Well, that’s it! The last ever week of Soul Survivor has been and gone and boy, what a week it was. For those of you who have never been, it’s a five-day event with two big, fairly charismatic, ‘spirit led’ services, some seminars and some fun activities in between. Split over four weeks each event had anything between 4,000 -10,000 young people in attendance, writes Eynsham-based youth worker, Olly Shaw. 

Eynsham youth with their favourite steward. Photo: Eynsham Church

Life transforming

I have been attending their festivals since I was a teenager and as a youth worker have been taking groups of young people to Soul Survivor summer camps for the last 9 years. This year we took a group 60 young people from Eynsham and every one of them had a life transforming experience of God.

 By life transforming, I don’t mean ‘shock and awe’ but all of them had an encounter with God in one way or another that will stay with them for life.

“…all of them had an encounter with God in one way or another that will stay with them for life.”

 I often find myself thinking what is it about Soul Survivor that means that God seems to be “more at work” than our regular Sunday services? Is it the hype or some sort of religious fervour? Is it just that Mike, Andy, Ali and the team have a special connection with God or is it that God just lives at the East of England Show Ground (having relocated from Bath and West)? I think it is mostly down to the fact that the people I have been attending with have set aside a decent amount of time to do nothing other than seek after and listen to God.

 Having said that, the festivals are exceptionally well led. Every year has been an improvement on the last. Everything from the upfront bits to the behind the scenes health and safety (and everything else in between) seems to have been lovingly and carefully thought through to ensure that the young people have the best experience possible during the short time they are there.

Dressed as blueberries during an event dressing as your favourite food.

The Soul Survivor team offer a master class in playing down any hype and just allowing space for God to move. Nothing could demonstrate this ability to avoid ‘mass hysteria’ better than the final night, when tensions and excitement were at an all-time high. Amongst all this, after four days of blistering heat, we were hit by a massive thunder storm during the main meeting, complete with heavy rain, lightning strikes and very loud thunder. Lightning must have hit somewhere very near the big top we were all sat in as there was a loud bang and the screens and most of the lights went black. As everything was booting back up, young people were screaming at every flash of lightning and clap of thunder. It felt like the crowd was on the verge of mass panic. Despite all this, the team were able to gently calm everyone down until a crowd of about 9,000 people were calmly sitting and waiting for the storm to pass and the screens to turn back on so we could get on with the evening session.

 Even though this, in some ways, is the end of an era, the festival played out in much the same way it has in recent years. The worship, the ministry time and the talks were all focused on Jesus and any mention of Soul Survivor ending was always followed up with sentiments of excitement about what God was going to do next.

Thunderbolts and lightning…

On the final night, after the thunderstorm, 337 people made commitments to Jesus and it all ended, as it usually does. No farewells, no long, sentimental talks. The band simply faded out, leaving everyone singing Amazing Grace unaccompanied.The flashing lights faded too, leaving only the cross lit as we sang. Once we had finished singing, a brief moment of silence was held before “thank you for coming, it would have been boring without you” appeared on the screen, indicating that the evening and the festival had come to a close.