What draws those 16000 plus people to festivals where accommodation varies from the hotels and chalets of holiday camps to the usually muddy camping fields of showgrounds and stately homes?
For those worshipping with smaller congregations, worshipping alongside thousands of others, accessing concentrated bible teaching, and seminars on a wide range of topics can be a very attractive mix. Some churches have long running traditions of attending one festival or another. Going with a group enhances the experience, and makes it much easier for people to attend for the first time.
Three folk from C of E churches in Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley attended Spring Harvest this year. For different reasons none of us had been for some years. We were all encouraged by the festival and the way Spring Harvest has developed. The range of seminars offered by all these festivals grows year on year from diffusing conflict through rural mission to youth evangelism.
Even those coming from churches with greater resources the opportunity to take a break from ministry or to meet up with friends from other parts of the country in the ambience of the festival can be a significant draw.
“We come to Spring Harvest to for the celebration to thank the Lord for all he has done in my life and others I touch and see. I do a lot of learning here and I think the Bible study is outstanding. It’s important to be fed.” John Bell from Lighthouse Church in Leeds
The festivals vary in their emphases, from Greenbelt with a primary focus on justice, to those on an evangelical spectrum like New Wine, Spring Harvest and Keswick Convention. The ethnic majority pentecostal churches too have a presence, typically by network, like the Elim Limitless festival. There are also those like Soul Survivor and Momentum which are aimed (respectively) at the youth and under 30 age group.
All these Christian summer festivals keep fees down by relying heavily on volunteers to make the events run. Typically these volunteers work incredibly hard in return for accommodation and the chance to grab some bits of the event programme.
This is not a new phenomenon. The Keswick Convention has run successfully for 140 years and the current festivals are perhaps the grandchildren of the Bible conferences and mission society events of the 1900’s and before. Today these large gatherings, typically gather five to seven thousand people at a time mix worship, teaching and community between Christians from across the country.