Nearly five thousand visitors attended the Starpoint Festival, the Reformed Church's largest biennial youth mission project hosted for the last 20 years. On the final day of the event, 24-29 July, the evening of the "This is the day!" a Christian pop music concert featured performances by the British band Hillsong London Worship and LZ7, as well as Hungarian Roma singer Gergő Oláh, who received perhaps the warmest welcome of all. Throughout the week, the programme included daily community discussions across one hundred and twenty small groups, concluding on Saturday with a communion service. Members of the central organising team give us a summary of their experiences.
István Mózes Mező, head of the Synod Office of the Reformed Church in Hungary:
“At this year's Starpoint festival, we were looking for a way to focus on Christian messages despite the many programmes. I believe that God has given us the opportunity to succeed. Proof of this is that the most popular programmes in terms of numbers were the morning and evening central devotions," says Mózes István Mező, the chief organiser of the Starpoint, looking back on this year's biggest youth project of the Reformed Church. Although Mózes István Mező is only thirty-five years old, he sees today's generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings as different from those in their thirties. Together with festival organisers, he sees it as a challenge to connect young people's lifestyles with the Christian messages in a way that resonates.
“We don't need to change thousands of years of biblical sayings because they still work perfectly well today," he notes, "but we have introduced innovations to get the message across this summer. For example, campers with weekly pass could use an app to find out when the beach at the campsite was open, when the shuttle service to the shores of Lake Balaton was running, or when and where the main performances were starting. “We communicate on TikTok and Instagram, and this year a lot of people became festival-goers as a result of our video advertisements," said István Mózes Mező.
We asked the head of the Synod Office what specific gaps the Church wanted to fill among the participants through the festival. "Today's young generation is very much in need of attention, of being listened to," says István Moses Mező, "the small group discussions were an obvious experience for young people who are lonely in a digital world.” Mózes István Mező cites a case from the camps as an example of the need for affirmation and a spiritual home. At the end of one evening's central sermon, the pastor asked: 'Are there any of you who have been told that you will never amount to anything, that you are a miserable wretch who is incapable of anything? ' “It was astonishing,” says the clerk, “that more than sixty percent of those gathered in front of the main stage lit up their mobile phones in the affirmative... So despite the fact that most of the young Christians were here with cheerful, winsome faces, it turned out that they were just as broken, downhearted, and in need of grace as anyone else.” István Mező emphasizes that the Synod and its leadership have financially and spiritually supported Starpoint. “We would like the biennial God-centred youth meeting of the Reformed to soon grow into the largest such Christian festival in the Carpathian Basin,” Mező said.
Áron Ablonczy, head of the Youth Department of the Synod Office:
“I could give you hundreds of examples of renewals and conversions that have taken place in Zánka,” says Áron Ablonczy, who, as a pastor, was specifically responsible for the pastoral area of the project. By renewal, he means, for example, someone who came to the youth years ago, even came to faith, but who has distanced himself from both God and his Christian community and has been strengthened in his commitment here. As for conversions, prayer ministers and leaders of small group discussions reported these to the organizers. We learned that some eighty pastors and twenty other seminary students also helped with the mission work during the days of the festival.
But what was the composition of the camp? Áron estimates that the participants who bought a weekly ticket either came alone - as believers, seekers of God, interested people - or with their own community, which could be a group of friends, but the majority, about eighty percent, belonged to a church youth group. Entire youths have also visited as youth leaders, pastors, and even the youth mission of the Cistibiscan Church District, bringing one hundred and twenty of its young people as their own summer camp. “We all experienced a very strong sense of unity, of being so many, singing and worshipping together. This was not only uplifting but also a great help for those of us who came from a tiny congregation, from a scattered area, where the number of young people is negligible or even non-existent... We all realized that it is cool to be Reformed.” Áron Ablonczy stresses that in many large-scale youth camps, tension can arise from participants comparing everyday life and conditions in the church with those here. We are preparing them to understand that, although it may be different at home, it is also good, regardless of the fact that a camp or a festival can be a special time of God when He is at work through the presence of many brothers and sisters and through many intense experiences...
“With our presentations, guided discussions mixed with playful elements, we tried to build bridges between the church and the local youth work," recalls the head of the youth department. “We also prepared the campers to see their ministry opportunities. When asked what they expected from including secular bands as part of the evening programme, which, even filtered, had a distinctly different philosophy of life from Christians, Áron Ablonczy gave a concrete example. We don't know if they are believers or not; probably the latter. But right after the late evening concert, Pastor József Csomós went up and spoke directly about the Gospel, based on the story of Nicodemus. He was able to preach the Word in a way that kept the band's fans in the front rows, so they could hear about what biblical revival means. He connected the gospel to the lyrics of the band’s song “Follow the Flow” in a way that cut through and captivated the audience. This scene in Zanaka reflected one of the elements of our mission strategy in reaching out to young people who are seeking... This is how we reach them, invite them in and engage them.
