August 23, 2017: Simultaneously one of the most beloved and most misunderstood recent movements within the Adventist community, The One project recently announced that it would hold its final event.
In a message posted on its website titled “Not Goodbye, but … Until,” the organizers announced that the final One Project gathering would take place in San Diego (California) on February 11-12, 2018. The gathering was billed a “bittersweet but ultimately celebratory gathering” which would focus on the theme, “Oh, How I Love Jesus!”
The One Project originated from conversations among a small group of pastors in a Denver hotel room in 2010. Five pastors were in the room: Japhet De Oliveira (now senior pastor of the Boulder, Colorado, Adventist Church), Alex Bryan (senior pastor of the Walla Walla University Church), Tim Gillespie (now lead pastor of the Redlands, California, CrossWalk Church, an Adventist church plant), Sam Leonor (campus chaplain at La Sierra University) and Terry Swenson (a campus chaplain at Loma Linda University). Two joined via Skype: Eddie Hypolite (senior pastor of Newcastle Multicultural Seventh-day Adventist Church near Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia) and Dany Hernandez (senior pastor of Lifesource Adventist Fellowship in Denver, Colorado). The outcome was a movement that focused on the idea of lifting up Jesus Christ as the center of the Adventist faith.
The One Project quickly drew attention. The first public gathering was held in Atlanta (Georgia) in 2011 with over 170 participants. Growth has been dramatic since. Thousands have attended gatherings held around the world over the last seven years. The “Jesus. All.” theme of The One Project has deeply resonated with Adventist leaders and lay members in many places across North America, Australia and Europe.
Adventist Today reached out to the movement’s organizers to learn more about the decision to end the project. De Oliveira shared that it was not an easy decision, but that the movement’s leaders had felt for some time that drawing the project to a close was the right thing to do.
He emphasized that The One Project was, from its inception, a project which was not intended to continue indefinitely. “A young pastor reminded me of a conversation he had with me before The One Project started, where I had shared the vision with him,” said De Oliveira. “I had told him, it is a project, it is not permanent, it will one day end. It is needed now and we don’t know when—but it will be clear when that time comes—it will end.”
This framing of The One Project has done little to soften for supporters the blow of its upcoming conclusion. As news of the decision broke, leaders were deluged with messages. “I have personally lost count of the emails, texts, calls in the last few weeks processing what this means and has meant to so many people that I consider family,” said De Oliveira.
The news also sparked a fresh round of rumors and conspiracy theories from detractors. “Some are really quite amusing, and some are quite tragic, some hold deep truth and some are so far-fetched and conspiracy-driven that it pains my soul,” said De Oliveria without elaborating.
Since the start of The One Project, critics have been vicious. Some have accused the movement of making light of doctrine and pursuing an ecumenical agenda. Others have accused The One Project of promoting mystical, “emergent church” ideas. No matter how hard leaders have refuted these claims, they have taken their toll. De Oliveira shared that even his children and those of his fellow leaders were subjected to abuse because of their parents’ involvement in the project.
“That is one of the most awful elements that all of us have had to experience. Who would have ever imagined that talking of Jesus would have caused so much pain, and made some hurt others,” said De Oliveira.
On the flip side, support for the team’s work has poured in from countless, often unexpected sources. “There are leaders at all levels in the Church, from the General Conference through to the local churches, across every division, who behind the scenes have shown us nothing but support,” said De Oliveira.
He said these leaders had “lifted us up in prayer and love and encouraged us to proclaim the name of Jesus with even more strength. Some have even done so in front of the scenes, despite their context or circumstances. I am deeply encouraged by that. … Jesus has this Church!”
With this amount of support there are some that wonder why The One Project has to end. The decision was certainly not made based on attendance tallies. “Every single year our gatherings have increased in size and we have tried to restrain the size,” said De Oliveira. “Last year we made the decision to break them down into two gatherings going forward—Atlanta and San Diego—so we could make them smaller again and spread the conversation experience to other places.”
De Oliveira said that at a leadership retreat this summer, leaders wrestled with the question of whether The One Project events were the best way of answering “the call that Jesus had on our lives to make Him central in All things.”
Leaders decided that the best way to spread the message of Jesus as the center of the Adventist faith was through local churches. “What is better than our local churches? Nothing!” said De Oliveira. “I am sure, that until Jesus comes back, they [local churches] will always need more love and more ideas … so I look forward to this new chapter.”
Gillespie described “a growing realization that all of this has led me back to the local expression of the body of Christ. Events are phenomenal, but the local church will always be the dirt in which we grow.”
He stressed that a focus on true growth sometimes means having to let go of other things, even highly successful events: “The One Project has always been a catalyst for greater local ministry; perhaps such a great catalyst that this focus has become paramount to fulfilling the will of God.”
He said that he felt The One Project journey had led the Adventist Church in the right direction: “Jesus. All.”
Fellow One project leader and producer for the Australian gatherings, Rod Long, framed the change in direction as practical, too. Organizing gatherings takes an enormous toll on finite energy and attention levels: “I think there’s also a time when you can expend a lot of energy for only incremental gain. In that time, the energy would be better spent working smarter and effectively in other areas.”
Entrepreneur Kevin Welch, another key figure behind the gatherings, said that The One Project had “made its point and the themes it has been promoting are now being echoed by numerous organizations.” He restated the vision of the rest of the group: “It is time for a new focus and that is the revitalization of the local church.”
On its website, The One Project quoted 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
Hinting at future projects that will take place at the local church level, The One Project “Not Goodbye, but … Until” statement told those interested in collaborating on local church ministry that “it might be a good idea to save this date: October 19-23, 2018.”
Adventist Today will keep in contact with those who have played key roles in The One Project and report on local plans and activities that emerge in the coming year. One of our editors will be at the February meeting in San Diego. If you have questions for those involved with The One Project or know of local developments that should be covered, please send an email note to the editors at email@example.com and put “The One Project” in the subject line.