We evangelical folk love conferences. We'll attend one across the country or host one in our spiffy new sanctuary–er, auditorium. Shoot, we'll even blog about a conference for those who couldn't make it. I've attended my fair share of these get-togethers, from California to Michigan, and blogged about them along the way. Perhaps that early American phenomenon–the frontier camp meeting–lingers in our memory and has found new expression at mega-churches and sports arenas around the country.
During my suburban ministry years, many of the conferences I attended were of the how-to variety. Think "This Old House" with Bob Villa, but substitute house with "small group," "sermon," or "assimilation plan" and Villa with (mostly) white pastors and theologians who write books.
This conference-going tendency must run in our evangelical genes, because the folks at my urban church also make these events a priority. Here's the difference: instead of learning how to improve their church, these city-dwellers are interested in improving their neighborhoods and city. The half-dozen people from our congregation who just returned from the Christian Community Development Association conference in Miami attended workshops that focused on bridging racial divides, homelessness prevention, and immigration issues.
To be fair, this focus on justice has recently made an appearance on the wider conference circuit. I remember my surprise at Bono's video appearance at a Willow Creek conference a couple of years ago. His appeal for American churches to get involved in combating global poverty was warmly received. Leadership journal's managing editor, Skye Jethani, has noticed the arrival of all-things-justice at recent conferences and wonders about the origins ...