EN looks ahead to the Christian Resources Exhibition, a one-stop-shop for the people running the UK’s churches.
When you first hear about the Christian Resources Exhibition, you might think you have a pretty good idea of what that entails.
New bibles, furniture, clothing, some spare cases of communion wine. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, says owner Steve Goddard (pictured right) (“There have almost been wine wars at different exhibitions, the real stuff against the non-alcoholic”), but there’s also an astonishingly vast and diverse range of exhibitors who descend on Sandown Park Racecourse each year.
“It’s a very interesting exhibition because there is the meeting of theology and technology,” Goddard tells EN.
Religion isn’t a hobby or a distraction; it’s a way of life for many people. And the people responsible for running churches are the focal point of that way of life, and therefore must be ready to deal with any of the myriad issues that can arrive on their doorstep.
“We specialise in the pragmatic side of the church, not just the theoretical,” continues Goddard. “We’re concerned with the stuff churches are doing on the ground, dealing with people in a personal way.
“For example, we’ll have a seminar on the accessibility of churches and on mental health problems, the we’ll go from that to discussing the potential of puppets in church ministries to communicate the Christian message.
“It’s an exhibition aimed at modernising and bringing new ideas and innovation to the churches. It’s not just about maintenance it’s also about mission; the sense of bringing ideas that propel the work of the church and the community.”
The show was launched over 30 years ago by Gospatric Home, an exhibition industry luminary who retired in 2007 after a long career working in exhibition management and publishing. When he retired the Christian Resources Exhibition was sold to the Bible Society, before being bought by Goddard in November 2016.
“I had been working on the exhibition since the late 1980s in the PR sense,” he explains. “I’ve had a contract with the exhibition as a freelance PR sine about 1988.
“It’s a long time to have a contract with any organisation. I loved the exhibition and I was able to find a number of different ways to skin the cat for the media, as it were, including putting clergy on the catwalk and bringing in the world’s first inflatable church.”
While by many metrics the Christianity ‘industry’ in the UK is dwindling, Goddard says there are clear areas of growth in the religious community.
“If you look at non-traditional churches, which aren’t obvious on the radar, then there’s a lot of growth there,” he argues. “There are a lot of black majority churches which are heaving, there are Catholic churches which have had an import from the Polish quarter and they’re growing.
“There are even those that are classically English but not part of a mainstream denomination which are hundreds strong. You’ve got decline within many institutional churches but there are many that are growing. It’s a very complex and interesting market to deal with.”
One area of complexity is in the audience of visitors at the show, many of whom lie in a grey area between trade and consumer which Goddard terms ‘pro-sumer’.
“About one fifth of those who come through are ordained as full-time ministers,” he explains. “But you have four fifths for whom it’s a spare time thing; they’re volunteers in churches and they’re taking a day off work to be there. They are consumers, but you’ll find that the treasurer of a local church may have a full-time job but he will also have a major responsibility.”
“It blends consumer and trade,” he concludes. “I think that’s what has made it quite successful; we understand that, we understand the market and we understand the sort of budgets that are involved. We understand our visitors and we relate to them very strongly, we’re all in it together.”