Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Jerry Maguire moment

The past, the present, the future….

In the past we had up to 1000 young people. 23 years ago there was no youth meeting format. It was a great time to meet young people from other churches. Mannafest was radical and way ahead of its time. It paved the way for churches to plan and style youth meetings. It was free and we had a collection – the boxes went round and people threw in their sweet wrappers and shrapnel. Mannafest would bring across big name speakers – excellent communicators, funny storytellers. It was more of an event for all people, not just young people. We would stand for a period of time and sing praise songs led by a rock style band (with drums!!), which was in direct contrast to stand-up-sit-down-prayer-hymn-sandwich. Drama was a big pull as well. We had some excellent groups over the years and it was the best of the best actors/actresses in our wee country.

We have had to adapt. We have gone through seasons of change, but there has always been a desire for the continuation of Mannafest.

I can remember sitting in Mannafest one night and not being happy at the big event. Yes we had lots of people, but those people were not engaging in an authentic way. I remember being challenged with how Jesus dealt with the crowd. He spoke to them and basically gave them a choice. He made it hard for them to continue following. A big criticism of Mannafest was that it played into the whole event-junkie-monthly-top-up-emotional-experience. So I can remember thinking we should change our efforts and focus from evangelism (shallow) to discipleship (deeper). In reflection, this could have been a bad choice. I believe we made a deliberate change in direction. Some young people and youth leaders commented that they couldn’t bring their non Christian friends along to Mannafest anymore.

We were hit big when we had to move venues due to the closing of the Ulster Hall for refurbishments. Ulster Hall is the home of Mannafest. It’s not attached to any denomination so people don’t feel like we are attaching ourselves with any particular church.

When I was asked to take over Mannafest, I believe God spoke to me from Judges 7. Here Gideon starts of with an army of 32,000 and God sifts them down to 300 committed soldiers. I sat with Steve and talked through how we wanted to make disciples – not just Christian converts who might fall away when they hit 18. I also believed it was time to rebuild and restructure for the future. I felt the speakers over the past couple of years had become Christian comedians. They weren’t teaching from the Bible and while they got a physical response from young people, it was always the same people who went up. Or even worse, the kids that had been talking the whole way through the talk went up!

I also thought we cant we develop local talent? Why do we have to bring in outsiders? I believe we can become a sending country again. Maybe Mannafest wasn’t the right platform to give younger local speakers? But I believe in these people. I love their hearts for young people and for communicating God’s word. I believe we are investing in the future. It will have long term effects, which we probably won’t see for a while.

We have also noticed that a lot of youth leaders have stopped coming. This could be because they don’t know or like the local speakers. We have noticed that a lot of youth events now happen on Friday and Sunday nights, so Saturday is their night off. Also Mannafest has been said to be a glorified youth fellowship now. Everybody is doing their own type of Mannafest. However there is something about bringing life to the city. A minister once said to me if you can capture a city, you inherit the land. There is something about meeting together in the city centre to pray for our country. Bluetree sing, “Greater things are still to be done in this city.” Mother Teresa said, “It’s not about doing great things, it’s about doing small things with greater love.” There is also a song that says, “Knowing you Jesus – there is no greater thing!”

My heart is for young people to get to know God more. We can have youth events with the best bands, the best speakers or worse speakers, lights, cameras, action but what I fear we are in danger of is having over entertained under challenged young people. I want the balance of having a professional and passionate event, with one that has values of reality, authenticity and depth. My question is – is this the job of Mannafest? Surely it is the job of the local church. I have been told discipleship can only take place in the context of the local church – but surely discipleship can and should happen anywhere and everywhere, even at a monthly event. And I don’t just want to make converts; I want to be in Jesus’ business of making disciples.

So does Mannafest have a future?


Blackdog said...

Hey Steve, you put it out here so I hope you don't mind an answer, or another opinion, I'm sure you've had many.

Firstly I don't think a monthly event can become something particularly relational, discipling or investing - because it's monthly it's always going to be something that will be a little superficial. To get beyond that you need to become smaller, more regular, personal and probably more practical - and doing all those things was never a job for the event that was Mannafest. I hear your frustrations in it seeming like a superficial charge up - I remember my youth years and mannafest was just a chance to flirt with girls in a place that was pretty much the same as my church. You can't get around the truth that teenagers will be superficial, it's all part of the process. But throughout that, Mannafest should be planting seeds that will hopefully carry them through the difficulties they're going to face as they move on to uni, work etc.

As for the local bit, I appreciate the desire to invest in local speakers - but in the same way Bluetree aren't special over here because we're local and you can see them at church, it's the same for speakers. Why go to mannafest to see a local speaker I can hear any given Sunday in your local youth club or church?

To a degree, there's nothing wrong with putting on a big event, a special event. The world is full of flashing lights and loud noise, sometimes you need to be a megaphone to get young peoples attention. People want to hear something special, they want to be fed. Doesn't mean stopping the deeper aspects: prayer, counselling, hospitality and love that you can offer.

Am I endorsing selling out, hmm, I don't think so, because at the heart of it is integrity and purpose - to continue to feed in to the lives of youth for Christ.

Finally, I'm of the opinion that Mannafest stopping is a disaster, for YFC, for NI and it's youth. I'm not sure if it's come to far to be redeemed, but back to basics, re-brand, re-advertise, get the youth groups back on board, keep it in a simple format, do the gospel al least twice a year, get good international speakers in and bob's yer uncle, fanny's yer aunt.

JILL BOYD said...

Hey you - know you're feeling frustrated by all this.
I have to admit that Rick is onto something though.
Years ago Mannafest was different - it was something that you couldn't find elsewhere. But now events like it are popping up everywhere.
The discipling thing is a great idea - but it needs to come off the back of a bigger event. The big event can never disciple especially on a monthly basis.
Mannafest filled a gap in the youth circles years ago - but the gap has changed.
What do our young people need?

I totally love the outreach side of things - a presentation of the gospel. I think a re-branding and getting churches on board is important.

Do churches need support? Maybe they don't think there is a gap - they seem to be filling it rightly.

I don't know - just firing out thoughts