The British Christian youth organisation Soul Survivor has announced that it is closing its long-running summer festivals.
The events, which have been running since 1993, launched the careers of worship leaders Matt Redman and Tim Hughes, and at their peak drew almost 30,000 young people across several sites each summer. However, after the organisers announced that they felt it was time to 'step aside' the festivals are to close for good.
The Soul Survivor festival, which last summer moved its main venue to Peterborough after 24 years at the Royal Bath and West Showground, will take place across July and August at three venues in 2018. Its all-age sister event, Naturally Supernatural, will also run this year and next, and will end in 2019.
Founder Mike Pilavachi announced the news through a video message on Facebook, and an announcement sent to the organisation's email database. In it he said that the leadership team and trustees of the event believed 'unanimously' that 'God has spoken and that this is the right time for us to step aside and make space for others to rise up.'
He expressed enormous sadness at the decision, but reflected on the profound 'joy and privilege' of journeying with young people over the past 25 years.
Explaining the move, Pilavachi said that 'right from the start of Soul Survivor we always said that when God told us to stop, we would. We believe that time has come and we want to be obedient.'
Although the event has grown into the biggest and most recognisable brand in British youth ministry, he was keen to underline that this was never the intention, and that as a result this is an ideological, rather than business-based, decision. 'We know that God said "I will build my church" – he never said, "I will build my Soul Survivor,"' he added. 'Our passion has always been to support the local church where faith is lived out as family week in and week out, not to create our own movement.'
Soul Survivor launched in 1993, when Pilavachi – then youth worker at St Andrew's Chorleywood – created a separate youth event to run alongside the popular charismatic evangelical festival New Wine. This quickly split into two weeks as attendance snowballed over the following summers, while Pilavachi planted a Watford-based youth church of the same name which sought to embody the principles of the event – chiefly including a commitment to 'naturally supernatural' ministry in the Holy Spirit – all year round. The church continues to thrive today, although it now has an all-age focus.
Bishop Graham Cray, chair of the Soul Survivor trustees, said: 'Soul Survivor will leave a legacy of thousands of young people who have met with Jesus for the first time at one of the events, as well as many thousands more who have deepened their faith, or heard God's call to leadership.
'It is often much harder to hear God's call to end a ministry than his call to begin one but we all believe the Holy Spirit is saying that 2019 is the year when we should finish. Soul Survivor was founded on the value that we will seek to obey what the Holy Spirit says and so we must be obedient. We do this absolutely convinced that God is raising up, and will raise up, new movements to equip young people as disciples of Jesus. We look forward to seeing what he will do as we step aside.'