Strategising Summer festivals and discipleship

A couple of people have written articles about Summer festivals over the last few weeks, unsurprising on one hand because it is the end of the (christian) summer festival season, and many are keen to share the impact of them, for a variety of reasons. Jo Dolby wrote the following in her article here:

 We were never asked to make people into Christians or converts. We were commanded to go and make disciples, and how do we do that? Baptising and teaching… or initiating them into the family of God and helping them live out everything Jesus taught. That’s our call, that’s our commission and we absolutely must stick to it, and not get distracted with the easy, adrenaline filled, fast-food business of convert-making.

Let’s be honest, getting converts is actually quite easy. We all know the emotional persuasive power of a room full of thousands of your peers, away from home, with the lights, the music, the talks – getting hands in the air and bodies to the front is not that hard.

The full article is here: Summer Christians?

And, unsurprisingly I completely agree with Jo on this. Unsurprising if you read my previous articles on the impact of summer festivals on young people and more so the impact on summer festivals and discipleship in the local context. (see: Biggest influences on Youth Ministry)

Image result for festival

To think about this a little further and the relationship between the Summer festival, the local church, the young people and discipleship, i wonder about the the following questions;

  1. How is the ‘summer festival’   integral to ‘insert name of local church youth groups’ long term pathway for discipleship for a young person? – or does the desire for the young person to go from the parents, or the youth leader..? that assuming that a local church has some kind of strategy or pathway for its young people 0-18…And would having a strategy alternate to the summer festival make any difference if the culture of summer festival and all it delivers trump it anyway? (culture eating strategy for breakfast)  How might a youthworker or church communicate to parents not to send a young person to a summer festival if the parents themselves used it as a form of 3-4 day ‘childcare?’
  2. How is the ‘summer festival’ appropriate in the formation of a young person spiritually, given faith development theories? (for a quick summary see here: ie – does a type of conversion occur at a summer festival,  that is similar to a mirrored faith, an owned faith, or something else?  if its mirrored, and highly influenced by group psychology in a large environment – is it real? it can be, but is it less that the desperate cry of the heart alone at home..?  is one a mirrored experience, the other a young person taking ownership – surely ownership of faith is what is required… ?
  3. If the best that a summer festival can offer is ‘conversion’ or a  ‘re-conversion’ and a form of discipleship which may include a young person signing up to a gap year, a theology course or a mission trip – or buying a bucket load of christian resources, or snogging a member of the opposite sex.. (or same sex, wouldnt that be interesting) sorry, sidetracked. But if conversion and conversation with a christian agency are the key impactful moments – it seems a considerable effort for this? and also it leaves a substantial amount of gaps for the local church. Or ways in a which a local church can and should be able to critically assess the appropriateness of such a festival on a young person. If it is a conversion type experience for a young person already converted – then would something different be more appropriate – such a week mission trip abroad, or locally. What kind of ‘festival’ might aid a ‘converted’ young person in their discipleship – if such a festival exists, ie helping at an SU camp or something similar. Surely young people being empowered and discipled means more than playing games all day and an evening main event time of worship in rows to a band and a comedy two piece featuring a female who finds the males jokes funny-  we can do better..?
  4. What about the scenario that the summer festival is barely different from the local church – both have guitars, powerpoint, singing and conference facilities, especially since the growth of the charismatic movement, post ‘toronto’ and the steady influence of youth ministry to the mainstream ecclesial gathering, ie 30 years of ‘contemporary’ worship singing.  The only difference might be the quantity of same age people, mud, and queues for showers, and parents being 200 miles away. What kind of faith could be cultivated in a local church that isnt in this scenario, and that makes ‘summer festival’ relatively redundant;  could the local church raise its game with young people- ie change its culture? why is it even needed? why not give a young person a substantially different experience – if they’re used to charismatic worship week by week then send them to Iona.  If theyre in a middle of the road church thats trying to be charismatic, then will ‘charismatic bent’ summer festival be what the church want for the young people, including the parents, or, less likely to be what the young person wants themselves. A young persons faith might grow if they experience something radically different, or a weeks working in a homeless shelter, or a trip to Holy Island. Though the charismatic bent of summer festivals in youth ministry is a whole other conversation… To be fair, if theyve been involved in christian ministry the whole year, send them to Reading and Leeds so they can meet some real people and have to do discipleship in the world. And escape a while.
  5. The summer festival can undoubtedly play a part in a young christians life – they have been doing so for years, I went on a few, however they are only as good as the local church. Yet it is in the local church and community where discipleship occurs, if the summer festival is a retreat and recharge space- then great its all needed. But if young people are raising their game in the local church by taking on responsibility then summer festivals, as retreat spaces, yes fun spaces, and worship spaces are all valid, but if they are to be wholly successful then they will build and support what is happening locally.
  6. Critically – why should young people, churches as/and families pay extra for summer festival ministries? or more bluntly – ie Jesus gave his life for free- why has an industry been created that families pay for an experience of this, and immediately this creates barriers. If it is so good and worthwhile shouldnt the church (nationally) pay for it?  Barriers aside though – what is the cost of Jesus showing up in a ministry time nowadays? Same Jesus in the local church isnt he?  is God more present where there are more people singing, or where one person is serving him to feed the hungry?

Just  final thought, What about applying a 6 year rule to the conversion statistics for the summer festival. How many of the people who proclaimed a conversion were involved in a church 6 years previously, and are still in one in 6 years time. Ie – how many conversions are people already in churches and probably since birth/childrens work, and thus – what kind of a conversion is it? and then how many are still involved in church life of some form 6 years afterwards?  Maybe that is difficult – and its not the ‘job’ of the summer festival. But if the church generally is still unable to keep the young people it has nationally, even with a whole host of summer festivals, then an aspect of the strategy of a summer festival is being negated by a stronger culture somewhere else. Or its a project that hasnt kept young people from falling away despite or because of the experiences it offers. Local discipleship might be the way to go. But this isnt sexy, neither does it keep ministries as ministries.

But surely that has to be the aim, a 6 year one, not just a 6 week summer one.



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