You can’t put a price tag on youth festivals

(Photo: Dreaming the Impossible)

The pandemic has been exceptionally difficult for young people, and I don’t think we’ve seen the full extent of it yet. They continue to live in a rapidly changing culture, surrounded by social media, with significant pressure and uncertainty around their upbringing, and I’ve never seen mental health issues on the scale I’m seeing right now .

The role that our churches and youth ministries must play in investing in the next generation is important and should not be underestimated. It has been great to see an army of youth workers consistently loving, supporting and disciplining young people over the past two years and I have been so encouraged to see many groups of young people rebuilding and coming together in person.

Anyone who comes into contact with young people knows that an authentic relationship is absolutely essential – they need a cohesive connection and I think groups of young people need to come together more than ever – in their local contexts but also in larger ones.

In 2021, Dreaming the Impossible was one of the only youth festivals to take place – and God met hundreds of young people in the most amazing way. It was a huge roller coaster ride of faith to get there, with a lot of uncertainty – amazingly, all the restrictions lifted just in time! We persevered through all the complications to make the event a reality, because we young people needed it, they needed to meet each other and meet God.

I grew up in a small Anglican church in Cambridgeshire, in a youth group of about 15 young people. When I was 13, we went to Soul Survivor for the first time. While I had grown up in the church and was involved in the church community with my family, nothing really prepared me for what it felt like to walk into that barn meeting room for the first time. I was surrounded by thousands of other teenagers passionate about worshiping God. I saw God move in a way that I had never experienced before and had so much fun!

Youth festivals are a great annual time for young people and from the age of 13 I went there every year until I was in my early twenties and was too old !! When else can you spend a long period of time with your friends and with God at this age? I have built such deep relationships with my peers and youth leaders and looking back these gatherings have been absolutely catalysts for my faith. It was at Soul Survivor when I was around 14 or 15 that I first felt the sense that God was calling me to church leadership and giving me a heart for the next generation.

Many people question the return of big events in this post-Covid landscape, wondering if there’s value in the big. Have the festivals had their day? Does God do something and shake the church to try something else? And I asked myself these questions too, but I am convinced that youth festivals continue to be as valuable as ever. It is here that young people are mainly known and disciplined and we must continue to invest in local youth ministries, but there is something special that happens at a youth festival, which cannot be reproduced in a local setting.

What happens in just a few days can impact what happens for the rest of the year; festivals have a long-term impact. They give young people the opportunity to be completely immersed in the community and in the presence of God for an extended period.

Whether it’s spending time in meetings meeting God together, in seminars, in coffee shops, playing sports, in the silent disco, or having hot chocolates together, memories are made and relationships grow. are accelerating between young people and also with their leaders. I’ve often heard that you can do a year’s worth of youth ministry in a week at a youth festival!

It is also invaluable for young people to come together with thousands of other Christians and those exploring the faith, as it helps them to realize that they are part of something bigger. A young person may be in a group of five young people, feel like the only Christian around because he doesn’t know any of them in his school or college – but then he comes to something like the DTI and he realizes that there are hundreds, thousands, millions all over the world like them. It is so important for them to know that they are not only part of their tribe, nor of the Baptist Church, nor of the Anglican or Free Church, but that they are part of the family of God, the Church.

It doesn’t matter if you take a small group of 3-5 young people or a much larger group – when young people are outside of their usual surroundings, immersed in community and the presence of God, listening to relevant Bible talks, being prayed for, worshiping together, as well as all the fun, there is something incredibly special about what God is doing at this time.

I’ve seen it in my own life and in hundreds and hundreds of other young people now. I also think we’ve seen it in a generation of people who are now in their 20s and 30s. If you walked into many churches and asked these guys if their faith had been impacted by a youth festival, I would suspect the vast majority of the room would raise their hands.

I know youth work has been a real challenge for many youth groups and churches during this pandemic and many young people are less engaged and struggling spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Youth festivals are so precious, often a mountaintop experience, a place of accelerated connections and encounters, but we know that festivals alone cannot provide all the support and discipleship that these young people need. desperately need. It has to be about disciplining these guys relationally for the other 360 days of the year and the role of the local church is vital.

Festivals can give young people the tools in their hands to walk with Jesus day in and day out, but it is their young leaders and peers who are crucial to walking with them through all the ups and downs. They are the ones who are there when they had a bad day at school, when their exams went wrong, when the house is difficult, when their grandmother died, whatever, they will be there… at home leave a gift, send a message of encouragement, pray with them.

So my challenge to you…even though youth ministry right now is difficult and we don’t know what the next few months will look like; even if you are overwhelmed and some of you might even feel like you don’t have much left in the tank, continue to love and gather your young people locally, and try to do all that it takes to bring your youngsters to a youth festival this year. It will be worth it, it will be brilliant for your young people and your youth ministry will be strengthened.

Susie Aldridge is the senior pastor of the Dreaming the Impossible (DTI) youth movement. DTI serves young people from churches and youth organizations around the world and is run by Vineyard Churches UK & Ireland. She is based in Nottingham at Trent Vineyard, where she is an associate pastor and volunteer youth leader. She loves anything yellow and almost always wears sunglasses!

Richard L. Militello