The purpose of Free Chapel’s Forward Conference is to impact the next generation of students rising in the church. But the Rev. Jentezen Franklin said those students that attend the conference aren’t just the future, they are the church now.
“It’s not just a conference that impacts their life for three days,” Franklin said of the conference that wraps up at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 30, at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth. “We really want to plant seeds that bring a lifetime harvest.”
Franklin said the conference, meant for high school-aged students, has been around for at least 10 years. It first took place at Free Chapel’s Gainesville campus, but quickly moved to what is now the Infinite Energy Arena after outgrowing the church’s original campus.
Popular Christian artists like Jesus Culture, Hillsong Young & Free and Elevation Worship were at this year’s conference. Popular Christian speakers like Banning Liebscher, Sy Rogers and Reggie Dabbs were there, too, along with Franklin and Free Chapel Music.
The conference is meant to be high-energy and engaging. There were competitions between “tribes” throughout the weekend and plenty of games for students.
“We want to bring something relevant to the kids’ lives, not something that would bore them,” Franklin said. “We gear the whole conference toward tearing the walls down ... so we can communicate clearly through worship, through the word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, for these kids and this generation.”
Franklin mentioned the book of Proverbs as a way to explain part of the conference’s purpose: “Without vision, people perish.” He said his hope was to create a vision for the students so they are able to thrive as they go through life.
He used former Gainesville High quarterback and current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who used to attend Free Chapel, as an example for what he hopes the conference teaches students. body
“He always had a discipline because he always had a vision for his life in sports and we believe that God has that vision for each young person,” Franklin said. “And we want to really try to focus on finding the purpose of what God had in mind when he put them on this earth.”
Over the years, Franklin said he has seen the Forward Conference do many things in the community and surrounding areas.
The financial impact it has is obvious. He said every hotel within a 30-mile radius of the arena is booked. Thirteen thousand students descend on the area, eating at restaurants and visiting stores during their time not spent at the conference.
The students come from around the country, and even some from out of country, to attend the yearly conference. Some of those students who were once attendees have now moved on to bigger roles in the church.
“A lot of kids will come up at the end of the conference and say ‘I felt the call of God or I at least want to explore and know more about going on a mission trip or doing more at my local church,’” Franklin said. “That’s our heart. It’s not really just about Free Chapel, but a lot of youth groups from all over the nation are trusting us with their youth, so we want them to go back to their churches and get active and get involved.”