Like so many recent conferences taking place around the world, the Orlando get-together was superb for several reasons. First, those who attended truly wanted to be there. I was present at the 2003 event, attended by around 500 persons. It was a wonderful time of learning and fellowship. The word spread about the excellent program in 2003, and this year's attendance saw nearly 1500 registered participants, and some 2400 present for the Sunday service! At the SEFBC, the buzz in the air was constant. There was a sense of, "We're all just sinners saved by grace, motivated by his love to do his will" (Titus 2:11-14).
Moreover, I'm hearing great things about conferences all over the world (Seattle, Chicago, Columbus... Europe, Asia...) But you didn't have to leave Orlando to get the international feel! By my count, there were brothers and sisters there from: Bolivia, Russia, Haiti, Chile, Venezuela, and Brazil! U.S. participants came from Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Birmingham, Knoxville, Boston, Richmond, Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, and Athens!
One amazing thing about this conference is that it was planned and executed by younger Christians--in their teens and early 20s. They said they had been missing the excitement and relationship-building of Christianity, and were eager to design a conference to meet these needs amidst a time of transition. (It was very well done indeed!)
Second, while a good deal of biblical teaching and direction was given through the many classes--offered by a number of teachers from North & South America--this conference "breathed." All sessions were "optional." I know that may sound a bit strange, so let me explain. You attended the classes you wanted to attend. You weren't looked down on if you chose to fellowship or rest during some of the periods. (Still, most people seemed bent on attending everything!)
The third thing I loved about the SEFBC was the fellowship. Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, meeting new ones, and... "eating together with glad and sincere hearts"! (Something of which all true Christians apparently are eternally fond!) And speaking of fellowship, it was exhilarating to hear of new church plantings--scheduled, for example, for such U.S. cities as Sarasota, Florida, and secondary and tertiary plantings in such foreign nations as Bolivia and the Ivory Coast. We even learned of one brother recently baptized from Easter Island ! In other words, churches are not just becoming mutual admiration societies. There is an outward focus. Missions are not dead. Rethinking, regrouping, reorganizing--yes--but not reneging on our common Christian commitment.
Also in relation to fellowship, Roger Lamb presented www.DisciplesToday.net. (Check it out.) He stressed that we have a real need for connection (as opposed to direction). These words resonated with everyone.
Finally, the South East Family Bible Conference really was for families. We took our entire family of five to Orlando. (That's right, we gave Disney a miss. Plenty of fun in the hotel and with the conference people!) The older children enjoyed the "teen and campus track." (They didn't even mind getting up for the 7:15 am devotionals!) Our youngest enjoyed being with the family. We spent time with many dear friends. I must say, the hotel pool also brought a good deal of joy to the family. In fact, this WAS our family vacation for 2004. If you're looking ahead to 2005, may I suggest you plan to attend the 3rd annual SEFBC? You will not be disappointed.