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Back in 2003, the popular Christian metal band Stryper was having a reunion tour. I remember making the 5 and ½ hour drive from Atlanta to the Murray Hill Theater in Jacksonville just to see them in concert. This venue was the size of a community theatre since that is what it used to be. There was standing room only for the concert and I had a great time reminiscing about the times I heard their songs while skating at Sparkles during Christian Skate Night.
Stryper was the band that went against the status quo for Christian bands. Much like Petra, they preached the Gospel through music and suffered the ridicule of the local church because the parents were afraid that their kids were being led down the wrong path. They sounded like the secular metal bands, but they wrote wholesome lyrics that pointed the listeners to Christ. During the 1980s, there were several bands like Stryper, but none were as successful. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see them in concert until the reunion tour, but this concert was awesome! They played all the favorites and I sang at the top of my lungs until my voice gave out, and then I kept singing anyway!
The concert was everything I hoped it would be, but it was not the same as the bigger venues they used to play.
Although it would have been great to see them at Atlanta’s Fox Theater back in 1988, they were still great at the smaller venue. Unfortunately, there were some fans at the Murray Hill Theater who didn’t feel the same way. A few of them talked about how great it was to see them back then and how insulting it was to see them in such a small venue for their reunion tour. They deserved much better than the Murray Hill Theater. I decided not to argue because they clearly had their minds made up and I had nothing to compare my experience to.
In 2005, I had the pleasure of being able to experience the North American Christian Convention (NACC) for the first time. This was the year they decided to have regionals so there were different locations all over the country. I went to the one in Jacksonville, and it was a good crowd although it was only a fraction of the crowd that shows up when the NACC meets in one location. I had a great time, but the next year was much more exciting.
The following year was my favorite because we extended an invitation to the Acapella branch of the movement. 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the official split that came as a result of the census. We decided that it was time to celebrate what we had in common instead of focusing on our differences. I don’t remember the attendance numbers for that year, but the convention center was packed!
My greatest memory from the 2006 NACC was the main session worship which consisted of local praise bands, college choirs, acapella singing to go along with the traditional hymns and praise songs! It truly was a gathering of churches as every area of the country showed up for this convention. In my opinion, this was the standard for the NACC and I measure every other year according to 2006.
My favorite year was 2006, but I understand that the NACC had bigger crowds and made headlines in local news as far back as the 1920s.
I remember researching the old Christian Standard magazines from the mid-1900s, and there were pictures of the NACC that made our recent conventions look like the Murray Hill Theater. That must have been some amazing years for the NACC! This was one of those moments when I wish the DeLorean was available so I could visit those conventions.
After seeing what the convention used to look like, I could be tempted to get depressed or speak out against the present leaders of the NACC. However, I am not going to blame the leadership for the hard times that have come upon us because the truth is that there are multiple reasons why the attendance numbers are not what they used to be.
The NACC is in a time of transition. For better or for worse, we are at a crossroads that does not look good in either direction. If we take one road, part of the movement will be mad at us while taking the other road will cause the other parts to come unglued. I do not envy the “Powers that be” for the decisions that need to be made because there is no possible solution that will satisfy every church at the same time.
For this reason, I would like to encourage all of us to pray for the NACC especially for the staff and those in leadership. Instead of criticizing the convention, we should be praying for the people. Most of the leadership are made up of volunteers who already have full plates of responsibility at home. Why do they continue leading the NACC? They love the churches, they love the convention, and they don’t want to see our great movement suffer because of division and strife.
Nobody knows what the future will bring, but this much we do know: The churches will need a gathering that will keep us united as move forward with the Great Commission. The NACC can be that gathering as long as we show up.