At Aintree, Liverpool on 1st to 3rd July took place the 10th Crossfire Festival. Next year the event will be reborn as Cross Rhythms North West. To the 2,300 people who went to the historic last Crossfire, the event was a thrilling success. Chris Cole gives a personal account.
As Ken Eaves, chief executive elect of the Crossfire festival and a Scouse with a heart for God as big as his 19 stone, put his arm around me and we prepared to mount the steps to Crossfire's mainstage, I felt utterly gutted. Then, as Ken and I took each step, the word Ken's pastor Jim had spoken to me began to resonate in my heart. The word was vulnerability - a word I have come to respect in times of trial and pressure.
Ken and I were really, really experiencing trial and pressure that weekend. Ken was facing the unpalatable fact that possibly insufficient money had come in through the gates to honour the cheques given in good faith to the musicians and speakers ministering at Crossfire. And I was facing the painful truth that my submission into Crossfire's plight was leaving the Cross Rhythms festival in jeopardy. Ken and the rest of the relatively new Crossfire committee had sweat blood and tears to put on the 10th Crossfire. They had faced gigantic problems including a £19,000 deficit before they even started. They had worked heroically in simply holding the event together. Now, because of a loan to Crossfire by Cross Rhythms, their financial crisis was mine too. As I prepared to speak, I realised the time had come to share the painful fiscal realities of Christian festival organising with a throng who understandably have little insight into the pain, pressure and sacrifice that makes up the organising of a Christian festival.
It is hard for someone who attends Christian music festivals to grasp their precarious financial state. Joe Punter sees what he considers a hefty ticket price, sees the large throng attending the event and assumes the organisers are coining it in. In fact, in Britain Christian festivals are notoriously difficult to get to break even status. The mammoth Greenbelt festival is currently labouring under a financial deficit while the 'smaller' festivals - with far lower attendances -struggle continually to keep their heads above water.
Crossfire festival has been running for 10 years. During that time it has brought Christian music and ministry to many thousands and has become largely recognised as one of Britain's most influential festivals. But the budgeting realities behind the joyful scenes of festivalgoers rollicking to Christian music has been a painful one. Despite attendances in the past of 5,000 plus, year in year out Crossfire have incurred debts until by 1994 the financial position had reached crisis point. Everyone agreed that inroads into a £19,000 deficit had, somehow, to be made. Throughout the '93 and '94 planning stage there were several encouragements. On the spiritual front, Crossfire appointed Ken Eaves, an administrator with a passionate vision to see Christ put at the centre of the festival. On the musical/commercial front too things seemed to be looking up for Crossfire. The festival was soon advertising its strongest ever bill thanks to an agreement whereby a Christian charity would fund Crossfire to bring in some top American Christian music acts. Then, as plans for Crossfire '94 progressed, Cross Rhythms and Crossfire were able to announce the start of a close relationship in the future. I'd discovered that Ken Eaves was a man who wanted to see God's Kingdom established above all else. For the '94 festival, Crossfire broke new ground inviting a number of speakers who ministered in the gifts of God's Spirit and was quite happy to genuinely integrate with the vision of Cross Rhythms. Another member of the executive, Tony Lucas, affirmed that the Crossfire Trustees and Council be approached with this idea of mutually working together. After an initial meeting in Liverpool both Trusts agreed to integrate and the "twinning" of Crossfire and Cross Rhythms in 1995 was announced.
My personal feeling about the association was that this would be a great opportunity to promote the magazine and the radio ministry in the North West as well as sharing the scarce resources needed to put the festivals onto a secure financial footing. This fact about resourcing is vitally important. What everyone, festival organiser and festivalgoer, bands and soloists, everyone involved in Christian music ministry, must recognise is that Britain's Christian music market is still very, very small. The market is small because proportionally only a tiny percentage of Christians are committing to the UK's fledgling music industry. There is at long last signs of growth. But we have still a long, long way to go before any activity involving Christian music ceases to be a financially perilous one. Christian festivals, like other Christian music activities are largely staffed by volunteers who receive no remuneration for their effort. I point this out because when festivals do break-even it is only achieved through the generous service of those volunteers prepared to commit to the vision of the event, often at considerable financial cost to themselves. The next time you complain about a ticket price please spare a thought for your brothers and sisters who are carrying the real weight of the enterprise. Many of the artists, themselves, also suffer financially because of this scenario.
