Converge21 (C21) brought together a select group of leaders, pastors, educators and next-generation thought leaders to collaborate on the future of the Spirit-empowered (a.k.a. Pentecostal or Charismatic) movement in the United States. From February 29 to March 3, over 700 Pentecostal and Charismatic influencers attended the event held at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"The significance of this event," said Mark Williams, "was the convergence of leaders, thinkers and the next-geners to consider shaping the future." Assistant General Overseer of the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination based in Tennessee, William's highlights of the event included the opportunity "to get history from experts such as Vinson Synan; to get statistics from Todd Johnson (Director of the Center of Global Christianity); to hear the voices of students; and, to affirm the things that have been good in the Pentecostal movement." He said, "I believe Converge21 is the beginning of an intentional conversation."
The stated focus of the C21 event was "the future of the Spirit-empowered movement in the United States with all its dimensions...including the social justice/righteousness dimension." According to Billy Wilson, E21 Executive Director, in an interview, one prayer for this event was that those attending would "connect together across denominational, generational and occupational lines for the purpose of God's work in the twenty-first century." The four-day event consisted of several general sessions, numerous scholarly presentations and inter-generational dialogue.
"It is rare to get academicians and practitioners at this level together," said Lois Olena, Executive Director of SPS. While the two co-sponsoring organizations, the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) and Empowered 21 (E21), embrace similar objectives and networks, SPS has the longer history.
Three men founded SPS in 1970: William Menzies of the Assemblies of God, Vinson Synan of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and Horace Ward of the Church of God. Created with the intent "to serve the church world by providing an authoritative interpretation of the Pentecostal Movement," the Society has focused on bringing scholarship to Pentecostalism. Membership, now over 600, comprises every major Christian denomination. Olena says that "SPS is a global organization. It includes representatives from North America, Asia, Africa, South America and Europe." The general sessions at C21 included several break-out discussions designed to bring blended dialogue among the diverse groups.
The other sponsoring organization, E21, emerged from a network of leaders who facilitated and hosted the Azusa Street Centennial (celebrating the Azusa Revival, cited by most Pentecostals as the fountainhead of modern-day Pentecostalism) in Los Angeles in April of 2006. In 2008, a newly formed board of trustees at Oral Roberts University and the International Center for Spiritual Renewal launched the E21 movement. Since then, E21 has held numerous gatherings of Pentecostal and Charismatic influencers around the world, including one in April 2010 in Tulsa, Oklahoma that drew over 10,000 people from 95 nations. More recently (October 2011), the E21 Asia Congress was held in Jakarta, Indonesia, with over 14,000 from 49 countries. In many cases these events represent the first time leaders of the Spirit-filled movement in these regions have networked in this way. E21 has already developed regional cabinets in eleven parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, USA, and the Caribbean.
Growth & Changes
Several intentional and strategic goals were acknowledged at the Converge21 event:
An Increased Breadth of Organizational Involvement. The keynote speakers for this event included denominational leaders, youth evangelists, pastors and scholars. Among them: Anne Gimenez, Senior Pastor of Rock Church; Nick Hall, founder and chief communicator of PULSE, the largest student-led prayer and outreach effort in America; Jack Hayford, author and Chancellor of King's University; Alex Hurt, pastor and community leader from Boston; Cheryl Johns, a professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary; Ron Luce, Founder of Teen Mania Ministries; James Robison, Founder and President of LIFE Outreach International; Dario Lopez Rodriguez, the President of the National Evangelical Outreach of Peru; Samuel Rodriguez, President of the NHCLC; and George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
In his keynote address in the Thursday morning session, Wood cited "Seven Challenges Facing Pentecostals Today." His areas of concern included: evangelism, compassion, holiness, religious freedom, unity, civility, renewing Pentecostal identity, and the overreliance upon technology. While Pentecostals face "many challenges in the twenty-first century," he said, "our movement is not a setting sun, but a rising sun."