Ten years ago, I was in high school. I was a committed young Christian who loved going to youth group every week, and I was also a part of the Christian group at my school.

Both my youth group and the Christian group were quite small – no more than 20 people. My church generally was also quite small.

 Christian gathering

A "great cloud of witnesses". PICTURE: Edwin Andrade/Unsplash.

Though I knew, in theory, that the world was full of millions of Christians, I often found it difficult to really grasp the enormity of God’s kingdom. From my little groups, Christianity just didn’t seem that big! And I really struggled to picture the images from Revelation in my mind. How could I picture heaven when I’d only ever seen a few dozen Christians in a room at a time?

Everything changed when I went to my first Katoomba Christian Convention. This organisation runs conferences for every age and stage, based in the Blue Mountains about 90 minutes from Sydney.

In April, 2009, our youth group headed up the mountains to KCC’s youth conference KYCK and arrived on a freezing Friday evening. I was shocked to see the huge crowd of cars queuing to get into the car park, ushered by eager young volunteers. I was even more shocked when we walked into the conference centre and I was suddenly surrounded by thousands of other teenagers worshipping God.

This year, 10 years since I first had that experience, I was privileged to lead another group of teenagers into that room – including some who’d never been in a group of Christians that large before. I saw their eyes light up as they saw that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and heard all the voices singing in praise.

For those of us who come from smaller churches and Christian communities, there is something extraordinarily powerful about immersing ourselves in a big group of believers, even just for a short time. Friends from school who had attended similar conferences before had told me, “it’s like a little taste of Heaven!”. And when I walked into that room, I knew what they meant.

For the first time, I felt that I was beginning to understand just how incredible heaven will be: packed full of believers, full of joy and love. And big! Not 20 or so people sitting in a circle, but billions crowded around the throne of the King.

Over the years, attending big Christian conferences has been a true privilege that has stretched my understanding of God and introduced me to new and beautiful aspects of my faith.

The more people you have in a room, the more diverse the expressions of faith are going to be. From something as simple as seeing how other people express themselves in worship, to hearing how those from other denominations structure their prayers, the uniqueness of every follower of God is highlighted when I venture outside of my normal local church environment.  

But at the same time, despite our differences, those big groups are also a stunning picture of the unity we share in Christ. We may worship differently, we may interpret certain parts of the Bible slightly differently, but if we all hold tightly to the heart of our faith – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins – we are united around something unshakeable.

I still attend my small church. I love that I know everyone in my congregation by name, and that no one can slip through the gaps. But I know that every once in a while, I need to throw myself into big groups of Christians. There is so much to be gained as you get a little taste of Heaven and all its unique unity!