The mountain top and the valley. It's the rhythm of life for so many UK Christians who spend an inevitably rain-drenched week of their spring or summer in the faith-boosting surrounds of a Christian festival, only to return to reality with a crash when they get home. At events like New Wine, Spring Harvest, Keswick, HTB Focus and Soul Survivor, Christians old and young often experience God close up among thousands of like-minded people. In contrast, they often return home to a church where things are a little drier and less exciting, and a community where they're in a tiny minority as people of faith.
I'll never forget my (slightly cynical) youth leader's response when I returned from a Christian camp full of passion and desire to change the world. "Let's see how you feel in three weeks' time" he said, annoyingly, and of course, three weeks later the fire had well and truly gone out. It's feeble to admit, but this is something of a universal experience for Christian festival-goers. So does it have to be like this? Or are there steps we can take to preserve our post-festival passion long after the big top stages have been dismantled? I want to suggest a few ideas for what they might look like.
1. Replicate immediately
One of the big hurdles to overcome when we return from a festival is the idea that God is only really present and active when He's in the midst of 5,000 worshippers. That's nonsense of course; he can be just as tangible 'when two or three are gathered', or when we're on our own. The problem is that when we return to our home church, with its 1960s decor, sewing-group banners and worship team that at least tries really hard, we don't believe the same things are possible, and so we don't even try them. The easiest way to get over this is to try to replicate some of the festival feel as soon as you return. Schedule extra services; pray for each other properly, like you did when you were away. Loud guitars do not usher in the presence of God; we cheapen the awesomeness of God when we allow ourselves to believe that.
2. Focus on community, not individualism
Festivals can often lead us to focus on our own individual relationship with Jesus, but while it's important for each of us to be 'right with God', sometimes this means we overlook our communal relationship with God. So if you've been away with a church group to festival, the best way to retain some of the learning and growth from that time is to keep on experiencing and exploring it together. Meet up with those friends; share prayer requests; do ministry together. Hot coals stay warm for longer when you keep them packed in a pile.
3. Practise spiritual discipline
If you make one resolution when you return from an event, resolve to invest in your spiritual life through old fashioned discipline. Read Richard Foster's incredible 'Celebration of Discipline' for some pointers, or simply build time into each day to pray, meditate, be silent and study scripture. It's hardly rocket science, but if you can keep up a regular and disciplined pattern of spiritual practices, you are much, much more likely to retain that sense of intimacy with God for the long term.
4. Share your faith
You know those amazing things you heard, saw and experienced at the festival? They'd sound pretty amazing to your non-Christian friends too. After new converts, recent festival attendees can make for the best and most passionate evangelists, as people can't help to see the strength of your faith shine through your words. Although it's sometimes a little unnerving, sharing faith can be incredibly faith-building too; forcing ourselves to articulate our beliefs to others can help to remind us exactly what we think about God and why.
5. Organise a reunion
My sage and sceptical youth leader reckoned festivals had a half-life of three weeks, and that feels about right. So at that point, organise a big reunion meeting for the group that travelled together. Pull out all the stops to make it just as memorable and faith-building as the event itself. Tell the stories of what God did that week; worship and pray together; gather around a barbecue in the rain all over again. By transferring what happened 'there' to your home context, you'll help everyone to realise that God is still present and active at home too.
Events like those happening across the UK this summer are a fantastic opportunity to get together with other Christians, and be reminded both of the size and diversity of the church, and the awesome power of God. I pray this year that instead of a post-event low, we experience a post-event high, as all the things we've seen and experienced while away begin to shape and transform our day-to-day lives with God.