Thousands of Christian women (finally) come together for 'extravagant' conference

Thousands of women of all ages, ethnicities and dress codes greet each other excitedly from the rows of seats that line the cavernous auditorium of Planetshakers Church Melbourne City Campus.

They have waited three years for this women’s conference, thanks to COVID. So when the Planetshakers band takes the stage to kick off ‘Beautiful’ Conference 2022 on April 29 – Australia’s largest in-person Christian women’s conference this year –  it’s like an explosion.

Teenagers and young women cram the space in front of the band. And women, of every age and stage, join them in jumping up and down to the pounding beat.

Every arm is raised and every woman is belting out the simple but profoundly infectious lyrics, as one Planetshakers’ song rolls into another, then another.

In the middle of the stage, 55-year-old Sam Evans – who founded and heads Planetshakers Church along with her husband Russell – is leading worship like a divine conductor. When she eventually invites the crowd back to their seats, she greets her ‘girls’, eyes brimming with tears.

The woman beside me is also overcome with emotion. Her husband is the pastor of Planetshakers Singapore Campus. She tells me how encouraging it is to be among so many women. “We only have around 100 in our congregations,” she says.

Other women have travelled from the United Kingdom, South Africa and all across Australia to be at Beautiful. A total of 2,200 women have signed up for this year’s conference (held over two weekends, April 29-30 and May 6-7).

Planetshakers Band in action at Beautiful Conference 2022. Planetshakers Church

It’s a long way from where Planetshakers began in 1997, as a 300-person youth conference at Paradise Community Church (now known as Influencers Church) in Adelaide. In 2004 the Evans moved to Melbourne and transformed Planetshakers into a church (first called Melbourne City Church). The church now has around 20,000 members globally (with 14,000 in Australia) and nine campuses – six in Melbourne and three overseas, in Singapore, South Africa and PNG. Alongside this, Planetshakers Music has released over 30 albums.

But while it’s Australia’s second-largest Pentecostal megachurch (behind Hillsong), Planetshakers still has a small church vibe. Everyone laughs at the in-jokes of the ‘Beautiful News’ video segments. And the speaker for the first night of the conference is a first-timer: Yvonne Hughes, a Planetshakers member and a friend of “Pastor Sam’s”.

Hughes draws on the language she and her pilot husband use in everyday life to explain the theme of Beautiful 2022: “The Handover”. She notes the parenting situations when she would ask her husband to take over from her, to which he would reply in ‘pilotese’: “I am in control”. In the same way, we need to hand over control of our lives to God, says Hughes.

“Is holding on to your worry and stress preventing you from taking hold of God’s plans for you?” – Tavonga Masoso

While night one of Beautiful is like a Christian rave, day two is entirely different. The day is spent “sitting at the feet of Jesus”. The songs comprise slow, reflective worship. And the first speaker of the day, Zimbabwean-born Tavonga Masoso, Planetshakers’ Adult Ministry Pastor, encourages attendees to adopt the attitude of Mary of Bethany, who in the biblical story of Luke 10:38-42, sits at the feet of Jesus when he visits her home, instead of rushing around to prepare food, like her sister Martha.

Masoso leads conference attendees through a visualisation: hearing a knock on the door, you open it to find Jesus standing there. Invite him in and offer him the best seat in the house, guides Masoso, and then just sit at Jesus’ feet.

“Jesus’ main concern was not that Martha was making preparations but that she couldn’t let go of her fears …

“Is holding on to your worry and stress preventing you from taking hold of God’s plans for you?” Masoso asks attendees.

He then reflects on Mary of Bethany’s act of extravagant love in John 12, when she pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.

“Mary was ready to sit at the feet of Jesus at all costs,” he notes.

“Our experiences with Jesus will be life-changing.” – Sam Evans

In the next session, the ‘Beautiful’ women spend time doing exactly that: ‘sitting at the feet of Jesus’ during a lengthy time of extravagant worship led by Sam Evans. Throughout the session, she calls forward women who need physical healing and those living in some sort of bondage – emotional, spiritual or physical – and she and the rest of the attendees pray for them.

Following a fun panel session – covering marriage to menopause and everything in between – Evans returns to conclude the conference with a talk further exploring the conference theme she conceived after a “vision from God”.

“I saw a picture of an old train station where we were all gathered on the platform,” Evans explains on the Planetshakers website. “When the train arrived, we boarded the train but we left our luggage on the platform. What was awaiting us on the train was far more beautiful and beneficial than what we had in our luggage.”

“What we will step into and where God will take us is far beyond our own abilities to provide, and our experiences with Jesus will be life-changing,” Evans encourages Beautiful attendees.

Coming from someone who began leading a small youth conference, to now heading a megachurch with multiple campuses and conferences, Evans is living proof of just how life-changing “handing over” to Jesus can be.