As the time leading up to Crossfire drew closer and closer, potential disaster threatened to envelop the event. A feasibility study by the charity who indicated a willingness to work with Crossfire was never firmed up, and the verbal agreement to fund the visits of American artists to Crossfire was withdrawn. At the last minute the advertised US CCM stars had to be pulled from the event. Advance bookings to the event were disappointingly poor. And then, 72 hours before Crossfire was due to take place, one of the major suppliers to Crossfire demanded that they be paid in full for their services in advance. But the Crossfire cupboard was all but bare and the event stood on the point of collapse. Ken Eaves, a man who had shown unflappable courage and spiritual resilience through the quagmire of Crossfire disappointments, asked Cross Rhythms if there was any way it could help. Cross Rhythms had limited financial resources. Three Cross Rhythms festivals had left Cross Rhythms with a deficit of £3,000. But we did have £8,000 as part of our advance bookings for Cross Rhythms '94. After much prayer I agreed to lend the money to Crossfire so they could pay their supplier. Crossfire's deadline was 1.00pm on the Monday before the festival. At 12.45pm the money was transferred.
Crossfire '94 was spiritually and creatively a genuine success in many ways. Highlights such as the Worldwide Message Tribe stomping out a radical message with maximum energy and Norman Barratt stirring the emotions with the genius of his guitar playing ensured that for those with the 'ears to hear' special things were happening that weekend. Gerald Coates powerfully inspired the audience with his excitement concerning the manifestations of God's Holy Spirit in a number of differing churches and traditions around the country. To endorse what he was saying a group of over 50 young people in a tent a few meters away from where Gerald was speaking were weeping, laughing and falling to the ground under the presence of God's Holy Spirit. This ministry dimension to the festival continued throughout the weekend through such men as Steve Maile and Graham Jones. Many lives were deeply and eternally touched and changed.
As exciting and encouraging as these events were, however, Ken and I were brought down to earth with a calamitous bump which at the time didn't seem to have much to do with God's presence. The £8,000 needed to pay back Cross Rhythms was not forthcoming. This left the Cross Rhythms festival the following week in a perilous position. Ken and I, after literally crying and praying together with the pressure, mounted the steps to tell the Crossfire punters the score. I was vulnerable and told the audience precisely what I'm relaying in this article. A collection was taken and some money was reimbursed. And then, through the faith and commitment of one of the Crossfire committee members Cross Rhythms had the £8,000 back in its account 12 hours later. With this money Cross Rhythms was able to mount its festival and, by the grace of God, cover ITS expenditures (you'll be reading a full report of Cross Rhythms '94 in the next issue). There are still many things to be resolved. Cross Rhythms is now endeavouring to support Crossfire to set up a financial structure to ensure that all the participants of Crossfire are paid the fees they are owed. It is important to note though that both organisations retain their independent financial status. Several valuable things have emerged from the painful behind-the-scenes traumas at Crossfire '94. One is a greater realism about where precisely we are in terms of the number of Christian music supporters and the fees that can be realistically accommodated to make a large event break even. The second valuable thing is to see the breaking of the fleshly stranglehold that once gripped Christians organising arts events so that, with the provision of a walky talky radio and a sheaf of complimentary tickets, immature believers could massage their egos and act out their fantasies. At Crossfire and Cross Rhythms there were clearly visible men and women working out of genuine servanthood. And the third thing that Crossfire '94 has helped achieved is the knitting together of the two teams of volunteers so that despite the adversity there is a firm conviction that Cross Rhythms North West is the Lord's will.
Christian men and women of good will and generous heart will work another 12 months under adverse conditions to organise another festival, but I can assure you that despite the pain they will come out the true winners in the end. 1 Peter 1 v6-7, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
Chris and Kerry speak at a number of national conferences on Christian lifestyle, marriage and culture.