Christian Living

Christian Conferences – Should you go?

This is my latest article on Christian Today – Have you been to a Christian Conference this year?  Should you go?  Or is it your idea of purgatory?!

It’s that time of year again. Christian conference season is well under way. Whatever your taste there is sure to be something for you – from the mega conferences to your church weekend away, the week long holiday with Bible teaching, or the one-day event ‘that will change your life forever’, there is something for every flavour of Christian. Do you want a quiet contemplative ‘retreat’, or do you want to ‘advance’ the kingdom with signs, wonders and booming bass? Do you want to have fantastic fellowship with your fellow Christians, or it is your idea of the nearest thing to purgatory on earth, spending your precious holiday time with your dysfunctional Christian family? Are conferences good for building up the kingdom of God, or are they just pale copies of ‘worldly’ holidays, and glorified promotional opportunities for celebrity Christians or the latest fad from over the Atlantic?

I have been attending Christian conferences since the 1970s, from the time when at the tender age of 16 I went to the tiny but wonderful OMF conference in the Highland village of Brora, to last year’s Keswick Convention. I hope the following observations might help us as we consider their role in the life of the Church in the UK today.

1. If you have never been, why not give it a go?

Whether it was youth conferences, Bible teaching conventions or Christian holidays, as a young believer I was greatly helped by some wonderful Bible teaching, glorious praise and meeting lots of believers my own age. It is a time of feasting – spiritually and physically. It is a time set apart, a ‘Sabbath’ from our normal routine, which enables us ordinary mortals to get some rest, recreation and spiritual feeding. Some of us are too cynical for our own good. We have prejudices which preclude us from trying out any Christian conference. Time to think again?

2. Beware of becoming a Conference Christian.

I’m talking about the practice of living off the occasional spiritual highs and boosts, before sinking back into the mediocrity of normal Christian living back in the real world. This was, and is, a real danger. The point of a special feast is not that you don’t eat food at other times. It is meant to enhance your normal life, not replace it.

3. Remember, they are not for everyone at every season of their lives.

Being in what felt like 24/7 ministry, the last thing my wife and young family wanted to do was give our precious holidays over to yet another ‘ministry’ situation. We wanted and needed to get away. Nowadays I try to go to one ministry conference where I am not a speaker, but our family holidays are generally spent on our own.

4. Try something different.

I have spoken at conferences as varied as Creation Fest, Spring Harvest, Word Alive, CLAN, and the granddaddy of them all, Keswick. I tend to get invited to a variety of conferences which means that you get to experience things that you don’t normally see. Whether it’s a different way of worship, a different church culture or just the wacko and bizarre (like the time in one speakers tent the main ‘prophet’ told us that the Lord had told him we should demonstrate our faith by literally eating grass – I refused on the grounds that I was sane and personally I thought he had been smoking it); it is all part of the rich tapestry of Christian life. If you are able to go to a couple of events per year why not choose one ‘safe’ one that you know you are going to enjoy, and one ‘risky’, outwith your comfort zone?

5. Enjoy the Diversity of the Christian Family.

I once spoke at Spring Harvest when it was the most popular Christian conference in Europe. It was surreal speaking in a pub called ‘Merrie England’ at midnight to 20 punters on the doctrine of predestination! It was beyond surreal turning up in a large hall to speak to a couple of hundred people on the doctrine of Hell, only to find that either side of me were two massive flame-throwing heaters. In my best John McEnroe voice I told the stewards “You cannot be serious! There is no way that I am going to speak about Hell with two flame throwers either side of me!” But despite the strangeness and the difference for me I enjoyed meeting brothers and sisters from many different backgrounds.

6. Beware of Celebrity Christianity.

Don’t just go to the conferences for the ‘big name’ speakers. In Christ’s kingdom there is only one big name. Celebrity Christianity is for me an oxymoron. I think of the ‘celebrity’ speaker who demanded first class tickets, his own dressing room and flowers! (I suggested to the organisers that that should have automatically excluded him). On the other hand you meet people like John Stott who was as gracious, kind and humble in private as he was in public. Faith affirming.

