The other week, I proposed in this article that the different Christian festivals should agree to take a two year sabbatical. Now, you may or may not have agreed with my assessment of particular Christian holiday weeks. To be clear, when I write about our own love-hate relationship with them I know that I don’t speak for everyone. Lots of people have just a love relationship with their convention/festival of choice, it is something they look forward to and enjoy every year. Others just have a “hate” relationship. They truly cannot bear the things and see some redeeming qualities in them.
I also know that my comments on what we’ve not liked won’t necessarily apply to all events. So, when I wrote, I wasn’t announcing the hill I wanted to die on. I’m in no rush to book in for a Christian holiday week just yet but I’m not saying that no one should ever go, that these things shouldn’t exist and that you’ll never ever find me at one again. Perhaps in a couple of years time you’ll bump into us at the missions exhibition in Keswick or find us strolling along the beach at Minehead. I will say that you are very unlikely to find us at an event that requires us to sleep under canvass!
Yet, what has interested me was the reaction from some quarters to my suggestion that these events take a sabbatical. I recognise that the suggestion is unlikely to be anything more than hypothetical. I simply cannot see any, never mind all of the event organisers taking up the challenge.
However, whilst I got a lot of feedback from people who said “Yes we agree with you” and plenty of others who said “We think you raise some significant points but we can also see the benefit of these events” I also got some strong feedback to the effect that we should not even be considering such things. We’ve been blessed by our particular event and so we do not want it to consider stopping.
I want to gently suggest that this highlights exactly why a pause on the big events would be helpful. First of all consider it from this angle. What are the supposed benefits and blessings of such events? Those that tend to come up are
- The opportunity to experience something of the larger, wider family of God
- A time of focused, good quality Bible teaching and corporate worship
- Brilliant provision for our children which encourages them to trust in Jesus and grow in their faith
- Significant catalyst events which prompt people to take first steps in faith, renew their commitment or consider a vocational calling.
Now, all of these are fantastic things. I’m sure we can agree that they would count as blessings to all those who benefit. Yet, how many Christians actually do benefit? Well, if Spring Harvest gets about 50,000 attendees and Keswick gets about 15000, we are probably talking about 100-150k max attendees at these kinds of events (not allowing for overlap in attendance). That’s a lot of people. However, there are an estimated 2 million evangelicals in the UK. In other words, our big events are probably providing for about 7.5% of evangelicals.
The vast majority of evangelical believers are therefore not receiving the very things that we claim to be the benefits of our Spring Harvests, Word Alives and Keswicks. This means that either we are not providing this for them, or that there are other means by which those blessings are received.
So, taking time to even hypothetically consider a pause on these events might push us to ask the question “Is there a way in which the same kinds of blessing can be made available to the majority of believers instead of the minority?”
The second thing that even hypothetically considering a pause would do is to challenge us about what we are dependent upon. If we cannot even contemplate a year or two without our preferred event then we need to at least consider the possibility that we are more dependent upon it than we should be. Perhaps even if the events don’t take a break, it might be helpful for some to take a break from them and return in future years with enjoyment renewed.