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Say a missionary to the Eskimos or someone else who had been completely incommunicado with Britain since the war was suddenly transported into the middle of Soul Survivor. He, no doubt, would have been hugely blessed by the passionate worship, encouraged by the teaching emphasising radical discipleship and impressed by the news that attendances at the 2002 Soul Survivor were at record levels. This imaginary missionary could well have left the event believing that Christianity is undergoing a revival in Britain particularly amongst the youth. Sadly though, it wouldn’t have taken this visitor long to discern that his initial impression about the spiritual state of Britain’s Church was not an accurate one. Christianity in Britain is in a relentless state of decline. The statistics make depressing reading. Church membership in the UK has decreased from 5.4 million in 1979 to 3.7 million in 2000. Britain continues to lose a thousand young people a week from the churches. Sunday school attendance has virtually collapsed. And if 25% to 33% of churches are numerically growing, 80% of that increase is transfer growth with people simply switching from one fellowship to another.
Of course, all is not completely doom and gloom. The spectacular growth of the Alpha evangelism courses, the heartening support of the 24-7 and The Call prayer initiatives, the establishment of a fledgling Christian electronic media, and of course the on-going success of events such as Soul Survivor, all are encouraging green shoots in Britain’s spiritual wasteland. But the overall picture of Christianity in Britain seems pretty bleak. Yet as this article has noted already, appearances can sometimes be deceptive. One person who thinks so is Chris Cole, CEO of Cross Rhythms. In November Cross Rhythms announced their intention of recommencing the Cross Rhythms Festival in July 2003 in Okehampton, Devon and Chris isn’t particularly concerned about the numbers who attend. “We’re calling this year’s festival Gideon’s Heart and in many ways it’s a response to what I believe God is doing in the Church in this nation. You’ll remember the story in Judges 7, Gideon has an army of 32,000 about to do battle against the Midianites. But God trims the army down to 10,000! Now, I don’t think we’re down to the 300 yet. But I do believe we are beginning to identify the 10,000 – Christians who aren’t trembling with fear at the thought of the spiritual battle ahead. God’s not into numbers, he’s into faithfulness, and I firmly believe we’re being led into a season where God will achieve his purpose in this nation not by a huge mass of church goers singing the latest choruses and telling everyone how cool Jesus is but by a radical, hand-picked band of fighting men and women. That preparation for battle is now underway and I believe 2003’s Cross Rhythms Festival is an event which will prepare some for that battle. The prophet John Mulinde has observed, ‘You can’t take the Kingdom without until you’ve taken the Kingdom within.’ We’ve all had teaching down the years about the need to develop holiness of life but now the time has come to turn doctrine into experience and to overcome the giants within our hearts that have made us weak, listless and ineffective and be transformed into warriors ready for a raging battle against the powers and principalities of sin.”
Won’t such a radical agenda for the 2003 Festival keep away less serious-minded believers just out for a weekend of rock and pop in the Devonshire sunshine? “Maybe it will,” admits Chris Cole. “But then again, the Cross Rhythms Festival has never been an event which has grown much beyond a 3,000 attendance and it’s always been one that has been committed to encouraging the bulk of those attending to engage with the living God. We didn’t have a 2002 festival – instead we put our resources behind theCall England’s day of prayer and fasting in Reading – and 2001’s festival was called Breakthrough. For many people, I believe a survey indicated 90% of those attending, it really was an event that brought a breakthrough with God. Now we need to encourage people to find the next level, a level where they’ll find their individual strategies from God which collectively will be a spearhead movement against the Enemy, to hold the tension personal and corporate responsibility towards God and each other so that people see a holistic outworking of church life which enables us to be secure in the chaos of life.”
With no intention of following the accepted wisdom of church events that “big is beautiful”, if anything the 2003 Cross Rhythms Festival will be smaller than previous years with a smaller selection of tents and a policy of making every band and speaker an active carrier of radical spiritual militancy. But there are plans for expansion in another way as Chris Cole explains, “When we cancelled the 2002 festival we really saw the evidence of how valued we were by the West Country churches. For them the cancellation left a gaping hole. So we’re returning to Risdon Farm in 2003. But we’ve also begun to explore ways of establishing other, similar, small scale festivals across the UK. We’d like to see 10 such festivals established across the nation. With those in place we could really be getting to prepare the army we’ll need in the years ahead.”
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