On April 9, 2021, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) hosted its first in-person conference in a post-COVID-19 world. This past Friday, TGC’s women’s conference (TGCW21) that was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic had over 3,300 in attendance and over 5,500 streaming it online. And on Monday, TGC21 kicked off its in-person conference with over 2,500 people attending live in Indianapolis and another 2,300 attending virtually.
It has been well over a year since the pandemic put an abrupt halt to the majority of large social gatherings all around the world, especially here within the United States. Church worship gatherings, concerts, small group Bible studies, and conferences canceled early last year; some of which haven’t returned to in-person gatherings still today. With everything turning into entirely virtual, even concerts, it was completely unknown when humanity would start to return to what resembled pre-COVID-19 normal.
The TGCW21 theme was Steadfast: A Women’s Conference on the Book of James and featured keynote and breakout speakers Jackie Hill Perry, K.A. Ellis, Jen Wilkin, and Nancy Guthrie. The TGC21 theme was Jesus Is Greater and featured keynote and breakout speakers Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, David Platt, Tim Keller, John Onwuchekwa, Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, H.B. Charles, and Sam Allberry.
The Gospel Coalition’s President Julius Kim said in his TGC21 opening remarks. “I can’t believe that we’re back together after all that we’ve gone through after these last 12 months….Having been isolated from Christian community for long stretches of time, we’ve been stretched and our spiritual health has suffered…to gather like this is such a blessing.” Kim thought he was going to die after a long hard fight with the COVID-19 virus in 2020 and called it one of the most challenging years of his life. Encouraging the live crowd and those streaming the event, he said, “The challenges that are facing us right now are great, but friends, Jesus is greater!”
Director of Communications and senior editor for The Gospel Coalition, Brett McCracken spoke to ChurchLeaders.com. He said that in the fall of 2020 as they prepared for TGC’s men’s and women’s conference, they planned to offer both in-person and online options since they did not know what April of 2021 would hold. In December 2020, TGC launched registration for the events with the message, “Register now for TGC21 and decide later whether you want to attend in person or online.”
“We were hopeful the COVID numbers would decrease, vaccinations would increase, and more and more people would feel comfortable (and hungry!) for an in-person conference,” McCracken said, “Thankfully, they did!”
TGC’s operation and event staff have worked closely with the city of Indianapolis and the Indiana Convention Center to follow safety protocols, McCracken shared. “They have done a stellar job,” pulling off a top-notch conference during a pandemic, including state-of-the-art innovations in the virtual conference experience. TGC’s senior editor said, “While the pandemic forced these online innovations, some of them will probably be things we continue for future, post-pandemic events.”
Responding to possible critics who will question TGC for taking the risk of hosting an in-person conference during a pandemic, McCracken told ChurchLeaders.com, “I hope we have proven that events like this can be safely held. The Indiana Convention Center—which had just played host to the NCAA basketball tournament before our conferences—boasts that it has held conferences and events regularly in this facility since July 2020 with no known COVID-19 spread. They have been professional, careful, and a great venue partner for us. Registrants and speakers have felt safe. This can be done! And there is a hunger for it. After more than a year without gatherings like this, people are hungry for fellowship. That was evident in the atmosphere at both our conferences. Abiding by all state and local public health guidelines, we were thrilled to be able to serve our conference guests with a safe and memorable experience.”
The Gospel Coalition Conferences Create a Safe Environment
The men’s and women’s conferences have taken extreme caution and are going to great lengths to ensure the safety of its attendees. TGC requires each attendee to daily complete a five COVID-19 health related questionnaire that identifies any symptoms or known contact with someone recently who has tested positive for the virus. Attendees are given a different colored bracelet like the one below each day after they have their cleared personal health assessment.
TGC attendees are required to keep their masks (face coverings) on at all times while in the convention center–even while singing. TGC event coordinators set up directional markers throughout the entire conference area to help promote and enact social distancing.
The rows of seats set up in the speaking areas are strategically arranged to promote 6 feet of distance between those attending both in front, behind, and between the aisles.
Other Conferences Postponed, Cancelled, and Continuing
The United Methodist General Conference that was cancelled last year has already decided to postpone their annual event due to the ongoing pandemic. The conference is now scheduled to take place on Aug. 29-Sept. 6, 2022 in Minneapolis.
California’s Grace Community Church and senior pastor John MacArthur decided in early February 2021 to postpone their annual Shepherd’s Conference that is attended by 3,000 males each year because of “threats” the church received from the county of Los Angeles and the State of California.
The Southern Baptist Convention, which cancelled its annual meeting last year is currently planning to meet on June 15-16 in Nashville, Tennessee. The committee continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation and assesses advice from health officials.