Church leaders in preschool and children’s ministry from multiple states met at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills, April 1-2, for the Heart of the Child Conference. The event was comprised of efforts from Oklahoma Baptists, Arkansas Baptists and Lifeway Kids.

Mark Jones, Oklahoma Baptists childhood consultant, left, and Charlie Gatton, Oklahoma Baptists childhood ministry partner, right, greet attendees at the Heart of the Child Conference.

Based on Mark 12:30-31, this year’s conference focused on “A Relationship of Love.” More than 550 children’s ministers, leaders and volunteers gathered in order to develop their ministries and communities.

Heart of the Child offered more than 30 workshop sessions for participants as well as pre-conference sessions and lunch keynotes. Breakout speakers included Brian Housman, Jennifer Barnes, Donna Peavey, Ricky Chelette, Shelly Taylor, and more. An array of topics was offered throughout the conference. From preschool to leadership to special needs, there was a workshop to equip each leader for their specific area of ministry.

In between the workshop sessions, three general sessions were offered. Each session gave ministers the opportunity to recharge through worship and the reading of God’s Word. This year’s keynote speakers were Doug Melton, Bertholomew “Prophet” Bailey and Matt Morgan.

Doug Melton, pastor of OKC, Southern Hills, speaks during one of the general sessions.

At each event, Heart of the Child honors beginning and longtime serving ministers within preschool and children’s ministry with the Willa Ruth Garlow Award. These recipients are attendees of the conference and are presented on the last day of the event. This year the conference honored Hope Blair, children’s ministry director at Oklahoma City, Northwest, and Gina McKean, director of children’s ministries at Oklahoma City, Portland Avenue, for their amazing service.

With the pandemic affecting events in the past two years, this year’s Heart of the Child Conference was more important than ever. When asked about the purpose of this year’s event, Mark Jones, Oklahoma Baptists Childhood Consultant, stated, “Our goal is to better equip preschool and children’s teachers and leadership especially in this post-COVID time of ministry in the church.”

This time of fellowship encouraged and energized participants as they continue to serve in this difficult season.

As the event came to a close, Heart of the Child served as a reminder of why Oklahoma Baptists serve in our communities and the need for the Gospel to be shared with young hearts in the ministries of churches. It reminded participants how a relationship of love can foster a relationship with Christ.

The next Heart of the Child Conference will meet in 2024 at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.