Nearly 400 New England church leaders gathered in Avon, Mass., March 28 for the launch of what has quickly become one of the biggest pastoral conferences in the region. The 521 Conference featured talks from best-selling authors Carey Nieuwhof and Larry Osborne about church growth and leadership development in addition to twelve breakout sessions lead by New England leaders. The BCNE was one of four partnering organizations who invested in and made this event possible. 

This one-day conference is one of the few of its type in the region. Typically conferences with big-name speakers are held outside New England, requiring pastors to foot the bill for travel, lodging and registration fees. The leaders at Grace Church in Avon created 521 as a more affordable alternative: “We wanted pastors to be able to access some stand-out church leaders without having to deal with the big price and hassle of long-distance travel,” said pastor Brian Beauford.

Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Connexus Church in Ontario, Canada, and renowned blogger on church leadership, was one of these stand-out leaders. Nieuwhof shared five ways to ensure the church has a lasting impact. Churches need to (1) separate the methods from the mission; (2) drive engagement not attendance; (3) create a healthy leadership culture; (4) engage high capacity volunteers; and (5) make the next generation a priority. 

The other featured speaker was Larry Osborne, author, consultant and pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, CA. He dynamically pressed into his church’s method of “come and see evangelism.”  His core assumptions are that most Christians have non-Christian friends, that they want them to come to Jesus and if they don’t bring friends to come and see at church worship, it is the pastor's fault. 

Pastors who could afford to travel to national conferences still faced the challenge of discovering that some strategies couldn't be effectively applied back home. “The culture of New England is unique from other regions,” said Beauford. ”An outreach idea that might work for a megachurch in the South might not be the most effective for a baby church in, say Cape Cod.” To avoid this problem, Beauford and other organizers “connected with a bunch of pastors who planted churches right here in New England and asked them to lead breakout sessions and share what they’ve been doing to establish thriving, healthy churches in our own backyard.”

With twelve breakout sessions in total, participants had a wide variety of topics to choose from, including how to thrive on limited resources, how to connect with non-English speaking communities and how to use authentic relationships to reach neighbors for Christ.

After hearing Carey Nieuwhof, Larry Osborne, and attending some of these sessions, many pastors said they walked away feeling much more equipped. “I left with lots of notes -- actual action steps to take instead of just theories to navigate!” said one participant

Another participant, who was glad for the chance to network with other pastors from the area, said, “I was very encouraged at seeing so many pastors from all over New England who are passionate about sharpening their skills. [This] is a sign of good things to come for New England.” 

More information about the 521 Conference can be found at Video recordings of all main and breakout sessions will be available on the BCNE website by May 31.