Celebration comes from the human spirit. When our spirit meets God’s Spirit we get transformed, transformed into people who can celebrate. Jesus in Matthew 22:2 refers to the Kingdom as being like a wedding feast, a celebration, a party. That is part of our job, as followers of Jesus – to be the party people.
In July 2005 The Guardian carried a challenging article:
“Our Christian culture needs to cultivate a celebratory spirit. It needs to learn from the boom in festival culture. We yearn to join a crowd that is celebrating. Christian culture must learn from this. Carnival is the contemporary idiom of celebration. Christianity is meant to be a religion of celebration.”
For the last 40 years Fusion Youth and Community UK have been developing creative ways for churches to connect more effectively with their local community. Now partnering with the International Sports Coalition, this approach to community festivals is taking place in over 60 nations.
Here’s the challenge. How do you move people from disinterest to 3 hours later having a crowd dancing the Zumba or even better the Hokey Cokey?
These festivals are based around a concept called an “Open Crowd,” an intentional process where strangers become connected and a caring community starts to build. They are a great way to utilise the opportunity of the summer and take the first steps towards building relationships with people in your community.
The power of an “Open Crowd” is everyone, children in particular, are seen and valued for who they are. Strangers quickly become friends. At the heart of festivals are local Christians working together to love and serve their community. Through putting on community festivals we are then able to make friends for Jesus.
We seek to build a culture at each festival that shows what the Kingdom looks like and we seek to ensure that it’s part of a process of mission. Don’t let your festival be a one-off event, rather part of a community transformation strategy. Everything about the festival is planned with this in mind.
So what have we learnt over the years of running community festivals?
- Festivals themselves don’t change anything – commitment does. You need to build a team of disciples at the heart of your festival who love God, love each other and love their community. If you plan to have a community festival this summer, make sure you’re planning for what comes next too.
- The life of the team is what builds community.
- Children are the stars. Celebrate them, cheer them, and make them feel special.
- Festivals can build a bridge from our hearts to the people we meet. A bridge that Jesus walks across. Community festivals are great fun but also they’re opportunities for people to come aware having a better understanding of Jesus.
- Everyone belongs, everyone is welcome – people belong before they believe.
- Make it a priority to have everything free – just like God’s love. Keep generosity and hospitality as your two main values. Often when people find out things are free they ask why? This is a great avenue to share something of God’s love with people in your community.
- Create celebration everywhere. Create colour as you set up and start you festival – music, balloons, clowns anything that says “celebration”
- Put creative community-building people in key positions at your festival. Their freedom and sense of fun is contagious.
- Wherever possible run your Festival at the centre of your community e.g. public grounds, parks and schools. Jesus in John 4 went to the well, the centre of that Samarian community. That’s where we need to be.
- On a very practical level, care for your volunteers. Ensure they know their role and have all the resources they need. Including an effective PA system! This makes sure people hear all that is going on.
- The first hour feels chaotic -things are settling. Stay flexible and wait for the rhythm to come. It will happen. Hold on, stick to your plans.
- Have sport as part of your event. It gets in teenage boys each time.
- Planning and training helps build for the success of the day. Have a core team of 5 people who have oversight for all the planning.
If you want some training notes of how to run a community festival it is easily downloadable at – readysetgo.ec/en/resource/communityfestivals
Finally, if you want to find out more about how to use the opportunity of summer to put on a community festival then go to our website www.opencrowdfestivals.org or contact the team at Fusion Youth and Community UK fusionyac.org/contact-us/