around us,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared. “More churches result 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.”
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.”
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 to 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.”
The HOPE Covenant worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Nine Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for 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, because Jesus IS the blessing.”
Saturday held a business session in which budgets were presented and approved, then following the 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.