“I don’t mean to be overly dramatic,” says the Rev. Keith Gunter, planning chairperson for the upcoming 1001 New Worshiping Communities National Conference, August 10-13 in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

“But this year, gathering together for the 1001 conference has the potential to be one of the most impactful things that could happen.”

Gunter pastors New Creation Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.

He will open the conference Monday night with a message on the conference theme “Pursued by Grace” which came to the planning team nearly a year ago.

As a small group of church planters and 1001 worshiping community members shared devotions, prayed, studied and swapped stories they kept coming to a simple, yet, for them, profound conclusion. While conferences are a great place to learn, the reason they were attending was for relationships.

“When we heard the words from Psalm 23:6, ‘Surely goodness and unfailing love pursue me every day of my life,’ we all went, ‘wow, that’s it,’” says Gunter.

“The act of God pursuing us in this way, resonated with the conflict, hurt and struggle inherent in our church planting and new ministry work.”

The idea, Gunter says, is for conference participants to pursue relationships with the others, through the experience of God’s pursuit of them—with grace and love. They also support each other, in worship and prayer, in what often is described as “a lonely journey.”

Along with the “Pursued by Grace” theme, Gunter says 1001 conference planners were intentional in exploring creative ways God was at work, across languages and cultures, in new ministry settings.

“For that to happen it became critical for us to have as much diversity as possible,” he says. “The nature of our ministry dictates that there be a mutual partnership of learning and journeying together across any language and cultural barriers.”

“When we come to the table, we don’t have the same story of context or culture,” Gunter says. “So when we our sisters and brothers speak of unique, creative and exciting ministry happening in racial ethnic communities, we go ‘yes! I could take a of nugget of that and try it in my setting.’”

The desire to continue developing diversity at the 1001 conference led to partnership with Racial Ethnic and Women’s ministries. Ministry Director the Rev. Dr. Rhashell D. Hunter is the conference’s opening plenary speaker.

Additionally, the African Immigrant Transformational Leadership, the Hispanic Continuing Education Seminars, the Korean Pastors, and Brazilian Leadership will meet for language specific learning.

“This allowed us to create great diversity among our conference leaders,” says Gunter. “From plenary, to worship, to workshops—all of them are doing incredibly new and exciting ministry in a variety of cultures, languages and contexts.”

The value of the diverse body of Christ working alongside one other hit home with Gunter a few years ago. At the 1001 conference, a Latino Hispanic worship team sang a song they were passionate about.

“Usually you have to dial it back a bit,” says Gunter. “People like to sing songs they’re familiar with. But because of the spirit, the leadership, the excitement and desire in that place—it actually elevated the energy in the room.”

Which is why Gunter would like to encourage every new church coach and planter to come to this conference for an experience of being part of the body of Christ across all barriers.

“My understanding of ‘Pursued by Grace’ is this is the type of attitude each Christian should have towards people in the world,” says the Rev. Almir Dias, Portuguese Congregational Support, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries.

“While we [Brazilian Leadership] are focused on Evangelism, the most important thing for all human beings is interpersonal relationships,” he says. “This conference is great opportunity for us to become closer to each other and share our experiences as servants of Christ.”

“If we ever needed each other it is now,” says Gunter who is building his Monday evening, August 10, opening message around the theme of relationship.

“Even in the wilderness, in the deep, dark, uncertain places, God’s unfailing goodness and love pursues us—this is what we can offer each other at the conference.”

Editors Note: The $290 registration rate for the 1001 New Worshiping Communities National Conference is good until July 4. Learn more and register here.