Source: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo

For the first ten years that I was in a worship band, I made a fundamental error: I assumed that all the people in the audience were followers of Jesus.

A safe assumption, you might think. Why would someone even know who we are if they weren’t a Christian – let alone feel compelled to come to our show? Not to put too fine a point on it…but why wouldn’t they just go and see the ‘real’ Mumford & Sons rather than us, their pious Irish cousins?

The answer is found in the fact that there is a chasm of difference between being immersed in Christian subculture and following Jesus.

As someone who has spent years behind the curtain of Christian events, I can tell you that a lot of effort is made to provide a good experience for the attendee. ‘Seeker sensitive’ is one term for this kind of approach. At its best, it provides a safe and enjoyable context for people to meet Jesus and explore the gospel. At its worst, it provides such a safe and enjoyable context that it insulates people from actually meeting Jesus or exploring the gospel – because Jesus says some really uncomfortable things and, although the gospel is good news, it’s also provocative. It can cause you to confront yourself and your shortcomings. Basically…it’s awkward.

Asking people if they would like to take up their cross and follow Jesus makes for a poor consumer experience. So, disappointingly, often we avoid mentioning it too directly. And now we have a generation of people who know how to download Christian music and buy Christian merch but who haven’t really been told that they need to “leave their nets” (Matthew 4:20) and make an intentional decision to change their lives and follow Jesus.

Chris illustration

llustration: Flix Gillett

I’m not advocating for hellfire and brimstone. Nor am I suggesting that we extract all of the fun and joy from our events. I’m just saying that we need to be honest and clear about what it means to be a Christian – and give people the opportunity to accept or reject that. This is much better than continuing to offer an inoffensive, bland mush of Christian-flavoured content for the Church to consume.

In 2019, I remember cringing backstage as we sent my bandmate Gareth out to give our first ‘gospel appeal’. The momentum and energy of the night was rudely interrupted; it felt old-fashioned and embarrassing – the official verification of our status as ‘uncool’. But we had broken-heartedly realised that we had wasted too many opportunities already and we had to start somewhere.

So Gareth bumbled his way, with a certain degree of Irish charm, through a very basic invitation to accept Christ: “Now, if you’ve decided to follow Jesus tonight, I want you to do a brave thing: take out your phone, turn on the light and hold up it up in the air for everyone to see.”

An agonising couple of seconds passed.

Then a light came on. And another. And another.

Soon the room was full of little sparks, like a flurry of holes punched in the canvas of the darkness.

And so it has been, without fail, at every show we’ve played since.

Now, the sound of awkward feet shuffling and unsuccessfully stifled coughs during the prayer is actually the highlight of my night. Because, while it may be ‘worst’ part of the show, it’s the best part of our ministry.