Ten Things I Loved About Newday
Statistics. There are seven thousand people there. This year—and it’s easy to get familiar with stats like this, but it is remarkable when you think about it—395 young people made a first time response to the gospel. 344 recommitted their lives to Jesus (and having done this as a teenager myself, I know how much it matters). And 243 reported physical healings. Wow.
Stories. Behind every statistic is a story, of course, and it is these that make the numbers come to life. Some sound very ordinary: a young man who has struggled to connect with God in the past is now celebrating, learning, weeping and studying in a completely new way. Some are thoroughly extraordinary, like the testimonies of healing from auto immune diseases, and deafness, and dead nerves (which Adrian Holloway is careful to record, complete with medical histories, on his website). The punchlines in some cases are amazing. One young man whose leg had been in a plaster cast, and who hadn’t played football for seven years, was so thoroughly healed last year that he has just been given a two year contract by West Ham United. Again: wow.
Spirituality. I mean this both of the event, in the way that it is led, and of the young people themselves. The programme has a wonderful combination of large celebrations, small devotionals, Bible teaching, prayer, evangelism, healing, giving, serving, seminars and (probably) a bunch of things I don’t even know about, reflecting an appropriately wide-ranging view of the kinds of ways in which the Holy Spirit works in the lives of young people. And this bears fruit in the spiritual richness you encounter amongst the young people you meet, who impress me every year with their zeal, kindness, humility and maturity.
Silliness. No youth event can (or should) sustain non-stop spiritual input for a week; it would become unbearably intense. So as much as I was slightly cheesed off about arriving on site, and within the first half hour being peppered with ridiculous questions on video and having eggs cracked over my head every time I got one wrong, I am always encouraged by how much silliness there is at Newday: messy games, all kinds of sports, competitions, scavenger hunts, thrill rides, neon nights and water fights, many of them requiring significant levels of work to organise, and all of them making it a week of entertainment as well as encounter.
Seriousness. At the same time, important things are taken seriously. Child protection (one seminar addressed abuse and #MeToo with impressive clarity and courage). Health and safety. Cultural awareness. Biblical fidelity. Prayer. Pastoral care. Intentionality with respect to racial diversity, which was a particular strength this year. Every area of ministry, it seems, is run by people who are persuaded that it matters, and are committed to doing it well.
Sustainability. The event breaks even (which hardly any events like this do). And it’s a youth event. And they give away the offering to mission, rather than using it to offset their costs. I find that astonishing.
Songs. You’ve got to love a youth event that has production values like this, but opens the first night with How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds. You’ve got to admire the vocal ability and musical direction of the choir, the capacity of the various bands to improvise and create entirely new songs on the fly, and the quality of the new songs introduced (I had not previously heard Hillsong’s King of Kings, and it is both lyrically and musically outstanding). Hats off to all.
Stillness. In the midst of all the anthemic songs and noisy celebration, there are moments of stillness, intimacy and devotion in worship which often speak far more loudly. Simon Brading can get more truth about our union with Christ into a quiet, one minute reflection in between songs than some preachers can in an entire sermon. I love that people are not afraid of quiet waiting (in a giant tent with a massive sound rig and thousands of teenagers!) and thoughtful silence.
Servers. I can’t get over the humility and diligence of the servers. I really can’t. Some people take a week off work to travel to Norfolk and clean toilets and shower blocks for young people (who, if the rumours are to be believed, occasionally get confused as to which is which). School heads and company directors act as stewards or caterers. I asked one senior pastor what he was doing for the week, and he explained that he was on the maintenance team, fixing pumps and showers and electrical problems and who knows what else. There is even a team of people whose job is to serve the servers, and they do it wonderfully, complete with smiles and bacon rolls. It is a marvel.
Scripture. Perhaps it should go without saying that a Christian youth event would be dominated by Scripture in its songs, sermons, exhortations and prayers, but it is significant nonetheless. The preaching is not lightweight, either; the messages take half an hour each, and between them they cover Old and New Testaments, law and prophets, Gospels and letters. More striking for me, this year, was the fact that every day started with an optional devotional—at 8.15, which is a time that most teenagers don’t even exist yet—in which people are simply taught how to read the Bible for themselves. It bodes well for the future, not just of this event, but of the church.
If you haven’t been to Newday before, you should. If you were there this year, I hope you got some sleep last night.