From a Chicago Investment Firm to European Evangelical Leaders' Needs
In 1999, when the Chicago investment firm where he had been working was sold, Greg Pritchard began teaching at various European colleges and seminaries. Shortly after, he became acquainted with two leading Christian counsellors (one Czech, one Polish). Though these counsellors lived near each other and though they had both been struggling to find answers to the same questions for the previous decade, neither had ever met the other.
Over time, Greg came to see that this was true for many leaders in similar callings from across Europe. They were often isolated, without mentors, adequate training, or relationships with their peers across Europe. He realised that many European evangelical leaders saw their problems as merely local or perhaps national issues, but Greg was convinced that many of the common problems for evangelicals were actually European-wide. Likewise, he felt that the solutions for these problems would be found in continent-wide strategies.
The Birth of the European Leadership Forum
Not long after this realisation, Greg met Nick Nedelchev, then president of the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) and asked him why the EEA wasn’t starting leadership development networks across national borders to help train, mentor, and resource leaders in similar callings. In response, Nick asked Greg, ‘Could you create an annual conference to help Central and Eastern European leaders?’ Greg agreed, and thus the European Leadership Forum (initially titled the European Leadership Seminar) was born.
At approximately the same time, Greg had a separate meeting with Gordon Showell Rogers, then general secretary of the EEA, and asked; ‘Why is there no network to help develop apologists from across Europe?’ In response, Gordon asked Greg, ‘Could you lead such a network?’
Greg agreed and gathered a core group of leaders including Stefan Gustavsson (General Secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance), Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF), Peter Saunders (Director of Christian Medical Fellowship), Wim Rietkirk (then chairman of L’Abri Fellowship International), and Michael Ramsden (Director of Zacharias Trust) to plan a network focused on equipping and resourcing European apologists. Together they defined the vision and programme for the event and hand-selected over 100 apologists from 20 European countries to participate in it.
The Lord powerfully used this conference and everyone was encouraged. Wim Rietkirk, the international Chairman of L’Abri Fellowship at the time, said it this way: “This Apologetics Network was the most exciting thing I have seen in Europe in 40 years.” As the core group met to discuss the future, one of them asked Greg: "Why can’t we as Western Europeans come to the European Leadership Forum that you have organised for Central and Eastern European Evangelical leaders next year?" Greg responded ‘You can, if you agree to serve as the Steering Committee.’ And so the first Forum Steering Committee was appointed, and the Forum was opened to Evangelical leaders from across all of Europe.
For the last 20 years, the ELF Steering Committee has chosen what plenary speakers to invite and decided what ELF Networks should be started and who should lead them. ELF became a coalition partnership of hundreds of gifted Gospel leaders who invested their time, talent and treasure to unite, equip and resource Evangelical leaders to renew the European church and spread the Gospel.
The First European Leadership Forum
The first annual meeting of the European Leadership Forum took place in Sopron, Hungary in 2003. Spanning six days, this first Forum included the following five Networks: Apologetics, Theology, Bible Teaching, Counselling, and Education. Over 200 people from 25 countries participated in that first gathering.
The Forum Today
Today, the Forum consists of 25 Networks focused on everything from apologetics to science, media to politics. Once a gathering of 200, the Forum’s annual meeting now brings together 800 participants from more than 60 countries. In fact, several of the Forum Networks have expanded so rapidly over the years that they have been split into two or more groups to better accommodate the needs of participants and maintain an intimate learning community.
The growth of the Forum has also necessitated moving the location of the Forum’s annual meeting twice. In 2006, after three years in Sopron, the Forum outgrew the available conference facilities and was moved to Eger, Hungary. After seven years in Hungary, the Forum once again outgrew the available conference facilities, and so, in 2013, the annual meeting was relocated to Wisła, Poland, which is where it remains to this day.
The Forum is much more than an annual meeting, though. Not only does the Forum organise other initiatives throughout the year (such as the Cambridge Leaders Network or the Cambridge Scholars Network), but Forum participants are also expected to use the resources and relationships they’ve gained at the Forum to affect their local contexts. An estimated 800 events, strategies, and partnerships are organised each year by Forum attendees in their home countries as a result of the annual meeting. These events include eight National Forums, which model their national conference after the Forum structure but go one step further by providing contextualised training in national languages.