Our thirteenth residential conference was booked for the end of April. Now, of course, events are proceeding at such an alarming rate that it would be foolhardy to consider continuing with it. The easy and safe thing would be to cancel, but our conferences are never safe … instead we have grasped a God-given opportunity to create what could be a new paradigm for Christian conferences, by moving it onto the web.
Is there justification for such boasting? Not so if it was just streaming talks, worship sessions and YouTube videos. Our conferences are renowned for what we call the Freedom of the Spirit, with the accent on fellowship, faith and freedom. We are very big on interactivity, with delegates encouraged to chart their own course through the weekend. But how to do this on the Web? What I believe God is saying is to create a model for Christian gatherings (‘spirit to spirit’ if not actual ‘flesh to flesh’) that could become the norm in the time when the Church may be forced underground. Our desire is to connect folks up, from home to home, to allow them to fellowship seamlessly and experience most of what we do at our gatherings, despite not having physical proximity and, in fact, doing much more that can’t feasibly be facilitated at a conference. Although we may miss the hugs (probably prohibited anyway in the new climate!) we will actually be closer to the early Church, with the accent of small gatherings in familiar surroundings. So, how does this all work?
You need a safe ring-fenced place where you can cut yourself from the everyday concerns of home life. Preferably you can also have a few friends with you too. You click on a link and … you have arrived at Foundations 13. You light a candle (along with everyone else in their homes). The flickering flames will fill your screen with lights kindled from all over the nation. You hear a prayer, you sip on some wine, wash your hands (singing a 20 second hymn perhaps). Already you have modelled the early church and have done something impossible in a packed conference centre. Our worship team in Sheffield will play some songs and we all worship together in our homes. Prayers and exhortations will also be offered.
It is time for supper. You have a choice. You can move to your dining room and eat as you normally do. Or, you can eat in front of the screen, along with a group of conference buddies, who will join you in a ‘virtual’ room, where you can have fellowship. After supper we can all meet up together and the programme begins … This is all possible. It is also possible to meet in virtual rooms for prayer, intercession, confession and workshops. You can learn to make things with your hands ‘Blue Peter’ style, or learn Hebrew or take part in a discussion, or play games together, or watch a dance workshop. This is all possible. When the Bible says ‘they all met in each other’s homes’, they didn’t have the Internet and the idea of a National Church was unthinkable. We are still meeting in each other’s homes, we are just not physically close, yet this is the very thing that we are urged to refrain from health-wise, at the moment. Meeting virtually is not as alien and unnatural as it may seem. It is totally natural once we realise that we are still, at the end of the day, real flesh and blood meeting together … just in a new way!
I believe that this conference will prove a watershed in the way we can interact and feed from God’s Word together. We will be true pioneers. You never know … this could even go viral!