More than 12,600 students from 32 states and five nations jammed into an Atlanta-area arena, raising $57,000 for abused women and the homeless during a four-day Christian conference. The Forward Conference 2019 was held June 27-30 at Infinite Energy Center in Duluth and hosted by Free Chapel, a multi-campus church in Gainesville.
“When students are given more than just rules and regulations and given the opportunity to really make a difference in the world, I have found time after time they rise to the occasion,” Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, told Fox News.
The 15thannual event featured music sets and faith-based messages from some of the most prominent Christian bands and speakers. This year’s lineup included Hillsong Worship, Passion, Bethel, and the band from Free Chapel. Featured speakers included Carl Lentz of Hillsong NYC, DawnChere Wilkerson of VOUS Church in Miami and Levi Lusko of Fresh Life Church, a network of congregations based out of Kalispell, Montana.
“The culture of Forward Conference is one that students know they’re going to have fun, they’re going to hear great music and great bands and they’re going to hear relevant messages to their life,” Franklin told the Gwinnett Daily Post. “Someone is going to talk to them about where they’re living now and how do you flesh out the walk of Christ.”
One of the highlights of this year’s conference was a partnership with New Beginnings, a ministry for women in inner-city Atlanta and with the Dream Center, which works with homeless families, many dealing with addiction issues. During the conference, students heard transformational stories from New Beginnings clients who had been delivered from addiction and abuse.
“Why not use what has been provided for you?” Speaker Lentz asked as a challenge to the students. “Why do we do things on our own? The next chapter of your faith starts with a renewed desire to get to know the Holy Spirit. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to refresh us every day.”
The messages resonated with students.
“It’s different than any other conference,” Michael Drawdy, an Augusta, Georgia resident, said. “Any other conference preaches the same thing. … Forward is about people getting their lives right and delivered.”
Drawdy was attending his fifth conference with several friends.
“It’s about students. … They come here and see there is life with ministry,” the teen said.
Reggie Dabbs, the conference emcee, agreed.
“What we’re doing stretches far beyond these walls,” said Dabbs, a motivational speaker who has worked with teens for three decades.
Photo courtesy: James Owen/Unsplash
Lori Arnold is a national award-winning journalist whose experience includes 16 years at a daily community newspaper in San Diego and 16 years as writer-editor for the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and is a member of the Evangelical Press Association.