Debra Green OBE explains the huge impact she believes festivals, conferences and other events have and encourages us to continue engaging with them
When I first became a Christian in the early 1980s I belonged to a small church in Manchester. Back then churches didn’t mix much with other churches. Because there were only a few us, it was easy to think that Christians were few and far between generally. Of course, I knew that wasn’t the case but it was all I had experienced.
Then I went to a Christian festival. At Spring Harvest, my mind was blown by the huge number of believers gathered in one place. Thousands gathering together is very different from 40 or 50 people in a church hall. It changes the dynamic, raises faith levels and expectations of what God can do.
Empowered by gathering
It was amazing to see a glimpse of just how big the Church of Jesus Christ really is. As we gathered to praise Jesus in the big top marquee, and hear the most incredible stories of his power to transform lives, I felt empowered to love him and serve him even more.
It was amazing to see a glimpse of just how big the Church of Jesus Christ really is
It was in those early years of attending conferences and events that I heard God’s call on my life, which eventually led me to set up a national charity. I heard his call but, more than that, I received a gift of faith to step out way beyond my comfort zone.
These experiences in the early years of being a Christian shaped my life. I knew God was using these times powerfully.
40 years later I still feel the same way.
Still at work
We still need times when Christians, sometimes from different denominations and streams, get together – maybe even more than ever before. Of course, things have changed dramatically in recent times with restrictions around how we gather, but God is still at work in new and exciting ways through Christian conferences.
This year, many Christian conferences, events and festivals will not go ahead as planned for the second year in a row. Spring Harvest Home is running as an online interactive event from 4-8 April, New Wine are running a six-day United digital event at the end of July, while others, such as Big Church Day Out and Word Alive, have had to cancel completely.
Whether it’s in the Big Top or on the ‘Lap Top’ we are enriched by the faith of others as we gather. Online events and conferences are still a rich and nurturing experience, where we get to encounter the variety and diversity in the body of Christ. I am enriched by the faith of other people – especially by those whose experience may be different from mine. I have heard stories from the persecuted Church, for example. This has had a profound impact on my life. We are part of a worldwide Church and it is vital that we get to hear stories that challenge and stretch our faith.
Whether it’s in the Big Top or on the ‘Lap Top’ we are enriched by the faith of others as we gather
Some of the most incredible encounters of the Holy Spirit I have experienced have been at large Christian gatherings – some online, and some in person. I did wonder at first whether we would be able to feel the Holy Spirit moving in the same way online as we do when everyone is physically present together. And yet, I have found myself prophesying and giving words of knowledge on Zoom and then receiving a message via the chat function that what I brought was spot on! I have been part of an online conference where we anointed someone with oil for healing and the person was restored. I have heard God speak to me directly during the preaching of his word or during powerful times of worship and prayer – all via a screen. His presence has been so tangible it releases fresh faith me. Sometimes knowing I am part of something bigger, while standing in my own living room, gives me fresh ears to hear God speaking to me. Standing with others – whether in person or over Zoom – stretches my faith and causes an openness to tune in to his voice.
The reasons we sign up
I wonder whether you have ever really considered why you attend a Christian event.
Maybe you are inspired by the guest speakers who are anointed to bring the word of God. Sometimes we can be excited about the prospect of engaging in an atmosphere of worship led by one of our favourite bands. If you’re more practically minded, it might even be that you’re keen to learn wisdom from other leaders further along on the journey than you, so that you can take innovative ideas back to your area of ministry.
Whatever the reason we register for a ticket, and possibly take time off work to attend a conference, our desire is that God will meet with us. I’m hoping to be built up, to receive something from God and grow in my own faith. After big events, people often say things like: “I was able to hear God speak more clearly”, “I was strengthened in my faith”, “I was inspired to have a bigger vision of what God can do in my life”, “I was equipped to be a more effective leader” or ‘’I was healed’’.
Building up the body
What I love most, though, is that it is not about a single local church, or a specific denomination or demographic of person. Festivals like Spring Harvest and New Wine and others exist to champion the cause of local churches everywhere! And online events give us even more reach and enable us to hear from places across the globe we couldn’t have as easily at in-person gatherings.
Festivals exist to champion the cause of local churches everywhere
In Ephesians 4:16 (NLT), Paul says that: “He [God] makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (my italics). While the reason you might register for a conference – whether online or in-person – is because of what you want to get out of it, that is far surpassed by the benefits it brings to the whole body.
You might be reticent to sign up to an online event, because the personal benefit isn’t as clear – and we are all a bit sick of our own homes by now! Yet I believe passionately that the online Christian event, festival or conference is still a catalyst used by God to resource and build up the local church: to encourage us in hearing all God is doing; to embolden and stretch us in our faith; and to empower us in our mission to bring transformation and reach our communities. Buying a ticket is my investment in being able to do this more effectively. How about you?