Review: Word Alive With A Toddler

If you follow us on twitter then you might have seen that a couple of weeks ago we were at Word Alive, a Christian Conference in Prestatyn. As it was our first time there with a toddler in tow, we thought we would do something a bit different on the blog this week and post a few reflections on how it went.

Word Alive is advertised as “a holiday for life” with:

  • Enduring Bible teaching
  • Space to relax and have fun
  • Exciting and creative kids work
  • Inspiring worship

Here’s their promo video for the 2017 event to give you a taste of what they’re about:

So, did it live up to expectations? And importantly, was attending with a child a success?

In this post we want to give you a taste of what Word Alive is, how we practically approached it with a toddler, what is great about Word Alive, and what are some of the more tricky things you might need to factor into your thinking. If you’re not familiar with it as a conference, we hope this post will go some of the way to help you decide whether it’s something for you in the future. Feel free to post any questions or comments at the end.

Well, before we start the review, we should perhaps lay our cards on the table. We have been faithful punters at Word Alive ever since adolescence. The conference was really significant for us:

Early on in our Christian lives: as we realised that there are many thousands of Christians in the UK, and that there are lots of great Bible teachers out there besides the wonderful pastor who brought us to Christ and discipled us (shout-out to Paul Lintott – evangelist, pastor, father-figure and dear friend). It widened our vision of what’s going on in the church in the UK, and across the world.

The Good God, by Michael Reeves*

As more mature Christians:  it helped deepen our convictions through some excellent and life-changing teaching, like Graham Beynon’s seminars on the end times*, Jerry Bridges on “The Discipline of Grace* and Michael Reeves on the Trinity*. (All of whom have books on the topics – follow the links to get your hands on them).

As members of the student team: stewarding during the mornings and meeting to pray with university students in the afternoon. A wonderful time of blessing and encouragement.

As young lovers (well, sort of): Scott declared his affection Cathy at Word Alive 2009 – after Cathy telling him that he’d been acting weird! (For the full version of events contact Cathy!)

As witnesses of God’s saving grace: as Cathy’s brother and sister-in-law made the decision to follow Jesus at Word Alive in April 2014 for the very first time.

So just putting it out there – we love Word Alive! But we have tried to remain objective in this review nonetheless. Now for the review…

The Review

Word Alive is a 6 day conference (in reality two half-days and 4 full days) based on a Pontins holiday park in Prestatyn. The conference has a packed and varied teaching programme which you can pick and choose from, with main sessions in the mornings and evenings and lots of seminars in the afternoons. There are also plenty of facilities to use on site: a swimming pool; beach access; adventure playground etc. At the centre of the site there is a large bookstall, a couple of coffee stands (serving decent, fairtrade coffee) and an area for stands from different Christian organisations and missionary societies.

As well as the daytime sessions there is an after hours programme, meaning you could cram your day with sessions from 8am right through to the early hours. (Perhaps students might think that’s a good idea, but parents of young children would certainly take a more leisurely approach to the week!)

There are two options when it comes to Word Alive – to stay onsite (in a Pontins chalet) or offsite. We’ve done both in our time, but this year we stayed offsite. We rented accommodation in Rhyl (a 20 minute drive away) and bought wristbands (£150 per adult, children under 2 go free) to access the conference.

Because of the commute to the conference, we made the most of the days:

From 9.30-11am Reuben would go into his kids club, which was equipped with a ball pool, mountains of toys and lots of smiley helpers. Meanwhile Scott and I would go to the morning Bible readings on Job by Vaughan Roberts.

From 11am- 2pm we would take Reu to a friend’s caravan (also offsite, but only a 5 minute walk away) to feed him his lunch and put him down for a nap. Yes, we are very rigid with the naptimes at the moment – we’re desperately trying to keep them going as long as possible, to ease the transition from one to two children when little Thomson number 2 arrives.

From 2-3.15pm Reu would go back to his club for another session of fun, while Scott and I went to seminars by Graham Beynon on “How to handle money in your hearts and with your hands”… or sometimes we just went for coffee with old friends!

From 3.15-5pm we would make the most of the free onsite facilities, taking Reu to the adventure playground, bouncy castle and inflatablephoto 3 (1) slide. We didn’t even manage to make it to the beach or swimming pool – but they are other child-friendly options which are easily and freely available to you.

From 5pm-8pm we would go back to our accommodation (we were staying with two other families, with 6 kids between them – so there was plenty of fun and hyperactivity to keep all entertained!), eat tea, bath Reu and put him to bed.

From 8pm onwards one or two parents would stay in to look after all of the sleeping kiddies while the other adults went back to Word Alive for the 8.30pm celebration.

So that’s how we structured our days with a toddler. Did it work?

Kids club

We were really impressed by the kids work at Word Alive. Reuben went into “Shells” a group for kids who were 1 year 10 months to 2 years 6 months (so totally tailored to that age group). Reuben had never been in any child-care where he didn’t personally know the adults before and yet he settled into it really well. For Reu to go into the care of strangers for nearly three hours a day, and for him to enjoy it so much, is a real testimony to the team of helpers! Reu was sometimes a bit clingy when we had to say goodbye to him, but he was always totally engrossed in playing when we went to pick him up. The leaders did age-appropriate crafts with the toddlers on the same topic that we were looking at in Job. They also tried to teach them a memory verse using actions (since speaking in sentences is a bit tricky at this stage). Very cute!

Kids work at Word Alive caters for children aged 3 months – 18 years. If you are staying offsite and buying visitor passes the cost is:
– Free (0-2 year olds)
– £75 (3-18 year olds)
There is a family celebration at 5.30pm every evening.

