Retain Reclaim - 2018
7th March 2018
At perhaps the coldest weekend of the year and with the most snow-ridden roads, over 250 people still made their way to attend the 'Retain Reclaim' conference organised by the British Union Conference (BUC) Evangelism department.
It was a true testimony to the commitment and determination of the attendees to brave the weather and treacherous roads, in order to be part of a weekend experience that focused on reclamation and retention. The conference, held at the popular De Vere Hotel in Staverton, Northamptonshire, from Friday 2 to Sunday 4 March, provided a top line-up of over 10 overseas speakers including main speaker Dr Duane McKey, recently appointed as the new President of Adventist World Radio and Pastor Gary Blanchard, the General Conference Youth director.
BUC Evangelism director Dr Kirk Thomas, grappled with the thought of cancelling the weekend due to bad weather, but when all the overseas guest speakers arrived in the country and a cohort of registered attendees expressing their interest in still wanting to come, the decision was to go ahead encouraging those to attend only if it was safe to do so. Over the Friday evening, increasingly numbers of people showed up, providing a spiritual depiction of the desire needed to make sacrifices to reach and reclaim those who had left the Church. Some arrived on time travelling from as far as Scotland. Another attendee, whose wife had recently passed away, who had been booked with him, felt it necessary to attend and represent her commitment in still attending. Pastor Jeff Couzins from the Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool churches, only the week before had broken his arm, but still attended, taking with him a number of representatives from his churches.
So, in the midst of surmounting obstacles to be a part of a weekend of training, attendees reflected a spirit of resilience and defiance that they believed would benefit them greatly to become better leaders and exemplars in the process of membership retention.
And they were not disappointed. The weekend commenced with the welcome and introductions by event organiser Dr Kirk Thomas, who made everyone truly welcomed recognising the great efforts it took for people to be there. Dr McKey led the Friday evening open plenary in a heart-warming presentation on the need to be intergenerational in how we do ministry in our churches. This was a theme that was developed by Pastor Gary Blanchard on Sabbath morning who spoke of the importance of involving the youth. Reclaiming lost members would be futile if we got it right in the beginning by ensuring our youth are involved, ministered to and empowered. "When youth feel they belong then they will believe" was a nugget of truth that was shared by Blanchard.
Throughout the weekend prayer was made to be a focal point. These six breakout 'prayer points' sessions over the weekend encouraged attendees to pray on certain areas of soul winning and reclamation within the BUC. There was also a dedicated prayer room that was open from 6:30 am each morning and was available throughout the day.
A host of other guest speakers led out in various workshops: Trans-European Division Youth director Pastor Zlatko Musija spoke on 'How to Build Nurturing Intergenerational Church Communities'; Pastor Ramón Canals Director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department of the General Conference gave workshops on 'Relationships: Key to Reclaiming and Retaining in the Church'. Pastor Jim Howard, Associate Director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department spoke on 'Systematic Discipleship', whilst Dr Samuel Telemaque, Director for Adventist Mission and Sabbath School from the Inter-American Division spoke on 'How to Restore Former Members to Fellowship'.
Dr Jeff Brown, a welcome speaker and former minister in the North England Conference, returned as one of the evening speakers, now representing the General Conference as Associate Secretary of the Ministerial Association and Associate Editorof Ministry magazine.
Attendees were not disappointed in options for seminars and quality presenters. Speakers local to the BUC contributed equally to the positive array of teaching; BUC Ministerial director, Pastor Eglan Brooks, South England Conference directors, Anthony Fuller and Michael Mbui all contributed to an appreciative audience.
Challenging issues over the weekend were addressed such as an analysis on why people leave the Church, factors that need to be in place to stem the tide of apostasy, and hearing about the initiatives and case studies where churches and groups have been successful in reclaiming and retaining their church members.
With fellowship over meals, the sharing of experiences and making new friends, the weekend proved to be an event worth attending, which was reflected by the many positive comments that were made towards the end. One attendee from Sheffield remarked, "I was in two minds whether to come, but I decided to at the last moment, and I am truly grateful that I did. It's been an amazing weekend, I have learnt so much that I will take away with me to my local church." Another attendee from Reading Central simply said, "I got what I was looking for, there was a reason why I was here, I thank God."
In reflecting on the weekend, Dr Kirk Thomas, in his trademark broad smile said, "I am very pleased at the way things went, we were not sure how things would shape up with the bad weather, but I have been encouraged by the commitment and support given by people who came from all over the country. This weekend touched on a very important theme which I hope those who attended will now go back to their churches and share with their fellow members and lead by example."