The conference, which has drawn attendees from across the nation, focuses on the power of prayer. Religious leaders in attendance, from a number of denominations, can learn how to strengthen their congregations and make their prayers more effective. While it was still early in the conference, Joe Edwards, pastor of The Church at Liberty Square, could see its effects.
“I think it’s an immediate connection that we saw happen. Many of these people have never met,” he said. “You see them hugging in the hallways, you see them exchanging cards ... You see them in these classes, the laughter, to see them respond to these speakers. I think what all of us began to realize [is] this is a spiritual group, and this is a sovereign group of God.”
Edwards and other organizers were impressed at the conference’s draw. Alive Ministries Founder Doug Small believed as many as 30 states were represented at the conference.
“To have them come in and kind of, I mean, catch maybe the ambience of what’s happening beyond, I think tonight will show that when we get Southern Baptists and Pentecostals on the same state and they don’t throw hymnals at each other — that will be a wonderful thing,” Small said.
The organizers believed Bartow County’s strong faith-based community helped guide the conference to the church. Small cited the county’s strong showing during the National Day of Prayer and the unity shown by the Bartow Baptist Association as examples of Bartow County’s faith.
The Church at Liberty Square, Edwards said, was glad to serve as host.
“We were extremely honored to bring such a gathering of so diverse a group, and yet the spirit that’s in the hallways and the meeting rooms and in the worship center itself, to see people praying together, people of all faiths, lifting their hands together. It’s an incredible opportunity for we as a people to see that happen and we’re just so excited to have people like this to come. It’s beyond anything we could have imagined,” he said.
Organizers hoped the conference would help shift the focus of the American Christian community away from preaching and church building and back to prayer.
“Underneath all this is, I think this is what these guys represent, which we could never bring what they bring and that is that a pastor has been a psychologist, he’s been a CEO of a nonprofit organization and he’s not been a holy man of God,” said Small. “I think there is a major shift that God is going and I think there is a hunger for that. I think that’s why you see the attendance here.”
Among the workshops offered Thursday was a two-part talk delivered by Pastor Jim Cymbala of The Brooklyn Tabernacle. During the afternoon workshop Cymbala urged pastors to base their teachings on Jesus and to go to Christ to solve all problems.
“So that’s where the action is, it’s around the name of Jesus,” Cymbala said. “That’s why these churches, they want to be so user-friendly, super sensitive, that they don’t preach Jesus. That’s like crazy. That’s like crazy. How is someone going to get saved if they don’t hear about Jesus?”
Cymbala asked the attending ministers and pastors to talk and pray with their congregation on a regular basis. He compared delivering a sermon without speaking to the congregation to a doctor who prescribes medicine without talking to the patient. He asked how a pastor could deliver an effective sermon without knowing what the congregation needed to hear.
“Here’s the point, pastor, when you preach and you are gonna go into the pulpit, what’s the point? If you can’t say it in a sentence, then check yourself,” he said. “What’s the point? What do you want to say? What do you want to go home and talk about?”
Before his second talk, Cymbala said he was originally unaware of the larger conference scheduled for this week. He said he works with David Henderson, another organizer, in touring the country and promoting the power of prayer and basing teachings on Jesus Christ.
“Everybody’s been very gracious,” Cymbala said of his time in Bartow County. “It’s great to see all these ministers gather cross denominationally, cross racially, so it’s an honor to be here. ... So it’s really two things happening at once. I wasn’t aware of the conference, really, when I came. I just came because I do things with [David Henderson] around the country, so it’s just great to be part of this other picture too.”
The gathering together of Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists and other Christian denominations impressed Pastor Mike Abernathy as well. He believed Bartow County’s unity and faith allowed the conference to attract the large crowd.
“It’s so good to have this many denominations, this many people come together,” he said. “I understand this was canceled out last year in Atlanta because there wasn’t enough participation, so they brought it to Cartersville and you can see [the effects]. ... I drove through the parking lot — man alive at all the out-of-state people that are here too.
“... When you’ve got that kind of spirit, I think the chamber of commerce, all the businesses, our pastors, everybody is praying, everybody is trying to pray for the good of Bartow County. This is just an outcropping of that.”
The conference will continue today, with events and workshops scheduled from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Although no plans have been made to hold a similar conference in Bartow County next year, Edwards believed it would happen again.
“We believe God brought them here. We believe God has sent them. We therefore believe that there is a sovereign rule of God, that he just chose this area. ... Because not only the churches and our ministers, but our officials we have [connections] with,” Edwards said. “We have others who are making themselves available for office. We have the endorsement of the highest officials, they said, ‘Thank you for bringing this to the community.’”