Five reasons why Big Church Day Out is excelling
Loved the event this year, so thought I'd try to analyse why it's working so well ...
The Big Church Day Out continues to make massive strides, and it was great fun being at the event on the Saturday this year.
It would be easy to do the standard review piece as there was plenty to enjoy – great music, fun things to do, the brilliant setting on the Wiston estate and much more.
But I thought I'd take a step back and try to analyse WHY the event seems to work so well, recognising that Tim Jupp and his team are blessed by some generous donors who have invested in Big Church Day Out, enabling them to keep ticket prices very low for what the event offers.
FIVE Ps (it's always Ps isn't it? One of these days someone will work out why)
Spend a day at BCDO and you get a fresh vision for what the Church can be – full of life, passion, energy and hope. Everything about the event is positive and intentional: God is good, he wants to bless and use his people to change the world, and that strong 'upful' community vibe is there in spades.
Yes, there's always the danger of hype and over-excitement, but personally I'd rather cope with that than the dreary blanket of doom, gloom and victimisation some seem to want to wrap the UK Church in these days.
They've worked really hard to make it an event for the whole local church family. It says something when you find your church youth worker enjoying a bit of peace and quiet down by the tea tent, instead of bouncing with the kids at the front of mainstage. The village church fete feel up by Wiston House, with a real variety of things to see and do, as well as the prayerful quiet of Wiston Church, and the massive tea tent marquee, mean it's an event where grandparents can genuinely come with their grandkids, as well as the youth and young families festivals typically attract.
And that's important – we are so convinced of the need to target activities, outreach and events in the Church these days, it's rare to find opportunities for everyone to be together. We need to cherish and develop that, as generations have so much to learn from each other.
It was less overt this year at the event, but prayer has always played a major part in BigChurchDayOut. The logistics alone mean the whole event is something of a miracle, when you add up everything that could possibly go wrong. But there is a desire to see much more than a couple of good days out develop from the event. Whether it's reaching out to the poor and needy, crying out to God for those suffering around the world or just seeing ways for local churches to serve their communities, there is a heartbeat of prayer that is outward focused, not just 'bless me' prayer.
The lineups at the event have unashamedly been ambitious, mixing big names in contemporary Christian music with top worship leaders. And while there are plenty who don't like the approach that uses 'names' to draw crowds to Christian events, Big Church Day Out at least works hard to give opportunity to up and coming artists and bands, too. Hence the likes of Philippa Hanna on the mainstage this year, alongside competition winners like Nikki Hopkins (watch out for our interview with her in the July/August issue of Inspire) and others on the UCB stage.
Pulling in crowds of 20,000 over two days is no mean feat these days, and the consistent quality of the acts is part of the reason, along with great value ticket prices. My tastes are a little more leftfield, so I thoroughly enjoyed acts like the complex and wondrous Gungor, and the Santana-influenced Latin rockers Salvador, alongside schools dance and dubstep specialists LZ7. There's a breadth that's refreshing amidst the popular names.
On their website, Big Church Day Out say "Our aim is to encourage and inspire people to press in for all that God has called them to do, both locally and further afield, and to provide a relaxed environment to introduce friends and family who have little or no experience of church." The event is driven by a desire to see the Church come alive, and be all it can be. And so there is a missionary heart there: it is a great place to bring people who aren't yet Christians, to experience something of the life and joy Jesus brings.
And there is a passion to serve. Ministries like Compassion and Christians Against Poverty remind people that there is work to be done, and people to be helped. Sometimes it's a tough message to put across, and there were times when I've felt the pressure being exerted from the stage to give has crossed a line into territory some would feel is being 'too pushy'. Certainly anecdotal evidence from others I've spoken to would back that. Yet, these are passionate people who care deeply about their work, so I can understand they want to make the most of the chance to talk to thousands.
The figures are compelling: CAP can now open 13 more UK centres and help another 4000 people become debt-free because of the response given at this year's event. And millions have been raised to help children below the poverty line at previous years' events. It's hard to argue against that, and I wouldn't want to.
Other high spots for me this year were the appearance of Amy Grant – still looking and sounding great, even if I didn't recognise her during a low-key sound check on the tea tent stage to a couple of dozen – the vibrant and infectious Watoto Children's Choir, and some very nice Thai food. Stewarding was great, and getting on and off site was smooth and simple.
I'm looking forward to next year already – and seeing where this fledgling event (2009 was the FIRST year!) can go. In God's hands, there's no limit!
Photos: Russ Bravo, apart from top right by Marc Gilgen