They may not have been served any barbecue, but thousands of Foursquare leaders and members shared in what amounted to one of the largest Memorial Day family celebrations in the country, yesterday, with joyful reunions, heartwarming news, and much to celebrate and be thankful for.

Hosted in Foursquare’s “backyard”—at the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California, not far from the movement’s founding church and corporate offices in Los Angeles—this week’s Foursquare Connection 2015 is being held under the theme “Sent.”

The annual event, taking place May 25–28, has drawn 4,022 registered attendees, including more than 400 in the dynamic Kids + Youth program, with 46 states in the U.S. and 43 countries represented. Attendees have come to Anaheim to be refreshed personally through worship and teaching, to renew old relationships and make new ones, to hear how God is moving throughout the Foursquare world, and to vote on significant organizational changes.

One in four of those gathered in Anaheim are attending Connection for the first time, while many who are unable to attend in person are joining in the proceedings individually and in church groups through the Connection Live stream of all six main sessions, as well as some fun pre-show material that includes interviews of speakers, Foursquare leaders and local pastors alike. Churches were encouraged to host events for their staff, congregations or neighboring Foursquare churches. Monday night saw more than 1,800 people tuning in from 29 countries.

In addition, those in Anaheim and at home in their respective countries joined in the conversation, connecting through social media using #Connection15. “First night at #Connection15 was a blast! Love seeing so many beautiful, passionate and Gospel centered people in one place!” added @benjihorning on Instagram.

In addition to messages from Foursquare leaders such as Tammy Dunahoo, general supervisor and vice president of U.S. operations, Connection also includes keynote speakers such as Miles McPherson, San Diego megachurch pastor and community outreach program founder, and Bob Goff, human rights activist and author.

World beats and Latin rhythms set the festive mood as Foursquare President Glenn Burris Jr. welcomed attendees to the opening evening session. They cheered the annual report global statistics projected on the giant screen as things got underway: 962,272 decisions for Christ, 923,934 baptisms with the Holy Spirit, 64,389 churches and meeting places, and total membership of 8,500,215.

There was also a warm response to a video greeting from Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the bestselling book The Purpose-Driven Life. He applauded the “Sent” theme, saying: “We believe that a great commitment to the great commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church, grow a great community, grow a great Christian, grow a great country.”

This year’s Connection reflects the growth not only that is happening in Foursquare overseas, but also multiculturally within the U.S. Additional seating had to be brought in to accommodate all those who wanted to be part of yesterday afternoon’s Spanish-language Conexión Hispana gathering, which preceded the evening service. Juan M. Vallejo, supervisor of the recently established Distrito Hispano del Suroeste (Southwestern Hispanic District), and Daniel Prieto, National Hispanic Missional Coach and chairman of the National Hispanic Commission, were key speakers.

Exhorting people to expect an encounter with and encouragement from God during their time at Connection, in his opening comments Glenn shared two examples of the fruit that comes from being sent in the spirit of the event’s theme.

Noting that Foursquare Nigeria is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, he reported that the church there is now sending missionaries to 25 other nations—all the result of the fact that “we sent one missionary there.” He also told of having visited Cambodia, where half the Christians in the country are Foursquare—many of them coming to Christ as children through Foursquare Missions International (FMI) Missionary Ted Olbrich, sent there 18 years ago.

Connection’s full schedule of worship, speaking, ministry and business includes discussion and decisions related to the ongoing Reimagine process that is realigning Foursquare structurally and missionally for greater fruitfulness. The busy schedule, however, still provides an opportunity for attendees to explore and experience some of Foursquare’s rich local heritage.

Special tours have been arranged for the Foursquare Heritage Center, featuring founder Aimee Semple McPherson’s parsonage; Angelus Temple, the first Foursquare church; the national church office; Foursquare Missions Press; and Life Pacific College.

The first keynote speaker at Connection was Jerry Dirmann, who brought a stirring word encouraging everyone to believe God for greater things. The senior pastor of The Rock (Anaheim Foursquare Church) outlined how Isaiah 60 is a prophetic word for today, in which God promises to shine in the growing cultural and moral darkness.

Telling of the growth of his church, which has launched congregations in other languages, he recalled how as projects had gotten bigger, he had begun to base decisions on how much money was available “instead of stepping out in faith.” But as he returned once more to trusting God, greater growth followed.

In a Memorial Day salute to veterans, Foursquare Chaplain and U.S. Air Force Capt. David Leonard was asked to open Connection 2015 in prayer. He also asked pastors in turn to pray for Foursquare’s many military, hospital, police and fire department chaplains who “get to go where there is chaos and bring the presence of God” to “pick up the pieces and sit in the ashes.”

Following the evening session, many of those present stayed in the convention hall for an informal prayer meeting led by Ted Vail, associate director of FMI. The prayer time featured a message from Jean Darnall, an ordained Foursquare evangelist and assisting minister at The Church On The Way (Van Nuys Foursquare Church) in Van Nuys, Calif., who encouraged prayer especially for children and young people growing up in Foursquare.

Additional reporting by Melisa Prieto

Connect from home. Watch Connection Live this week only. Each main session will be streaming live, and available to watch through Sunday. Or, order the Foursquare Connection 2015 Experience Kit for $159 to bring all the speakers home, plus additional videos and select worship CDs, and speaker’s books.