April 25, 2024

‘What’s in Your Hand?’ eHuddle Inspires Attendees Toward Creative Evangelism

Presenters encouraged church growth through finding strengths, using technology, and community engagement.

Christelle Agboka, North American Division
The 2024 eHuddle, an evangelism and leadership think tank hosted by the North American Division (NAD) Ministerial Association featured presenters from the NAD and South Pacific Division (SPD). Pictured, left to right, are Isaac Ibarra (NAD), Brendan Pratt, Patrice Patel, and Andrew Hoeflich (all from SPD), being interviewed by Gerardo Oudri, NAD Ministerial Association associate director for resources. Photo: Merari Medina

For 15 years, Samoan-born New Zealander Andrew Hoeflich was known citywide as “the guy who beats everybody up” — a bouncer and street fighter. Then, an unexpected Bible study invitation led him back to Jesus — and the calling he’d rejected. 

A transformed Hoeflich decided to channel his fighting ability into ministry. Offering free kickboxing classes for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in exchange for 30 minutes studying in the Word helped him cultivate “a solid community.”

Today, Hoeflich is the community pastor at Papatoetoe Seventh-day Adventist Church in Auckland, New Zealand. He ministers to at-risk populations, including gangsters, youth, former prisoners, and drug dealers through sports and mentorship programs, followed by Bible study.

Hoeflich’s testimony was a highlight of the 2024 eHuddle or “evangelism huddle,” an annual evangelism and leadership think tank hosted by the North American Division (NAD) Ministerial Association. From February 26 to 28, nearly 200 pastors and other leaders gathered at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida, with thousands more watching via Facebook and YouTube

Attendees benefited from presentations by practitioners across North America and, new this year, the South Pacific Division, along with engaging panels and roundtable discussions. All eHuddle content illustrated the NAD’s definition of evangelism and six evangelism actions — love, serve, baptize, equip, plant, and revitalize. It also promoted the notion of evangelism as a lifestyle, not an event.

Ben Guerrero, pastor of Whittier Seventh-day Adventist Church in California, said, “[The eHuddle] revitalized my walk with Christ, hearing testimonies [from] different speakers and ministries. It brought more passion.”

NAD Churches’ Reality Check

In a church health report, Jose Cortés Jr., NAD Ministerial Association associate director, shared that, with 39,000 baptisms, “2023 was the best year [for growth] in North America since 2011.” However, per attendance-based metrics, many churches in North America are declining.

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Jose Cortés Jr., NAD Ministerial Association associate director and organizer of the 2024 eHuddle, spoke with attendees about the health of the division’s churches and the NAD’s Pentecost 2025 proclamation initiative. Photo: Merari Medina

Cortés cautioned that the average church has a lifespan of 80 to 100 years. Thus, without “baby churches, our church will disappear.” 

Michael Campbell, NAD director of Archives, Statistics, and Research, pushed for innovative approaches to engaging the 28 percent of U.S. adults, primarily millennials and members of Generation Z, who are religiously unaffiliated. He underscored the importance of discipleship and retention, as the world church loses 4.25 people per 10 newcomers. 

Finally, he said, of 2023 growth, “We can celebrate [that], but we can do better.”

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Nearly 200 pastors and other church leaders present at the NAD Ministerial Association’s 2024 eHuddle were challenged to consider ways to implement the best practices shared there in their contexts. Photo: Merari Medina

Leveraging Technology for Soul-Winning

Heather Thompson Day, an Andrews University communication professor, noted that since 2000, or “the mobile era,” the human attention span has declined from 12 seconds to eight. “By the way, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds,” she said. 

“How do we evangelize in a world where our attention span is eight seconds long?” she asked. She suggested that Christ-centered communication has the power to break strongholds. 

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Heather Thompson Day, Andrews University communication professor and presenter at the NAD Ministerial Association's 2024 eHuddle, in a moment of praise and reflection. Photo: Merari Medina

Day then shared Barna’s findings that among teens who believed church was unimportant, 61 percent said, “I find God elsewhere.” 

