Doing anything for the first time can evoke a range of emotions – from excitement and nervousness to sheer fear. This describes well the experience of the GOfest team as we anticipated the very first ‘new’ GOfest event held at Moorlands College on Saturday 13th May.
The journey we’ve been on since the last weekend festival event in June 2015 at Bulstrode, WEC’s former HQ, has been challenging to say the least. The prophetic word we received then was to ‘go out from the central place’ and to ‘extend the borders of your tent!’ As we plotted new territory, it took us well over a year to figure out what that meant, where we were to go, and what GOfest was to become.
Given our renewed focus on engagement with local churches, we were keen to draw people from across the region, so you can imagine the thrill for the team to see lots of guests coming through the doors for the first event.
The somewhat experimental format was well received – a fast-moving programme with shorter sessions giving guests more options to choose from. Peter Baker from Lansdowne Church, Bournemouth, spoke at the opening GOreflect session and John Risbridger for Above Bar Church, Southampton, gave the closing address. Both delivered an inspiring and challenging message. These sessions topped and tailed the GOinteract programme which included sessions such as, ‘How can we reach the hard places?’, ‘Befriending the stranger’, ‘From everywhere to everywhere’, and ‘Today’s Europe’.
Attendees were asked the question, ‘How do you feel challenged to move forward as a result of being at GOfest?’, and the following responses came:
‘To reconsider my place in God’s global mission.’
‘To be more relational in reaching refugees in my local area.’
‘I’ve been challenged and encouraged to do a better job in supporting mission abroad and engage more in mission locally myself.’
‘To engage with local churches in promoting world mission and to help my local church make world mission, and mission in general part of everything we do.’
As encouraging as all this was, the event itself is only part of the picture. Three things will feature in our thinking as we evaluate and plan for the future:
We’ve been seeking to hear from church leaders across the region as part of an ongoing listening exercise. The results of a survey and special lunch events for church leaders have been part of what we hope will turn into a meaningful conversation. Our ears must also be open to what God is saying through this.
It’s unlikely that we’ve got everything right and we have many learning points to take into our planning for future events. Our strategy for engaging with local churches is still evolving and we still have some way to go in understanding what will be effective and encourage maximum engagement.
As a result of the listening and learning, our prayer is that lots of linking will follow: church-to-church, church-to-agency, or whatever other form new relationships might take. But we do know that partnership is the key. No one mission agency or church can do much alone, but we can accomplish so much more together.
Colin Mitchell, leader of Baylink – one of the local church networks – sums it up well in describing what happened at our first GOfest event: ‘Something was stirred and a momentum was evident!’
Next year’s GOfest will be at All Nations Christian College on Saturday 12th May, 2018. We’re excited by what we’ll learn as we continue on this amazing journey.
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