The festival in numbers
- Almost 5,000 participants, of which: 3,200 bought weekly tickets, and the rest attended the This is the Day!
- 600 volunteer staff
- 10 festival organisers
- 80 pastors + 20 additional seminary students in the field
Dániel Kovács-Simon, chief coordinator:
“The participants have given a lot of positive feedback to the organizing staff about the fact that we have radically renewed ourselves,” says Dániel Kovács-Simon. “The renewal consisted of many components. In fact, it involved all the factors, the development of professionalism in various segments, but also the strengthening of the spiritual side, or the testing of new attractive venues,” recalls Dániel Kovács-Simon. As one of the main organisers, Kovács-Simon was mainly responsible for the operation, the technical conditions, the innovations made in this field, as well as the business processes and the relations with the subcontractors.
So continues the main organiser: “I am proud that we have been able to move up a level without any disruption. Even though we have renewed our IT, sales, and access control systems, we have a new application and web interface, and I haven't even mentioned the stage technology - the bands we have had have been able to perform to the same standard as at the well-known world festivals - or the fact that we have made our six-day event cashless and super-secure. We successfully took on the challenge of being in a different venue from the one we were used to, and the fact that many of our 600 volunteers were new and had to be prepared for their tasks. The wider staff received a lot of praise from the participants, and we found that all of this helped the faith content to be received more smoothly by the young people.”
Kata Boross was the other main organiser of the festival, alongside Daniel Kovács-Simon.
It gives us an insight into how she, together with Dániel, was the one who saw the whole picture of what was happening at the festival, from the smaller issues to the most crucial ones. She dealt with the personal issues of volunteers and participants, keeping track of programme changes before, during, and even after the festival. Kata notes that among the more than six hundred volunteers who served at the festival, there were excellent and experienced leaders. During the process, after brainstorming together, Kata and Daniel gave their final nod to the tasks. Our brief summing-up conversation with Kata is more lyrical than that of her fellow organisers, as we try to keep up with her between different sites to visit in the vast Zánka camp area. “This is my third Starpoint,” says the chief organiser, “somehow each one has been very blessed... This one is special for me because I have been able to fully see the wonderful Christian unity of the staff, volunteers, and even outsiders, including the team of organisers from the Zánka Sports and Events Centre.”
It is clear that they were witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit Himself every day. This was true both of the expressions of love, the attention, the sacrifices, the encouragement of the staff, and the decisions that had to be taken quickly in unexpected situations. Kata Boross gives an example of the latter. “One day a storm swept through the festival area. The venue for the morning meeting had to be changed, which took time despite the rain plan. The unexpected situations were also tests of faith, although the solution always came from God in time; in this way, we also experienced his providential love," the festival organiser reports on the spiritual side of event organisation. “Although many people praised the work of the staff as organisers and operators, acknowledging that everything went well in the end, we as a team knew and experienced that God had covered and made up for our shortcomings. He made it so that, as we know from the feedback, it was a joy for the young people to be here. It was not for nothing that we sang ‘God walks among us…’”
Dóra Gulyás, Deputy Head of the Youth Department of the Synod Office:
This theologically trained lady played a lion's share in coordinating the on-site preparations for the days leading up to the opening of the camp. During the days of the festival week, she supervised the Market of Possibilities in the main square, in front of the dining hall of the campsite in Zánka. Here, thirty-three organisations set up tents and stalls from lunchtime until seven in the evening.
For example, there were many Hungarian Christian youth organisations, such as Refisz, SDG, Ifjúságépítők, the Bárka-Erzsébet camp mission, as well as the Calvin Publishing House, the Harmat Publishing House, and the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid. “This part of the camp attracted a lot of people, as the organisations also invited the guests with interactive games," says Dóra. She looks back fondly on the following aspects of the festival life at the Starpoint. “It was inspiring to see the attitude of the young people develop. On the first day, quite a few didn't join in the praise singing, they stayed back, but as the days went by, they sat closer and closer, opening up in small group discussions. It was an achievement at this year's Starpoint that we were able to reach many of the youth from church schools, congregations, and beyond the world of youth with social media ads that targeted the following of the secular bands we invited. My experience was that it worked.”
Young adults in the congregation
Among the programs at the Starpoint were daily one-and-a-half hour small group sessions by age group. We found ourselves in a group where all the participants were twenty-seven years old. It was discussed that in many churches, the opportunity to go to the lay church is lost for members who are growing out of youth and into young adults because the church leadership is opening up to teenagers. It is at this age that the decision is made whether someone will become rooted in the local church or whether they will drop out. The need to work for a balanced church age structure and to ensure that the 'twenty plus' enjoy community life has been raised.