It’s ironic that I have ended up in Christian event’s management. A part of me has always felt pretty sceptical about Christian events and conferences. Deep down, the cynic in me has questioned the motives of the organisers, the danger of Christian-celebrity culture, or the risk of hype when so many are gathered in one place.
Maybe you have shared these doubts, maybe not. With thousands attending Christian events, festivals and conferences every year, they have become a part of our culture as the Church in the UK. There is a chance some of you are reading this from the half-deflated airbed in your damp tent at one of the many events on offer. But are these gatherings actually a good thing, or are they a commercialisation of the Church? Are they a parody of secular music festivals or more about us than about God? I still think some of those dangers can exist, but a couple of things have helped change my attitude of Christian events.
First, my experiences of working behind the scenes with big festivals and gatherings means I work and walk daily alongside the Christian leaders, speakers and facilitates who help shape them. Almost without exception, they have challenged my cynicism. Rather than men and woman interested in furthering their own careers, I have experienced committed disciples who are intent on furthering the kingdom; helping to create contexts in which the Church can bring glory to God. Rather than corporate enterprises intent on raking in well-meaning Christian’s cash, I have seen organisations bending over backwards to make events as accessible as possible. I have seen highly qualified and gifted people sacrificing time and pay to volunteer and dedicate their time to serving others. Rather than attempts at hyping up or manipulating a crowd, I consistently see men and women earnestly seeking God’s will and the Spirit’s guidance. This integrity is inspiring and deeply challenging to my own attitude and outlook.
The second thing to change my thinking is that I have come to believe earnestly that the Bible calls us to gather as believers. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are commanded to regular festivals. Just look at Leviticus 23 – the first festival we are called to observe is the Sabbath. We probably don’t think about this as a festival, but in essence it is. It’s carving out time, dedicating it to God, putting aside the other things that fill up our day-to-day lives to be truly present with Him. A core element of Sabbath is gathering together in community. That’s what makes us the Church rather than just lone individuals. It doesn’t matter if you meet in a church or a pub or someone’s house; what matters is that we gather as groups of local Christians in times where God is centre stage.
The other festivals mentioned in Leviticus 23 are larger events spread throughout the year. These bigger festivals were the milestones of the community calendar. They celebrated who God is and what He has done. The day-to-day calendar was structured around these times of gathering. We see in Luke 2:41 that Jesus and his family travelled to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover. Later in his ministry, the gospels show his multiple returns to the city during times of festival. Gathering together was an integral part of the Acts church (Acts 2:46) who met as smaller groups and homes as well as occasionally gathering together with the other Christians in their town.
Gathering brings solidarity and encouragement. They increase our expectation – not because God is more present, but because we are. When we go with expectation and put Jesus front and centre, we realise that he is always present, but often we drown out his voice with all the noise and busyness of life.
Times of festival are good because they allow for extended and focused times of worship where God can be glorified. For many they bring an unparalleled opportunity to get teaching or support of other kinds that smaller church communities might not always be able to manage.
For young adults, who might be in a minority in their own churches, they can meet and be encouraged by others their age and make friends beyond their own communities. Many, including myself, can pinpoint significant breakthrough, calling or encounter to these times. Thousands of others have made a first or re-commitment.
So maybe I’m alone in my experiences of doubt or cynicism. Maybe not. We want to find out, what do 18-30s actually think about Christian events. What do we look for? What stops us doing them? Let us know in the comments what your experience of Christian events has been like. If you are 18-30, you can also take the survey exploring what young adults think about, and look for in Christian events (plus there is a chance to win a £50 amazon gift card!)