I just returned from the Passion Conference in Atlanta, GA. This conference has been on my radar for about three years now I and never figured I would get the opportunity to go because, 1). it’s forever far away and 2.) the trip is a little pricey for an unemployed college student. But, alas, IMPACT sponsored the trip, I made the journey with 13 other people from BV and a grand ole time was had by all.
Everything one hears about Passion is true. it’s big. it’s loud. it’s over the top. It’s a gathering of 20,000 college students from all over the world celebrating Jesus. every session of worship is a concert. every speaker is profound, passionate and powerful. every student is there for the same reason. to learn. to grow. to seek. to connect.
They broke us into community groups and family groups. My community group had about a thousand students and we were by far the smallest and therefore the underdogs so we obviously adopted Clifford as our mascot and cheered like little lapdogs…small but a mighty bark ( rrrrRRRRR ED red red red red red!). My family group contained 7 southern college students. Their accents were fabulous to listen to but more importantly was their hearts. We met four times throughout the conference and each time they opened up to share, our group grew slightly closer. Small groups are never my favorite thing about retreats or conferences but I can honestly say that I looked forward to this time with my little family.
I’m not big on crowds or loud noises so the worship sessions were a little too much for me at times…good but not something I’d want every Sunday. One of the most powerful moments of the weekend happened on Saturday night. It was incredible and beautiful. They dismissed us from the family groups and told us to walk back to the arena in silence…no one really knew what was happening but we did as we were told and walked silently across the street just as it started raining. There were some shrieks and mumbling but for a group of 20,000 college students, it was relatively quiet. Anyway, as we got in to the Philips Arena, a video about a secret church gathering started playing. It described communities that have to sneak away in the middle of the night to worship God together. This is essentially what we were doing as it was after midnight and we were sneaking around in the heart of downtown Atlanta. As the lights were brought up, we saw the group of musicians standing in a circle on center stage with instruments in hand. They were essentially having a jam session and the college students just so happened to be a part of it. They played old school hymns and worship choruses in the same key. It was one great mashup song. there were no lasers, fog, spotlights, or special effects. it was a toned down, simple form of worship and by far my favorite session. The voices of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, Matt Redman, and Kari Jobe no longer had names…they were normal people lifting up their voices in praise. We were one church worshiping our God in a very intimate setting…or as intimate as a packed civic center can be.
The conference overall was great. The speakers were incredible and the food was also wonderful. Can’t beat southern cookin. Louie Giglio talked about the meaning of “tetelesti”. wow. who knew one word could say so much? John Piper reminds me of Willy Wonka when he preaches and is an incredibly deep thinker. Carl Lentz preaches like a southerner…no doubt. He is powerful and challenging. Ben Stuart was definitely my favorite and I’ll be looking up his podcasts in the near future. Francis Chan is a big name for good reason. He speaks with so much emotion and conviction it’s hard not to take something away.
All this is to say that the conference was great and I would recommend it to you if you’re 18-25. It was exhausting, overwhelming, challenging mentally, physically, and spiritually but, I’m happy I went. I had to be intentional about taking some time for my introverted self to recharge and reflect but it was a good experience. Is it my cup of tea for an annual gig?…not particularly but I’m glad I went this once.