ROCHESTER, N.Y.—“It is less painful not to grow and change than it is to change for sake of growth,” says David Whiting. “But if we’re not making more disciples, we’re failing. If we’re not making better disciples, we’re failing. We’ll risk our preferences, we’ll risk our reputations, we’ll risk people leaving our church, we’ll risk losing a lot of money. . . . And as pastors, we’ll risk our very jobs.”

This year’s 16:5 Conference focused on “Risking Change.” Whiting, pastor of conference host Northridge Church, sees change as inevitable in local church life.

“The mission can’t change, but the culture does change.” Thus, Whiting prescribes, “The way we carry out the mission must change. In the coming decades, your church will face deep, painful change or slow, painful death.”

Northridge desires to share its own journey of change and growth through the 16:5 Conference. Now in its third year, the two-day gathering has doubled in attendance from 180 to 360. Northridge is grateful for the extension of “more and better disciples” into other congregations, with 62 churches sending attendees this year.

“We love churches that are making deep, painful change,” says Whiting. “We have seen God do great things at Northridge—beyond our wildest dreams—and we long to see it happening in all churches that share our theology. We long for those who attend the 16:5 Conference to lose sleep over the Great Commission, to be relentless evaluators of what they are doing, and to pursue God’s glory by bearing much fruit.”

Church groups came from as far away as Kansas and Iowa. Lee Kliewer took the pastorate of Walnut Ridge Baptist, Waterloo, one year ago. He and 16 others from Walnut Ridge made the trek to Rochester.

“We are working toward a strategic plan for more and better followers in our own community,” says Kliewer. “Even when transitioning to Walnut Ridge, I knew that the 16:5 Conference would be a helpful tool for our leaders to attend together. At other conferences, we might have to recast a theological point because of doctrinal differences, but at the 16:5 Conference, we can be confident in the sound doctrine, and the effective ministry that sound doctrine produces.”

The 16:5 Conference is not only building up other churches, but also building into seminarians through a partnership with Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa. BBS is offering course credit for men who attended and will now complete collateral reading and reports. Ten students took up the opportunity, and Paul Golden, director of enrollment services, is encouraged.

“It’s easy for seminarians to tend toward the academic side of the spectrum,” Golden says. “Attending a conference like the 16:5 Conference helps the student see the outcomes and results of his study. Ultimately we want our seminary graduates to lead ministries that are balanced in their doctrine and evangelistic efforts.”

Joel Dunlap is associate pastor of Walnut Ridge Baptist Church, Waterloo, Iowa.