7. Get well fed.

One delegate at a conference told me that it provided ‘food for the body and food for the soul’. That’s not a bad description. Just as I would not enjoy a conference which provided me with junk food, we need to beware that we do not get fed spiritual junk food. Any Christian conference worthy of the name needs to ensure that the spiritual food is biblical.

I hope that the Christian conference scene continues, develops and grows. May the dross die, and the good flourish. May that which builds up the Kingdom of Christ, whatever tribe of ‘Israel’ we belong to, go from strength to strength, and may that which introduces poison into the body, wither and fade away.

Until last year I had never been to Keswick, thinking it was the kind of event that my parents would go to, but not something we would enjoy. Last year I went for the first time. It was wonderful – the venue was superb, the scenery magnificent, the organization brilliant, the fellowship stimulating, the Bible teaching out of, and yet for, this world, and (apart from accommodation and food) it was free! It challenged and changed my preconceptions and prejudices and made me glad that I belong to the biggest family on earth – the Family of God. Is that not what Christian conferences are all about?

You can get the original here –


  1. Freely confess to being prejudiced. Always thought that conferences were a deliberate penance, a bit like self- flagellation only longer, but will think again.
    Quite like the idea of the flamethrowers, though…

  2. I used to enjoy the ones held in agricultural show grounds. The faint but all pervasive smell of cow added a degree of earthiness to stop us getting too heavenly minded!

  3. I remember being at Keswick one time, and being in the main tent. There was a noticeable demographic with a proportionate lack of men form the ages of around 20-50. The talk was “nice” and if anyone has “issues” there were people the to pray.

    I found that whole thing rather emasculating and a better connection with God to be had with sitting with a friend next to a tree overlooking the beauty of Lake Derwent.

    Men’s conferences, I have found often to be of the nature of talking about how things aren’t and how they should be with some kind of “challenge”, but equally frustrating and not life enhancing.

    So, I’m afraid, with such experiences, I have found them to do more harm than good.

    Sorry, I have no wish to offend anyone by saying that, this is just one persons subjective experience of God more with a friend out with nature than any Christian conference. I am sure for others the experience will be different and there will be good things about such conferences.

  4. Belatedly – Conferences? My wife and I are regulars (viz 3 in a row) at Word Alive and have found the quality of speakers very stimulating but also very helpful on a personal basis (viz; Carson, Dever David Cook). But I agree that if we’re not careful we can go home expecting every Sunday sermon to be of high a standard and become hyper-picky and critical of one’s local pastor/minister. Keynote speakers apart there are great opportunities to engage in Seminars/workshops on a scale and level not usually available at local church level but no reason why these couldn’t be replicated at Regional level.
    We use the opportunity to join with family and grandchildren who have a truly great time in a safe yet stimulating environment so it’s a break for the parents. Cost at WA is becoming an issue and for younger families it may not represent good value for money. Meeting folk from other traditions and church cultures is probably good for us but again we could do that without going to a Convention.
    The mighty “Mez-in-a Fez” on his 20schemes blog seemed to be on a bit of a “bash the middle classes” rant over WA. I say Conventions are what they are and definitely not for all and have a high ‘escapism’ factor! That said we plan to take a break next for fear of the things you mention. Quite good conversation stopper with our middle class non-Xn friends: “So you’ve just been to a Xn Convention – at a holiday camp in North Wales – for a week with a lot of other Xns? Is it free? – why would you want to do anything like that?” Reactions vary enormously as you might imagine. It has been worth for the Dan Strange series “Apologetics for the rest of us” Brill!

  5. I love how you talk about how conferences and similar events are not for everyone at every point in their life. My partner’s cousins have become interested in the church and they want to get involved with youth activities. We’ve been looking into learning more about youth conferences and seeing what they should expect.

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