My Problem With Christian Conferences

The massive venues, the steep price tag, the lights and the world class speakers… Here’s my problem with Christian conferences.

My Problem With Christian Conferences
Source: Bethel

It seems like every month there are more and more Christian conferences popping up. Usually launched by churches, but also sometimes by organisations and partnerships, the options nowadays are unreal. From any denomination and any country, there’s something out there for you. Pastors & Leaders Conference and MegaFest at The Potter’s House, Hope and Life Conference at Lakewood, The Gospel Coalition featuring faces such as John Piper, the various events Jesus Culture of Bethel Church puts on, just to name a few, with more and more every day. Some of the hallmarks of these conferences are as follows:

  • Tonnes of people. Usually numbering in the thousands to tens of thousands, these conferences are massive and easily compete with or outshine conferences of any kind, let alone those oriented around faith
  • Epic production values. From sound to lighting to programming to the way the foyers are set up, these are usually hallmark events
  • Great guests. From worship bands to renowned pastors and theologians, you’re in for a treat
  • Lots of opportunities to support aid organisations. World Vision, Compassion, Feed the Children and church based aid programs are represented and people are able to contribute in force

For me personally, the two Christian conferences I’ve had the most to do with are Planetshakers Conference and Hillsong Conference, both originating in Australia. While I have been to quite a few others of varying sizes, these are the ones I’ve had the most experience with. Planetshakers in particular was a conference I grew up with every year, and it has all the tropes listed above.

So, what’s my problem with Christian conferences then? So far I’ve spoken pretty favourable about them.

Some would criticise the spectacle of conferences like these, saying they can come across too commercial or money driven. Well, yeah, I think most conferences I’ve been to, whether Christian, software and technology oriented, or otherwise, definitely have a revenue raising arm, and can even carry quite a price tag. Do I share the same concerns? Well, no, I think you know exactly what you’re paying to participate in, and the reality of bringing so many people together for a memorable event does necessitate that sort of environment. I would compare it to the way they did church in the Old Testament – big, loud, and extravagant. Do I hate the small? No way, but neither do I have a problem with the big celebration. I think a victorious life is made up of both, and not one without the other.

Ah, so maybe my problem is with the rockstar culture. You know, all these mega pastors and their massive crowds. Seems like we generate a platform of fakers and speakers who are pure hype, right? Well, no, actually. While there have definitely been cases of this in the past, and I’m sure there will continue to be, most memories I have from conferences like these are real people being really honest about their shortcomings and failings. Two particular instances that come to mind are Louie Giglio, owner of his own record label and megachurch pastor in his own right, being completely open with his battle with suicidal depression. Another is Mark and Grace Driscoll allowing themselves to be interviewed after their fall from ministry after being pressured by their church to resign. Pretty real stuff if you ask me. Besides, anyone who I think is faking it or speaking heresy I usually just ignore what they have to say and wait for the next session.

I guess you could say that my problem with Christian conferences has nothing to do with the conferences themselves, or their speakers, or even their location. Instead, my problem with Christian conferences is this:

How many lifechanging events do you have to go to before your life actually changes?

For real I think the most surprising and perhaps disappointing thing about Christian conferences is hearing how great messages have been, seeing the commitments people make, witnessing all the great resourcing and insight that people are loading into their lives…

…only to see them on the following Sunday and see that nothing is different.

You’ve been in this amazing atmosphere, but you’re still not engaged when you come back to your own church.

You’ve spent a week discovering your spiritual and natural gifts, and yet another year is going by where you aren’t using them to help people.

You’ve gained all this amazing knowledge, but you’re still just keeping it to yourself.

We were talking at our connect group this week about relationships and forgiveness, and how important that actually is biblically. Jesus talked about a case where if you’re in a spiritual moment where you are bringing an offering, and you remember something you’ve done wrong to someone else, you should leave your offering completely, go apologize and set it right with the person you wronged, and come back after its been taken care of. The priority of Scripture is on reconciliation and wholeness, on confrontation and grace, on healing and continuing on. It very much speaks against ignoring issues, staying bitter and failing to admit our faults and do what we can to set things right.

And yet so many times, Christian conferences become our hiding place, our escapism from issues. In fact, I’ve known of friends and family who have been at conferences, had problems at conferences, and not addressed them. And then you go to the next conference, and the next, and the next… and you’re still the same.

Is this a fault of the teaching at the conferences? I don’t think so. I’ve been in enough conferences of different denominations and creeds to note that the teaching is usually pretty sound, and if its not, someone else will offer a rebuttal or an alternative view pretty quickly while you’re there. The teaching we receive at these conferences really does centre around us being better people all year around, not just the day or two we’re away at this conference.

I think the biggest one for me is when people aren’t sure of their calling. A lot of Christians who claim to have the answers in life can’t even answer simple questions about their own life, even though Christian conferences usually provide ample opportunities for you to find your direction and calling.

So, where’s the problem? I think it’s simple as this:

Hearing is useless if you don’t do anything about it.

It’s not enough to take 15 pages of notes at your one day event if you apply 0 pages of what you’ve learnt. All you are is spiritually obese. You have to apply what you’ve learnt to be effective, to actually change, to find your answers.

James tells us to be doers of the word, and not just hearers.

If you want to actually make a difference in the world, to live the life you were meant to live, to be as influential and world changing as you believed you would be while you were at the conference, it’s as simple as this – do what you’ve learnt. Take some of those notes and apply them today. Don’t be a conference junkie who is just an event attender – be a World Changer, an Influencer, a Planet Shaker, a… whatever other term your conference has for a difference maker.

The thing is, with the world class experiences we have available to us on a weekly basis really, we have no excuse to be living any less than our potential. Maybe it’s time that you and I brush off those notes and actually live it out instead of just been there done that bought the t-shirt do it again next year… with no change. Some final metrics I would consider in assessing whether or not we are people who are living it out, or just wasting our time:

  • Are you a good friend, husband, wife, or family person? Would your friends and family say the same thing about you as you just did about yourself?
  • Do you actually know what you’re supposed to be doing with your life? Or do you still live from uncertainty?
  • Does the fruit of your life show growth, or are you just stagnant water?
  • When was the last time you read something that you’d written down or learnt?
  • When was the last time you did something you’d written down or learnt?
  • Are you actively involved in your church community, or remaining disconnected or distant?

So there you go. My problem with Christian conferences. What do you think? Is this something you’ve observed too? Have you faced any other challenges with Christian conferences?

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