The spring and summer calendar is littered with Christian conferences that have had to develop and reinvent themselves over the years. They all gather thousands of people, but each one has its own particular flavour. Big Church Day Out (BCDO), established in 2009, makes no apologies for the fact that its main focus is music.
Creator and organiser Tim Jupp (previously of Delirious? fame) explains that BCDO came out of a desire to create "one weekend in the year when thousands from all denominations and church backgrounds could come together, to have a huge picnic together."
BCDO attracts more than 20,000 people annually for an all-age celebration. Against the backdrop of the beautiful Wiston Estate in West Sussex are three main music areas on which 34 artists appeared: the Tea Tent, a more laid-back music experience including choirs and orchestras, the Illuminate stage aimed more at teenagers and the main arena, which attracts some of the top names in the global Christian music scene.
Artists this year included BCDO favourites Israel Houghton, Rend Collective, the Watoto Children's Choir as well as Switchfoot, Christafari, LZ7, Lecrae and BCDO first timers Bethel Music. LZ7 launched their new initiative Illuminate at the event, a movement connecting with young people in schools and through tours in stadiums and arenas (for more information see illuminateyourcity.com).
But Tim sees Big Church Day Out more as a huge church family gathering than a music festival and says that's why there are loads of family attractions, such as bouncy castles, fairground rides, hovercraft rides, fencing, a climbing wall and a petting zoo.
During the daytimes there are age-appropriate events parents can take their children to, as well as a men's tent with scaletrix, table football and a display of cars and bikes and a women's pampering and prayer tent. There are also 100 organisations represented in the bazaar area.
One of the strengths of large events such as BCDO is how they envision people, opening their eyes to the fact that church is so much bigger than their own local expression of it.
Tim is excited by the way in which BCDO celebrates unity but also demonstrates diversity: "Having travelled all over the world, I know that God's Church comes in so many different shapes and sizes and shades and colours, and our different expressions of church all go together to make up the bigger picture of this great idea that God had for us called Church.
"I have a sense that right now in this season the Church is responding more than ever to God's heart for unity, and that in the mix of everything that is going on across the Church maybe the Big Church Day Out has a part to play in what is prophetically happening.
"I always love seeing people respond to follow Jesus. It is and always will be the greatest miracle of all in anyone's life, and it is a privilege that the Big Church Day Out has become quite a platform for seeing this happen in so many lives."
Tim said they are hoping to develop a new site in the north of the UK and they are also hoping to reach the point where the event pays for itself.
While my family and I love the music and the kids get stuck in to a lot of the activities, I sometimes wonder whether it is wasted opportunity when such a big crowd is gathered for there not to be any teaching.
But Tim says: "I think it is one of the strengths of the Big Church Day Out that we don't have a teaching or seminar programme, because sadly it can sometimes be these very things that cause people to 'opt in' or 'opt out' of an opportunity to fellowship with the wider Church, and subsequently miss out on the rich blessing that can come when the wider body decides to get together."
He is convinced that one of the important things BCDO does is show the secular press that the Church is definitely still alive, and indeed he thinks it is a great, non-threatening event to bring non-believers to.
One of the things the event does so well is drawing people together at the end of the night for a time of corporate worship. This year it was lead by Bethel Music on the Saturday, and by Jesus Culture on the Sunday.
The highlight for me was definitely the session led by Bethel Music. Pete Greig introduced them by acknowledging that they have written the anthem of our hearts in their music. It was great to be able to share that experience with my kids, who love and worship alongside their albums just as much as I do.
With various bands coming on stage, the crowd seemed as if they could have been at any gig and at certain points I wondered how much worship was actually going on. Even so, the artists themselves were definitely focused on drawing people to God rather than themselves and there were special moments when there was a sea of raised hands and voices, and times when you could have heard a pin drop. Joining with thousands of Christians and witnessing hundreds give their lives to Jesus for the first time was amazing.
And, finally, a great miracle took place – while looking threatening at times the British weather held out. Always a bonus for a predominantly outdoor festival!