Big gatherings of Christians can be really special times. A conference, a multi-church event, a festival, even a wedding. But they can also be difficult environments to navigate well as a believer. Here are ten suggestions to keep in mind as you head into these environments.
1. Allow Christ to minister to you before you focus on others – It is so easy when surrounded by Christians and doing “Christian” things like listening to messages and singing worship songs to somehow lose track of the personal element of your relationship with Christ. Whether you need to get up early for time with God, or go for a walk, or miss a session, make sure you are getting time with the Lord. Remember that He wants to minister to your soul and care for you, and out of that ministry you will be in a better place to interact with others in a life-giving way.
2. Process everything in conversation with God – A lot of Christian gatherings are input overload environments. We can easily go into hyperdrive trying to accumulate notes, speak to everyone and experience everything. But along the way you will need time to process what you are hearing. Take time to talk with God about it all. It could be that a particular message has spoken to your heart and you need to share that with your Father, or maybe you’re carrying comments of encouragement or even criticism that you need to hand over to Him.
3. Aim to build up, don’t hype up – it is so easy to get caught up in the hype of Christian gatherings. Perhaps well-known speakers are involved, and it is likely that introductions of speakers will be sometimes be over-the-top. Before you know it, you can be sucked into the false world of praising or criticizing reputations. Instead of simply adding to the hype, be sure to treat people as real people – both the unknown person you are speaking to and the famous person who just walked past you.
4. Look for Good Samaritan opportunities – Large gatherings of people, such as conferences, are not without their casualties. Be sure to keep your eyes open and your heart ready to care for people along the way. It may not be someone lying at the foot of a staircase. It might be someone who is feeling overwhelmed, or alone, or who has been hurt by a misunderstanding or unkind comment. Remember that it may also be the high-profile speaker whose reputation intimidates you – they sometimes take quite an emotional beating in these environments. You may be enjoying the break from normal life, but there are plenty of people present whose normal life is looming large in their hearts and minds. Your care for them might be the highlight of their time away.
5. Network by faith – I remind myself of this lesson learned every time I go to a conference. It is so easy to network by stress. That is where I have a mental list of people I want to talk to and I run around frantically trying to find those people in the midst of a busy conference. I want to navigate this by faith rather than stress. Trust the Lord to bring you together with the people you need to speak to, even ones you don’t have on your list. If the need is there, He is more than able to bring you together in the time you have.
6. Give life, don’t suck life – There are basically two kinds of people in large gatherings. There are those that suck life out of the group, and people that add life to the group. Be someone who asks questions when you have opportunity for conversation (it doesn’t have to be all about you). Be someone who affirms and encourages, rather than picking holes in everything that is happening. Real life can become like Twitter, where somehow it seems easier for many people to say things about people that they would never say to people. Don’t let the false environment of a big gathering fool you – what you say matters, speak life-giving words.
7. Express appreciation and gratitude to all – This follows on from the last one, but let me specify my point slightly. Yes, it is important to speak encouraging words in your conversations. And it is certainly good to express gratitude to those who minister to you if you have the opportunity to do so. But that is not just the speakers in the sessions. What about volunteers working behind the scenes to make the event work? What about kitchen staff in the venue? If you see them, they see you, and if you express gratitude then you are doing a good thing.
8. Watch your witness to watching witnesses – This follows on from the last one, but let me specify my point again. Yes, your gratitude will be appreciated by venue staff and others. But more than that, anyone who is not in your group will be watching your group. Other guests in the venue, local residents near the festival, etc. Just because your small group are having the greatest celebration of friendship ever does not mean that others will appreciate your high volume late at night. Be sensitive to others. They are watching and they may well associate your insensitivity with the God under whose banner your gathering is taking place.
9. You are not on holiday from family roles – It is so easy to get caught up in the event that you are attending and to then neglect your spouse and children (whether they are with you or not). You are still a spouse, even if you have travelled alone. You are still a parent, even if they are being cared for by someone else. Be sure to make the phone calls, send the messages, express appreciation, be involved.
10. Be healthy – Conferences, festivals and large gatherings can be so unhealthy. It doesn’t help your experience, or your life after you return home, if you neglect your health for several days. Be sure to sleep as best you can on an unfamiliar bed (maybe bring your own pillow?), just because the food is available does not mean you need to eat all of it, get some exercise, enjoy the good gifts of God including creation, laughter, recreation, etc.
These ten suggestions may help next time you have the privilege of attending a Christian gathering – feel free to add more in the comments below!