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Newcomers, young adults embrace black church conf.

[SLIDESHOW=45594,45595,45596,45597]RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — Ryan Littlejohn of Wichita, Kan., attended his first Black Church Leadership and Family Conference July 17-21 after hearing a glowing report of the previous year’s gathering.

“I came because my pastor (Tarrance C. Floyd) and first lady (Jacqueline Floyd) came last year, and they just really, really loved what this place offered and everything they learned,” Littlejohn told Baptist Press on the grounds of Ridgecrest Conference Center, the site of the annual event. “And they shared it with the congregation, and a group of eight of us came here, based on just what they said. We came and it’s been everything and more thus far. I’m just excited and really learning a lot here.”

An evangelism leader in his mid-30s, Littlejohn was among 30 percent of the nearly 950 attendees who were newcomers to the 2017 event, according to conference host LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I just love coming together with fellow believers and then just all the things you’re adding to what you already know,” Littlejohn said. “And it just has so much to add to your life and to your ministries, and even opening your eyes up to some future things and more things that you can do, not just what you’re doing now.”

Littlejohn also is among a growing demographic of millennials and young adults the conference is attracting, said Mark Croston, LifeWay’s national director for black church partnerships.

“We have been trying to be more intentional about adding classes and activities focused on this important growth area,” Croston said. “Among the activities are our evening Young Adult Coffee Houses, a zip line course and laser tag, to mention a few. Joseph Howard, youth pastor, Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, Rockmart, Ga., led our young adult efforts this year and the group has given us even more engaging activities we are already planning for 2018.”

Young adults could be seen participating in various conference sessions, including a small group of about 15 who participated in the post-evening worship coffee house discussions on contemporary topics and issues important to the demographic.

Racial reconciliation, sexual orientation and gender identity, the black church and politics, and the biblical call to protect life at every stage comprised a conference track of classes focusing on contemporary issues. Classes were categorized into nearly 30 tracks, including the Bible, church growth, evangelism, personal finance, missions, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, and seminary-level instruction and discussion.

“What makes this conference unique is that there really is something for the entire church family,” Croston told BP. “As we plan, we specifically pray and plan to meet the current needs of our church leaders and the age-appropriate needs of their families. This event is information, inspiration, exhilaration and relaxation all wrapped up in one.”

Attendance included 705 adults, about 170 sixth- through 12th-graders enrolled in Centrifuge camp (Fuge), and 50 children through fifth grade enrolled in preschool and day camp.

A week of events specifically designed for children culminated with a children’s choral performance including Spanish and sign language during the July 20 evening worship service, under the direction of children’s music leader Russell M. Andrews, minister of music of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va. He also led 6:15 a.m. daily praise and worship.

Fuge camp pastor Al Hollie, youth pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., along with Fuge director Bianca Howard, children and youth minister of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and Fuge worship leader Vernon Gordon, pastor of New Life Church in Richmond, Va., conveyed the enthusiasm of camp participants with a video and verbal reports after the children’s choral performance. A liturgical dance performance by Calvary’s Anointed Mime & Vessels of Praise Dance Ministry of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., encompassed children and youth.

Evening preachers were Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md.; Eric Geiger, vice president of the resources division of LifeWay; Peter Wherry, senior pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.; and Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Mountain View, Calif.

Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., led conference-wide adult Bible study daily at 11 a.m., adapted from LifeWay’s You curriculum tailored for urban audiences.

The North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board jointly hosted a complimentary dinner emphasizing stateside and international Southern Baptist missions.

Other Key speakers among a team of more than 50 included Kim Hardy, co-founder of Married with Purpose and Passion and wife of the pastor of LifePoint Church, Marietta, Ga.; Tamiko Jones, a Woman’s Missionary Union consultant and minister of missions and young adults at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas; Jerome Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa.; and Frederick A. Davis, senior pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.

Roy Cotton II, director of music and creative arts at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, led evening worship, joined by his wife Niya Cotton, worship leader of Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas.

The Black Denominational Servants Network, open to African American Southern Baptists employed by SBC entities, Southern Baptist state conventions and associations and WMU, held its annual business meeting during the conference.

Registration has already begun for the 2018 conference, scheduled July 16-20 at Ridgecrest.

Read BP’s previous story on the 2017 conference here.