A diverse crowd of people from various ethnicities flocked from over 70 local churches to a New York megachurch for one of the world's largest Christian leadership conferences. The New York church was just one example of what became a diverse national turnout, according to local and national event coordinators. Over the past weekend, approximately 54,000 people registered.
"Latinos, Caucasians, African Americans, Asians, Africans, African Caribbean, pretty much all of them were here. That was across the board - across the country," said Jeffrey Utsey, 45, a staff member with the megachurch, Christian Cultural Center, one of New York's largest, seating 10-12,000 worshippers every Sunday.
Launched ten years ago by one church, Willow Creek Community Church, the Leadership Summit has spread to over 110 satellite locations across the U.S. and Canada through the use of broadcasting technology.
The annual event gathers some of the top-name leaders in Christianity. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Leadership Summit, and 11 motivational speakers from both a Christian and a non-Biblical perspective presented a spectrum of views.
They include Bill Hybels pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Bible Church, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, Mosa Sono, a pastor of a South African megachurch, John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Curtis Sliwa, Eleanor Josaitis, Jack Groppel, Henry Cloud, and president of Southwest Airlines, Colleen Barrett.
The message for the attendants watching the satellite broadcast on huge screens was singular: churches must have effective leadership.
According to Hybels, who also leads a worldwide network of over 10,500 churches, "Leadership in church is one of the biggest challenges that the Church is facing because without strong leadership, the church rarely lives out its redemptive potentials."
"The church needs to be more attentive to its mission, building up individuals to go to the world," said Utsey.
The overall response was very positive, according to two local churches in New York and in San Francisco Bay Area, both with high attendance levels in the 400-500 range.
Some leaders have attributed the reason for the large turnout to the usefulness of the information.
"The leaders who attend year after year say [the conference] is the key ingredient in their annual cycle. It's what God uses the most to keep honing their leadership skills, keep them improving in how they build teams, cast vision, engineer change, and all of that," said John Westfall, pastor of Walnut Creek Church in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Similarly, Utsey said, "They could use the information that they were receiving." "It caused them to evaluate the way they do church."