484 young people responded to the gospel at this year’s Limitless festival. But even more phenomenal than what happens at Christian festivals is what comes after them, says Tim Alford
I don’t know about you, but to me it feels like the years get shorter as I get older!
These days I blink and its New Year’s Eve again. But think back to when you were a teenager; a school year felt like a lifetime. So imagine how long three years feels for a young person. So much change happens in those years; so much character development and identity formation.
Consider what would happen if, for much of those three years, you were unable to attend church in person and didn’t want to attend online. Imagine that you were largely cut off from your Christian friends and youth leaders, with the main influence on your worldview being the disproportionate amount of time you spent consuming social media.
Imagine your Christian worldview becoming increasingly untenable as you felt ever-more isolated; your faith hanging by a thread as you were unable to gather with other believers in a way that made you feel rational once again, and encounter God in powerful and transformative ways that spurred you on in your faith journey.
Three years. That’s how long it’s been since we last came together in person for Limitless Festival. And now, on the other side of gathering on a showground in Stafford with thousands of young people, I am acutely aware of how damaging it has been for them to have been robbed of the opportunity. As one youth leader who attended wrote to me afterwards said: “as the week went on it slowly dawned on me how much we had missed out on through the pandemic.”
And yet, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps the separation made the experience even more sweet. Because, in all my life, I have never seen young people worship like they did this year. From the front to the back corners of that huge event space, I saw young people fully surrendered, voices raised loud and hands held high in passionate praise.
You could see it. You could feel it. Faith rekindling in young people’s lives once again:
“I felt God’s love for the first time in years, I haven’t been the same since, my youth group and youth leader have all said they’ve seen a change in me.”
“After a long time of feeling distant from God I had powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit, resulting in laughter and tears and joy and an amazing peace in my heart.”
“I was spiritually recharged, and I realised how important it is to have a connection and relationship with God.”
Fan into flame
The times of ministry were profound as God moved in kindness and power, bringing deep restoration and renewal:
“He healed me emotionally from so much brokenness and fog and confusion. He re-lit a spiritual fire within me and reminded me of who I am in him. He is such a good, good God. I am blown away by his love for me.”
“I have been crippled by low self-esteem and an eating disorder for as long as I can remember, and now it is as though I am experiencing life through a whole new pair of eyes…I have never been so free or felt so loved.”
We also witnessed the power of God as young people prayed for one another for physical healing:
“I have arthritis and I have since I was a baby. Recently my pain had increased rapidly. In the service I was prayed for and my pain has been taken way completely.”
“My knee gave way when I was sprinting which caused me to go to A&E, and because of that I have been limping for two days. Yesterday during the morning service my leg was prayed for and now I can run and move my leg around without it hurting!”
“Three years ago I tore my Achilles tendon and it did heal but it was still really tight and could be painful at times. In the session this morning, a group from my church prayed for healing over me and now it is absolutely fine!”
A call to faith
But the power of these events is every bit as much in what happens after them as in what happens at them. Young people heard the call of God to action and mission:
“God has asked me to step out and tell his word to my friend back at home and to try to spread the word to non-Christians.”
“I experienced my first calling. I felt called to start an environmental movement in my college and start a move for environmental justice in the name of the Lord.”
“I feel like God has really equipped me to go out and spread the word of God as well as breaking my heart for children in South Africa. I feel like God really wants me to help them to discover him.”
“I found God’s purpose for my life that I would be a missionary to Poland, and God told me the exact city I would go to.”
Finding new life
But best of all, we celebrated as an astonishing 484 young people responded to the gospel! Heaven rejoices!
“I gave my life to Jesus after realising for the first time that he has already forgiven me for my sins and that he sees and has seen everything but still loves me nonetheless. Even when I turned my back on him, he never turned his back on me.”
“I gave my life to Jesus on Tuesday. God has been supporting me all my life and this week has made me realise that.”
“I gave my life to Christ for the first time ever. It was great!”
“I decided to give my life to Jesus and since then I have loved talking to him.”
“I gave my life to Christ I’m soooooo happy!!!!!!!!!!”
And so, as Mike Pilavachi said to me as we spoke one sunny afternoon during his visit to Limitless Festival: “When the time comes that we find a better way to help young people meet Jesus, we’ll drop all of this and do that. Until then, we have to keep this going.”