I just returned from the world’s largest worship gathering. And I picked up some ideas for those who wish to grow their congregations to epic proportions.
I witnessed an estimated 50 million faithful gather in one place to seek the Almighty’s favor, wash away their sins, and spend time with their admired religious leaders.
This is Kumbh Mela. Hindus–and others–from throughout India and neighboring countries flock to Allahabad, India, every 12 years for a six-week festival of faith.
I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was breathtaking, overwhelming, chaotic, confusing, and, at times, dangerous. Stampedes claimed dozens of lives.
On the main bathing days, endless streams of people crush toward the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers before dawn. Thousands of police and military personnel do their best to keep the chanting crowds orderly.
Along the way, I observed some logistical factors that may be of interest to church leaders in other countries who aspire to attract ever-larger throngs to their Sunday morning services. So, here’s my list of mega-big recommendations, direct from Kumbh Mela.
IF YOU WANT THE BIGGEST CONGREGATION . . .
1. Wear nothing but ashes. Even on cold mornings, the most revered leaders bare all for the adoring crowds.
2. For obvious health reasons, make sure to use swiftly moving water for what they call the Holy Dip. And advise your favorite devotees to be first into the water.
3. Offer your attendees high-demand ministry items in the campus store, such as musk, animal bones, and medicinal herbs.
4. Equip elders with poles and sticks–in the event that visitors do not follow proper protocol. (I learned this the hard way after standing in the wrong place.)
5. Forget parking lot attendants. Just block all roads within five miles of the event and insist everyone walk.
Seriously, though, I was awestruck with the spiritual hunger in this place. So many people of all ages, all colors, and all walks of life, going to elaborate lengths to appeal to their perceived deities, to find freedom from their sins.
It was, in a way, an out-of-body glimpse of the entire world’s people. I wondered what the one true God was thinking.
I found myself thanking my Lord for finding me, loving me, and redeeming me. And I prayed that he would also lead these millions of pilgrims into his fold as well. Maybe he’ll use you and me to help. Not by attempting to create the largest single congregation. But by creating the largest demonstration of his true love.
i think we need to be careful when drawing conclusions about the religious experience of others whose understandings we do not share. G-D being G-D i think you can be pretty sure that there could well have been many there who experience the freedom of G-D and see their devotions not as earning G-D’s approval but as an asceticism, giving thanks, much like Christians see their Lenten privations.
I love your writing, it is awesome. Since I live and serve congregations in rural Montana, maybe I could gather a crowd at the Milk River for a simialer event. I will start my plans today. Thanks, Pastor Zelda
Responding to Hilary,
I’m glad that God looks for ways to receive people and not turn them away… but not all G-Ds are Jehovah, and not all religious experiences lead to Him. The disease of separation from God does not respond to any medication but one, the shed blood of God Himself.
Thom, what an incredible experience. Can I stow away in your luggage the next time?
There is only one G-D, human definition is the problem. Also your understanding of the gift of Jesus.who is in all and yes, the only way to the father of us all.
Kumbh Mela was indeed the worlds largest congregation this year.