Her response: “Social media. Welcome to elsewhere.”

Day’s presentation was the first of many proposing that communication and technology are not tools for evangelism — they are evangelism. Related talks encompassed leveraging AI for online evangelism (e.g., www.canva.com/magic); livestreaming best practices; Adventist Information Ministry’s (AIM) social media prayer initiative; building an online community; and creating an engaging online presence. 

Finally, Day encouraged leaders, “Every single view is a person. Let God multiply. Just [be] faithful with what He’s placed in your hand.”

Strengths-based Approach to Church Growth

Numerous presenters spoke about leveraging a church’s strengths for growth. Mark Tamaleaa discussed revitalizing the Kurtistown Samoan English Church in Kurtistown, Hawaii, by capitalizing on its assets, which included excellent food, a spacious building, and the summer camp under his purview as one of the multiple ministry departments he led at the local conference. Since 2022, weekly attendance has grown from 10 to more than 50 people. Tamaleaa has since transitioned out of the Hawaii Conference but continues to support the church’s growth remotely. 

The eHuddle also highlighted the strengths of vocational lay pastors (VLPs), such as Ignacio Perez from the Texas Conference. A theology graduate of Montemorelos University in Mexico, he said, “I can pastor, and I can be a good businessman. I can bless the church with both.”

Since 2022, Perez has established four growing churches, transforming dilapidated structures into beautiful worship spaces. He encouraged salaried pastors to “use all the church members with abilities, [so] we will be victorious for God’s glory.”

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Ignacio Perez, center, shared how God used him as a businessman and volunteer lay pastor (VLP) to plant four churches in the Texas Conference. Also pictured are (left) Reuben Lopez, church planting, VLP, and church revitalization director, Texas Conference, and VLP coordinator for the Southwestern Union, and (right) Vanston Archbold, vice president of the Southwest Region Conference, who served as an interpreter. Photo: Merari Medina

“I find myself in a similar situation [as Perez], wanting to engage in full-time ministry but having to run multiple businesses,” Richard Green, head elder at Thunder Bay Church in Ontario, Canada, said. “Through his testimony, I’m [realizing] that with a heart yielded completely to the Lord, all things are possible!”

Building Bridges through Community Engagement

Kyle Smith shared one of several modern-day examples of Christ’s method: mingling with others, meeting their needs, and sharing the gospel. In 2017, as the new youth pastor at New Haven Church in Kansas, he launched Seven, a Friday night Bible study, at his home. Smith engaged people “on the outskirts of traditional church culture,” whom he met while intentionally dining and writing sermons at coffee shops and bars downtown. Seven thrived, then died down, impacted by COVID-19 and Smith’s transfer to the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. 

In 2022, he returned to New Haven to plant Commons, a contemporary congregation engaging Seven’s community. Since then, Commons has seen 12 baptisms, two professions of faith, and an average of 235 weekly attendees.

“Get to know your city,” Smith said. “It’s amazing [what] will happen when we fix our eyes not on ourselves but on Jesus and His mission to love more.”

Church planter D. W. West has taken a similar community-focused approach, including starting “Power on the Point,” a toll-free phone hotline that assists with anything from addiction to rent. Through coupling community engagement with traditional evangelism, the three church plants within the Mountain View and Ohio conferences have experienced a 40 percent increase or 350 baptisms in four years. “There’s no limit to what God can do,” he said.

Hoeflich’s SPD peers shed more light on how to reach people in a post-Christian context. Brazilian missionaries Camila and Joseph Skaf noted that only 7 percent of the 45 percent of Australians identifying as Christian are actively engaged in their faith. Camila Skaf cited Australians’ interest in spirituality in terms of well-being, particularly concerning pervasive issues such as loneliness, anxiety, and depression. 

