Thousands converge for Church of Christ Winterfest

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 12:05 AM

Yet another youth conference was held over the weekend at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, where around 13,000 Church of Christ members took in the various entertainment acts over three days.

The Church of Christ Winterfest needed an early and late session to accommodate all the visitors for its 28th annual event.

"We run two sessions, with the max capacity of the convention center, 6,500, in each session," said volunteer Elizabeth Dyal. "A lot of the folks who work it are volunteers who come back and work it every year."

Dyal, originally from Fayetteville, Tenn., but now in Lebanon, Tenn., first attended the Church of Christ Winterfest as part of a youth group when she was in eighth grade, and has been working it for around 15 years. She said the event was much different 15 years ago.

"It was much smaller, just one session, and smaller as far as the number of speakers," she said. "We had encounter classes, where about 30 or 40 would meet in a room, and we'd go to two or three different classes. Now we have just multiple speakers and little activities."

Speakers and entertainment for this event included Jeff Walling, pastor for Providence Road Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., and comedy group 321 Improv Comedy.

"This year we're having multiple keynote speakers, and we have some great comedy guys here," Dyal said. "We have a couple different acappella praise groups and some other guys performing. And this year we have live sheep!"

Admission was $35 for the weekend, Dyal said, "which is really minimal in my opinion for the quality of speakers."

Food and lodging were not provided to the visitors, but lodging information was posted on the Church of Christ Winterfest website, and food was for sale inside the convention center.

Sixth- to 12th-graders primarily attended the event, which is why representatives from several colleges, like Lipscomb University, set up information booths.

"This is a great recruiting event for them to get names of potential applicants," Dyal said. "Most of these kids are in junior high and high school."

rhargett@themountainpress.com