Vaughan RobertsTeaching for us

We went to the morning Bible Readings by Vaughan Roberts on Job. In light of the difficulties that we have faced over the last year, it was really helpful to hear a series which was dealing with suffering in the life of a believer. Vaughan did an excellent job of explaining what can be a controversial and complex book in a very accessible and engaging way. He did so with a pastoral heart. Music was led by Christ Church Mayfair who picked some reflective songs to help us respond to what we were learning. There was also a prayer team available to help individuals reflect on what is a very emotive issue. The childcare provision enabled us to engage fully with the teaching and get a lot out of it.

We went to some afternoon seminars on the topic of “How to handle money in your hearts and with your hands” by Graham Beynon (there’s also a book on this* which we’re sure will be great but as we’ve not read we can’t personally recommend it). We found these seminars really helpful in getting us to evaluate our attitude to money and to begin the ongoing conversation about how we can use our money in a more godly way as a couple. His seminars were based on the ideas found in his book.

We went to several of the 8:30pm evening celebrations. In these celebrations there is an extended time for worship as well as the Bible talk. These meetings are live streamed on Youtube so on the evenings when we couldn’t physically be in the big marquee we still followed the session from the comfort of our accommodation. Speakers included Graham Daniels, Dave Gobbett, Dai Hankey, Julian Hardyman and others. The sessions were based in John’s gospel, looking at the “I Am” statements.

The teaching programme at Word Alive really is (in our opinion and experience) unparalleled to anything else on offer in the UK. Alongside the general sessions were specific seminars and sessions for international students, people with disabilities and students. As well as this whole range of practical topics were covered this year, including how the gospel applies to marriage, singleness, social media, money, church leadership, dementia and much more.   

Facilities

This year Word Alive had arranged with Pontins for us to be able to use all the onsite facilities for free, rather than having to pay for additional extras like in years gone by. Reu enjoyed the giant inflatable slide, the bouncy castle and outdoor adventure playground. He was too little to enjoy the fairground rides, go-karts and crazy golf but we’re sure he’ll love these as he gets older. As we mentioned before we didn’t make it (i.e. were too lazy!) to go swimming or to the beach but those facilities are free and on your doorstep. Now to be honest, we didn’t go swimming partly out of laziness, but also partly because the pool gets very busy as do the changing rooms, which can make the experience stressful with a toddler. As a remedy to this, Word Alive did provide a toddler-only time in the pool and on the giant inflatables in the schedule every day. We couldn’t go then because it clashed with Reu’s nap time, but we’re sure that lots of parents benefitted from this.

The Pontins chalets are notoriously basic, with the cheapest option having only a bath and no shower in the bathroom. A six-person chalet contains two bedrooms with twin beds and a sofa bed in the kitchen/living room. The sofa beds are not comfortable. There is nothing luxurious about the on-site accommodation, even the most expensive chalets are pretty basic. But despite this, the onsite accommodation gets booked up almost immediately when booking opens 10 months ahead of the event itself, which is testament to the fantastic programme on offer. Word Alive has been based on this Pontins site for several years now and punters are fully aware that they aren’t going on a luxury holiday; instead they are booking onto a spiritual retreat where there will be fantastic preaching, worship and fun times for the family. If you haven’t been before, but are planning on booking for next year, you’ll have a great time, but now you know about accommodation so you can’t be shocked!

Price

The big drawback to Word Alive with a family is the cost. The cost of a chalet includes your accommodation and your tickets for the event. That makes the event good value for money if you have 6 adults staying in your 6 person chalet. However, if you need a 6 person chalet for a family of 4 (let’s say the two kids share one room and the two adults share the other so that no one has to sleep on the uncomfortable sofa bed) it’s the same cost, so suddenly you are paying a huge amount of money for the luxury of just sleeping in a bed (while effectively having 4 spare event tickets!)

If we decide to go next year then both Reuben and our baby will be free – neither will need passes to go into the kids work. So the cost of the event for two adults (in terms of wristbands) is £300. Yet we would have to pay a minimum of £895 for our chalet and 6 adult wristbands. photo 1 (2)This system doesn’t really seem to work, in our minds. If Word Alive were able to factor in the age of your children while booking your place at the event, this would reduce the overall chalet price if you have children and/or infants. This would mean their takings would be less, however, so the income would have to come from elsewhere. We don’t envy those who have to make these difficult decisions! It does seem, however, that the price is much more prohibitive for families than for adults, and sadly we know quite a number of families who have had to stop going to Word Alive because they simply can’t afford it. We wish there was a different way of pricing it.

Now having said this, we do want to say more positively that it is commendable how affordable Word Alive makes the event for students. There are also discounted chalets for people on a low-income. So if you are a family on a low-income then don’t automatically assume you can’t go, it may be much more affordable than you think.

For middle-income families, staying offsite in a caravan and buying wristbands may be a more affordable (and probably more comfortable) option for you.

Conclusion

If you can afford it, then we would highly recommend Word Alive with a toddler. Providing your child is happy to go into the childcare groups then it will be a refreshing, energising, nourishing retreat which will enable you to set aside a good block of time to grow in your relationship with God. Word Alive claims that is “is a holiday for every day, where getting away from it all is about being equipped and energised to get back to it all.” On that promise, it absolutely delivers. We came back refreshed and ready to keep on living for Jesus in our ordinary lives. Yes it’s an expensive holiday, but if you see it as an investment both in your own walk with Jesus and your child’s, you’ll reap the rewards in the months and years that follow.

Will we be going back next year? Oh we hope so! Time to start saving the pennies…

WA2016_HolidaysWe’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been to Word Alive? What did you think? Have you been with a toddler or children of different ages? How did you find it? Do you have experiences from another conference you could share? Please comment on this post and share your thoughts!

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