Excitement, energy mark the ‘relaunch’ of the state evangelism conference after hiatus
By David Dawson
MURFREESBORO — High-energy music. Motivational messages. Intensity and excitement among the attendees.
Sounds like a pep rally, right? Well, in a sense, that’s what the 2022 Tennessee State Evangelism Conference was designed to be — a pep rally for evangelism. But instead of school spirit, it was the Holy Spirit that permeated across the campus at New Vision Church in Murfreesboro, where the event was held Jan. 30-31.
“From the first welcome to the final worship, the presence of the Lord was obvious,” said Roc Collins, strategic objectives director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “I was so pleased with the excitement of the conference.”
This year’s conference marked the return of the event after an absence of more than 15 years.
Collins, along with fellow TBMB staffer Mark Miller, were among the central figures in planning and organizing this year’s conference, which had more than 800 registered guests along with a high number of walk-ins throughout the weekend.
“Bringing the Evangelism Conference back was Roc’s dream, and I am so thankful that I had a part in making it happen,” said Miller, who serves as baptism/discipleship team leader and Harvest Team team leader for the TBMB. “The participants were excited to be there, and New Vision was a great host. I am thankful for everyone who made this dream a reality.”
Beginning on Sunday afternoon and running through Monday night, the conference featured a total of four worship sessions, along with a series of breakout sessions. The New Vision worship team led the praise music, performing powerful renditions of contemporary Christian hits “Raise a Hallelujah” and “Firm Foundations (He Won’t)” among other songs.
Praise music also included several songs performed by Ben Waites. Singing from his wheelchair, Waites delivered a rendition of “I’d rather have Jesus” while many of the attendees wiped away tears.
The lineup of featured speakers included a pair of father-son teams — Grant Gaines and Steve Gaines preached the opening session on Sunday night, and the duo of Tony Evans and Jonathan Evans preached the closing session on Monday night. Sessions 2 and 3 included featured speakers Don Wilton, Brady Cooper, Clay Hallmark and Collins. For sermon recaps, see story HERE.
“Each pastor really knocked it out of the park, from Sunday night to Monday night,” said Miller.
Under the theme of “Snatching them from the fire” (in reference to Jude 23), the conference drew attendees from a variety of age demographics and backgrounds.
“It was great to see that the conference clearly had a state-wide response,” said Miller. “I saw pastors from Johnson City to Memphis and from Chattanooga to Clarksville. Churches of all sizes were in attendance.”
Collins said this year’s conference served as the official “relaunch” of the event, and that the SEC will once again become an annual gathering.
“Absolutely, it will,” he said. “We are already planning for 2023 and beyond.”
Prior to its long hiatus, the state evangelism conference was once among the most-anticipated events of the year. And now, as the old advertising phrase says, the event is “back by popular demand,” Collins noted.
“There have been many people across the state who specifically asked me if we would bring back the State Evangelism Conference,” he said.
“I heard testimonies from so many about what an impact it had on their lives in years gone by,” he said.
Miller said the same was true with this year’s event: “During the breaks (between the sessions), multiple people and pastors expressed their appreciation that the State Evangelism Conference had returned,” Miller said.
Miller said that he, too, had great memories of past conferences.
“I remember going to the Evangelism Conference, first with my pastor and then during the first years of serving at the TBMB,” he said. “I always left those conferences feeling inspired and challenged — and that’s the way that I felt on Sunday and Monday night this year.”
Collins said, in addition to the State Evangelism Conference, the TBMB will continue to host two regional conferences at Union University (scheduled for March) and Carson-Newman University (scheduled for September).
Miller agreed that this year’s conference had the feel of a high school campus on game day.
“It really did feel like a pep rally for evangelism,” he said.
He said the conference enabled attendees to realign their priorities in regard to reaching the spiritually lost.
“Evangelism doesn’t get done unless it is intentional,” Miller said. “We all need to be reminded and encouraged to make evangelism a priority. … That is our job. We all have a responsibility to have gospel conversations. As Clay Hallmark shared from Luke 5, we need to bring our friends to Jesus.”
Collins said he believes the event can be a driving force for the TBMB in its quest to reach its No. 1 objective: Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized set on the road to discipleship by 2024.
“I believe that this kind of conference can be a catalyst of renewal for evangelism and revival fires across Tennessee,” he said. “It is greatly needed for Kingdom growth in Tennessee.” B&R