Thursday, January 11, 2007

Big Exo Day Part 1: What was 2006 like?

In August of 2006 I had the privilege of going to the Sydney Big Exo Day for the first time. Big Exo Day’s are large evangelistic events run by Youth Alive once a year in most capital cities. The sheer size of the Sydney event (15 000 people) means it warrants some attention. However, aside from the size, the approach to evangelism taken by those who organised Big Exo Day is worthy of analysis and reflection. This is the first of three posts over three weeks about Big Exo Day. The first is a description of the Sydney Big Exo Day in 2006. The second post will be some reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of Big Exo Day in 2006. The final post will be my thoughts about preparing to take a youth group to Big Exo Day 2007.

Big Exo Day has two parts, daytime from 10am-5pm, and evening from 6pm-9:30pm. The daytime was largely unstructured, whilst the evening kept a rather tight program. During the day the large event area was scattered with many different things to see that could be browsed and experienced at one’s own leisure. There were at least five different stages each featuring a different genre of music, from hip-hop, to acoustic, to metal. Also on display was freestyle bmx and motocross, wake boarding, skateboarding, and streetcars. On the more interactive level, there was open skating and basketball areas, make overs for girls, linked X-boxes, and a variety of carnival style rides and activities. With so much on, there was always something to do, watch, or get excited by.

The character of the evening was quite different from the day. Everyone gathered inside the arena focused on a single central stage. The evening opened with three bands doing short sets, interspersed with various announcements, video clips and advertisements. Then the worship band came on for several songs, enjoying far more crowd participation than any of the prior acts. Collective singing was followed by the keynote speaker, an evangelistic appeal and, a few songs to conclude.

The whole Big Exo Day was clearly highly culturally influenced. The structure of the daytime is obviously modelled on secular youth festivals such as The Big Day Out, or Homebake, with many different activities and bands on at the same time. Likewise, the evening had strong similarities to a secular rock concert, particularly in light, sound, and crowd behaviour. However, despite heavy cultural influence, the whole mood of the day was clearly different from an analogous secular event. The difference was particularly seen by the attitude of those on stage, but also by the attitude of the crowd. The catchphrase for the day was ‘life is excellent’, and was embodied by all the performers I saw. There was no spirit of anger, cynicism, apathy or melancholy that is embodied by some secular acts. Rather, there was a spirit of fun, excitement and joy. The crowd too, whilst energetic, was generally thoughtful and positively enthusiastic. Over the nine hours I was there I didn’t see any evidence of bullying, and everyone in the evening mosh-pit was careful to look after the smaller people in the crowd and make sure on one got hurt.

Whilst the event was clearly different from a secular gathering, I was surprised how little Christ was spoken about for what was labelled an evangelistic event. During the day I didn’t hear God or Jesus talked about at all by any performer. There were a few information stalls set up by mission organisations, but it was hard to tell that proclamation of the gospel was aim of the event. Gospel themes weren’t readily apparent until unmistakably Christian lyrics were projected on the screen when worship band came on in the evening. The talk itself more closely resembled a testimony than a classic gospel presentation. The speaker, Darrell Scott, is the father of Rachel, one of the girls killed in the Columbine High shootings in 1999. Darrell talked about his daughter Rachel, her character, and her faith. The logic of the presentation was along these lines:

  • 1. Rachel was a person with a kind and loving disposition, who cared for the outcast.

  • 2. We see in Rachel character traits that we would like to see in ourselves.

  • 3. Rachel’s character was somehow closely linked with her Christian faith.

  • 4. Therefore, come and take a closer look at the Christian faith.

Some propositional truths of the gospel such as Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, Lordship, and wrath, were mentioned during the talk, but they were not the focus of the presentation. From my perspective, the talk seemed to be highly effective at igniting in many of the teenagers the desire to investigate Christianity further. However, I think most of those who came forward during the appeal would need more time and explanation before they entered God’s kingdom.

For me, Big Exo Day 2006 was a blast. It was tons of fun, and distinctively Christian. However, proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ was not a strength of the day.

Further analysis of Big Exo Day 2006 will be in Part 2.

1 comment:

David said...

thanks for the first post tim.

not time to comment on content...

but looking forward to reading the next two - and some interaction with this post next time i'm on here...