Speaking Jesus at Reading Festival
What do you do when 90,000 festival-goers descend on your town? Find out how a local church took the opportunity to show love and share the gospel.
Unlike many music festivals, festival-goers at Reading don’t stay onsite through the weekend; rather, most head on- and off-site several times while here. With such an influx, we want to do something to serve some of them and to speak to them of the Lord Jesus.
Love and Jesus
“Showing Love, Speaking Jesus” is the strapline for our outreach and we try to do this in all we get up to as a church. Ordinarily, that would be shown in three ways at the festival:
- Giving out a helpful map of the town
There’s very little conversation at this point as festival-goers swarm out of the train station, trying to work out where they need to be going. However, the map we offer also contains a short zine-style piece that speaks about the music of one of the headline acts and relates it to the gospel. In previous years, we’ve given out between six and ten thousand.
- Running a free refreshment stand
In 2018, we gave out around 25,000 free drinks from the front yard of a house very near the festival site. While those serving there are incredibly busy pouring squash, there are occasions when they can speak about the love they have freely received, leading them to freely give to others. The Gideons are often there too, giving out their New Testaments to those who ask (in 2018, they gave out 800).
- Chatting to festival-goers about Jesus down by the River Thames
Here’s where the most conversation happens. As a friend said to me: “The festival outreach was the highlight of my year when I was with the Open Air Mission. The openness of young, hungover rock fans was always astounding!”
All those who are involved, in all three areas, wear blue t-shirts to help festival-goers recognise that the people who want to speak about Jesus with them are the same ones who also want to practically serve them.
Festival outreach during a pandemic
This year, due to the uncertainty around Covid and the shape the festival would take, we felt unable to give out maps and drinks. But, praise God, we could still speak about Christ by the river!
Gospel opportunities ranged from philosophical chats lasting the best part of an hour, to two minutes of sharing an aspect of the gospel while giving out a free pin badge.
The short opportunities with badges are my personal favourite - partly because every person we meet is in need of Christ, not only those interested in talking about the ‘big issues’, and partly because of the person who thought I was offering ‘free badgers’!
The majority of those I spoke with this year seemed to be hearing the gospel message as something very new. One or two took offence at what they thought was being said and a number were apathetic to what they heard. But many heard about who Christ is and what he has done and, while they didn’t turn and trust then, seemed to see that this gospel – if true – really is good news.
Don’t go alone
Like nothing else, frontline evangelism reminds me of the need for the Father to be at work by his Spirit if people are to see Christ rightly, understand him truly, and come to him in real repentance and faith.
Also, other gospel churches in the area have been happy to work alongside us in all three areas of outreach. There are also Christian groups - like Street Pastors - bearing witness on the festival site.
It’s good to work together in something like this: good for smaller churches to have something they can plug into that they don’t have to organise; good for larger churches to ensure they’re not trying to go it alone.
Please pray the Spirit would use the literature that was given out (especially John’s and Mark’s gospels); that he’d use the badges to remind people what they heard about Christ in connection with them; and that he’d bring to people’s minds the truths they heard about Jesus at the festival.
We’d rejoice massively to hear of churches in different places being contacted by young people wanting to hear about Christ because they’d been given a cup of squash or a free badge(r) and heard about Christ’s love. We’re very aware that almost nobody we speak to is from the Reading area so we do our best to point people to the Christianity Explored database, so they can find a local gospel church in their area.
Maybe you don’t have a huge event in your area or perhaps your church doesn’t have the people power to run an outreach that utilises 100 volunteers.
But is there a local community event in your town, village, or city, that could give your church an opportunity to show love and speak of the Lord Jesus?
Header image by Raph_PH on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)