During the five-hour ride down from upstate New York to yesterday's Christian conference in Lutherville, Jay LaScolea was looking forward to gaining some information - and some inspiration.
By lunchtime at the one-day conference for pastors and church leaders at Trinity Assembly of God, he was declaring the trip worth the trouble.
"Just the passion these guys have to reach 1 billion souls, it's incredible," said LaScolea, a staff pastor at Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, N.Y. "I'm fired up."
Pastors and church leaders from New York to Virginia converged on Lutherville to learn about the Billion Soul Harvest, a campaign seeking 1 billion conversions to Christianity worldwide in the next decade.
Baltimore was the second of seven stops in the United States for the project, which organizers are calling the most aggressive evangelistic thrust in Christian history. Starting next year, Global Pastors Network, a coalition representing more than 80 mostly evangelical or charismatic denominations, is planning to take the effort overseas - to Europe and Africa in 2006, and Asia and Latin America in 2007.
"We're trying to awaken a sleeping giant," said Ed Russo, pastor of Victorious Life Church in Tampa, Fla. "America was viewed as a country that exported the Gospel. We've lost that edge."
The campaign follows the vision of Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. It was Bright, following the Great Commission - the New Testament injunction to spread the Gospel - who before his death in 2003 set the goals of 1 billion conversions and 5 million new churches. A church-planting congress of more than 500 church leaders from 72 nations in Dallas in September launched the effort.
"In order to finish the assignment of the Great Commission, we have to work harder and work together," Global Pastors Network President James O. Davis said after that meeting. "If the church continues not to synergize efforts together, the Great Commission will not be fulfilled for more than 300 years from now."
With the number of adherents estimated at more than 2 billion, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Organizers of the Billion Soul Harvest, who include representatives of the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene and Southern Baptist Convention, are strategizing over a globe divided into more than 4,100 "Omega Zones" - clusters of up to 3 million people - in an effort to reach the rest.
"Instead of going someplace we've already been 19 times, couldn't we go to where we've never been yet?" Davis asked.
Global Pastors Network was founded in 2001 in part in reaction to statistics indicating that fewer than 10 percent of pastors in the world had seminary, college or other formal training, but more than 80 percent had access to e-mail. The coalition has posted more than 125 courses in the Bible, church ministry, Christian home and Christian life online.
"Great things are being launched from America," said David Soprepena, general superintendent of Assemblies of God in the Philippines. "They're great at humanitarian aid. Couple that with the spread of the Gospel, and I think that's a great combination."
Soprepena, pastor of a church in Quezon City with more than 20,000 members, hopes to start 5,000 more congregations in the Philippines. The Asian nation, for centuries a Spanish possession, remains more than 80 percent Roman Catholic.
"They are the ones we want to see born again," Soprepena said. "And the Muslim population."
Hundreds came to Trinity Assembly of God yesterday morning for talks on improving communication and creativity, character and commitment in their local churches. More were expected in the evening.
In a sanctuary hung with flags from China, Pakistan, Cuba and other nations, presenter Chris Long of the Christian company Integrity Music spoke of living the Gospel by spreading the Gospel.
"The start of worship is evangelism," he said. "Evangelism always leads to worship. Worship always leads back to evangelism."