The Skafs spoke of founding the Food Farmacy — a plant-based café, restaurant, friendship hub, and wellness learning center. This center of influence draws on their joint background in business, Camila’s wellness expertise, and Joseph’s pastoral ministry experience. It is flourishing as a platform for evangelism, including a new church plant of 25 people. 

“We want to offer people the best life they can live so God can give us opportunities to invite them to hear the story of Jesus,” Joseph Skaf said.

At the 2024 eHuddle, Camila and Joseph Skaf, Brazilian missionaries to Australia, spoke of using a wellness center to reach people in a post-Christian context. Photo: Merari Medina

Reaching the Next Generation

God answered New Zealander Patrice Patel’s desire to merge her dance and primary teaching skills by sending her to Egypt as an international school’s performing arts director. He gave her the blueprint for writing whole-school musicals from scratch. Back in New Zealand, she launched Gobsmacked Productions, delivering values-based musicals in just three weeks to an eventual 35 percent of her city’s public and private schools.

Five years in, God inspired Patel to establish a charitable arm, Gobsmacked Ministries, teaching children about Him through performing arts. When more than 150 children signed up within a two-day window for a free, two-week biblical holiday drama, she introduced a weekly drama and Bible class. Today, Patel rents a megachurch to accommodate roughly 250 performers and 750 spectators for the holiday drama. She also engages a pastor to share the gospel in both programs, leading several children and their parents to Jesus. Her next God-sized dreams include equipping others to run the ministry in their regions and planting Gobsmacked churches. 

Patel and others affirmed a truth in evangelism — reaching children is one of the most impactful ways to reach families. They also promoted mentoring the next generation of leaders. Michael Lewis, North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI) associate director, shared that he empowered children and youth to lead outreach activities and Saturday (Sabbath) services while facilitating a thriving church plant in Pensacola, Florida. “Young people are [seeking], ‘What am I put on this earth to do?’ ” Lewis said. He urged leaders to help them find the answer through service. 

A. Allan Martin, pastor of Younger Generation Church in Texas, recalled that serving as a teen camp counselor at the very site of eHuddle in Florida inspired his call to ministry. He introduced the LIFE acronym for identifying young leaders — Leadership impact, Intergenerational relationships, Faith development, and Everyday compassion. Then, he led attendees to recognize and pray for potential leaders, aiming to create a “spiritual spark that will spread across the division.” 

Joanne Cortés, pastor of the BeLove church plant in Washington, D.C., and Jose Cortés’ wife, shared God’s blessings over a challenging year and a half, including 30 baptisms, 100 weekly attendees, and planting another church. Most significantly, young people are discovering their gifts, including the Cortéses’ 17-year-old son, Joel, and nine others who want to become pastors. 

Joanne underscored the need to identify, equip, and support (financially or otherwise) budding young leaders. “The church will multiply when people feel like they belong,” she said. “And instead of running away from ministry, they will run toward it.”

Pentecost 2025: Answering the Call to Proclaim Christ

On day one of the eHuddle, Jose Cortés shared an invitation from G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, to church leaders and lay members to proclaim Christ for the Pentecost 2025 initiative celebrating the division’s 40th anniversary. NAD leaders envision at least 3,000 proclamation efforts across North America in 2025.

On the last day, Cortés called for a final huddle. “Would you like to be involved in proclaiming the gospel during 2025 to the people in your territory?” Nearly the entire room stepped forward. 

Ivan L. Williams, NAD Ministerial director and vice president of strategy and leadership, delivered a powerful closing prayer. “Lord, we've huddled over the last three days and [seen] what your Spirit is doing around our division. Bless our efforts. Make them exponential in sharing the good news. We give You praise and thank You for calling us.”

The original version of this story appeared on the North American Division news site.


eHuddle Replay

Click here to watch all eHuddle sessions.  

Click here for the full agenda for eHuddle. 

NAD Initiatives

Click here for info on the NAD’s bilingual 10,000 digital disciples training. 

Click here for the NAD’s vocational lay pastor guidelines.

Click here for info on Pentecost 2025.