By Andrea Lennon

The making of Inspire 2021: a conference reimagined

By Andrea Lennon

I will never forget sitting in the Executive Suite of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, watching the press conference held by Governor Asa Hutchinson, and being a part of a group deciding the fate of Inspire 2020 due to the growing concern over Covid-19. We didn’t know much about the virus at the time. We knew there were a few cases in Arkansas and we knew the threat was real, but we had no idea what was ahead. With the information we had, the difficult decision was made to cancel Inspire 2020 out of an abundance of caution.

The decision was surreal. If you have planned an event of any size, you know the hours and hours of work that goes into praying, planning, promoting, and hosting. To make the decision even more complex, Inspire 2020 was sold out with a record number of 1,000 women planning to gather at First Baptist Church in Russellville. To say we were disappointed would have been the understatement of the year! The Inspire leadership team had worked hard and we were ready. The signs were hung, the food was purchased, the PowerPoint was loaded, and everyone’s bags were packed. Not one detail had been overlooked. There was excitement in the air about pointing the women of Arkansas to Jesus as we rallied around the theme of pursuing a God-sized vision and focus for life.

To this day, it is hard to put words to the feelings all of us experienced when we had to cancel just hours before Inspire was scheduled to happen. I think sadness and disappointment describe how I felt. Certainly, we trusted God and wanted to protect the women of Arkansas from any danger, but it was hard to be so close and then make the difficult decision to cancel.

In a matter of days, everything shut down and all of us went into some type of quarantined life. Again, the word surreal comes to mind. For me, my normally busy schedule was replaced with working from home and trying to take care of all the details related to canceling. The days and weeks passed, and before long it was time to begin planning for Inspire 2021. By this time, words like quarantine, contact tracing, directives, guidelines, social distancing, and masks were everyday words.

In January of 2021, Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), gave a challenge to the ABSC employees. As we looked ahead, he said, “get creative and go for it!” With Dr. Tucker’s instruction in mind, I met with the Inspire leadership team via zoom. I asked the team to start dreaming and praying about Inspire 2021. We knew we had to honor the guidance set forth by the state of Arkansas for gatherings. This meant we had to either spread out across Arkansas or go with a virtual option. The leadership team was in total agreement. We wanted to provide an Inspire experience for the women of Arkansas. The leadership team also decided to use the theme from Inspire 2020 for Inspire 2021, which was pursuing a God-sized vision and focus for life!

The date was set for March 13, 2021. Five locations were secured: First Baptist Church in Bentonville, Central Baptist Church in Conway, First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Nettleton Baptist Church in Jonesboro, and Second Baptist Church in Monticello. Leaders from across the state came together to serve as Inspire emcees, live panel leaders, host church volunteers, and Inspire participants. It was a total team effort from top to bottom.

When the day came for Inspire 2021, over 700 women registered and attended one of the five locations. You could sense excitement as the women walked through the doors. They wanted to meet with God, they needed to meet with God, and God showed up. Isn’t it just like God to take our disappointment and turn it into His victory? When I think about the journey from Inspire 2020 to Inspire 2021, I am amazed at the hand and heart of God. We asked for a God-sized vision and focus for life and God delivered! What happened on March 13, 2021 could not have happened without God. We could not produce it or manufacture it. Only God could bring it to pass as He stirred the hearts of many to work together for something bigger than any one of us.

Inspire 2021 offered:

·   5 locations across Arkansas.

·   10 incredible Inspire Emcees.

·   Powerful worship led by Cory and Stephanie Epps.

·   20 Inspiring women sharing on live panel discussions.

·   Bold teaching by Lori McDaniel.

·   17 Breakout Sessions hosted on Inspire on the Go Podcast.

·   Meaningful times of conversation with other women while following safety guidelines.

·   Over 700 women gathered in their regional area to lift high the name of Jesus!

Inspire 2021 was honoring to the Lord and encouraging to the women of Arkansas. Krisit Harris from First Baptist Church in Pocahontas said, “Inspire 2021 was just what my soul needed. From the worship, to the teaching, to the small group discussion, the whole event was completely God-focused. I was repeatedly reminded that God’s vision and plan are pre-imminent, and I need to hold my own loosely. I came away challenged to pray with an eternal perspective.”

If you or someone you know missed Inspire 2021, we’ve got you covered. Inspire 2021 Digital is available for free and includes the powerful worship and teaching times. Check it out here! You will also want to subscribe to the Inspire on the Go Podcast so you can listen to all the great breakout sessions dropping every other Monday. Check it out at www.absc.org/inspireOTG.

Following Inspire 2021, it is my prayer that the women of Arkansas will continue to align our lives with God’s heart and God’s plan. As Lori McDaniel shared, “We can’t mess up the plan of God, but we can miss it. We gather to go. So, go and own your street, your coffee shop, and your neighborhood.” That, my friend, is our calling and our privilege. Let’s do it all for the sake of His Name!

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