‘There are three stages of every great work of God,” Hudson Taylor, the well-known British missionary to China, once said. “First it’s impossible, then it’s difficult, then it’s done.”
Teen Mania founder Ron Luce quoted Taylor when explaining to CT why the nearly 30-year-old ministry announced today that it would cease operations.
“Honestly, the hardest part about our closure is for people to misinterpret what the closing of a chapter means,” Luce said in an hour-long, exclusive interview. “Scripture talks about old and new wineskins. Sometimes old wineskins don’t need to be used anymore."
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, he said. "There are plenty of Christian organizations that become institutions, that are dead and dry, and they’re old wineskins.
"We don’t want to become that," he said. "Teen Mania has completed this assignment."
An Army of Young People
Luce became a Christian at the age of 16 and immediately devoted his life to youth ministry. An Oral Roberts University graduate, Luce participated in Young Life and Youth for Christ. But at age 25, Luce was hungry for something larger. So he consulted with God about his next move.
“I felt God whisper in my heart, ‘Build an army of young people who will change the world,’” Luce said.
In its nearly three decades of ministry, Teen Mania used an array of strategies to reach millions of young people.
Its most popular event began in 1991: Acquire the Fire, a 27-hour youth gathering filled with music and teaching. Over two decades, more than 500 Acquire the Fire events were held in 33 cities nationwide, drawing more than 3 million attendees. Earlier this year, Teen Mania organized its first international Acquire the Fire in Yangon, Myanmar. More than 13,000 attended.
Global Expeditions, Teen Mania’s short-term missions program, sent more than 75,000 young people abroad to 67 countries. According to the ministry, more than 1.3 million people made professions of faith as a result.
But Teen Mania’s most intensive offering was the Honor Academy, a full-time internship program for high school graduates; more than 7,000 young people passed through since 1994. For years, the academy took place at a 472-acre campus in Garden Valley, Texas, purchased when the land was a “great deal.”
It also may have been the program that ran the organization into the ground.
In the beginning, Acquire the Fire was meant to be a “new and edgy” event with affordable ticket prices. (Luce himself played in the worship team.) “The question was, how do we fund that passion? How do we make it work financially?” said Luce.
Teen Mania relied on donors to make up the difference. But as the event outgrew typical church sanctuaries, then later megachurches, auditoriums, arenas, and even stadiums, “costs exploded.” To keep their events popular with teenagers, Teen Mania threw money into production costs, including lights, sound, technology, state-of-the-art facilities such as AT&T Park, and booking popular Christian speakers and bands.
“We didn’t buy ostentatious things for our ministry,” said Luce. “Our money was usually going back to reaching more kids.”
One of Luce’s highlights came in 1999 when 71,000 young people attended an Acquire the Fire event in the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. Jack Hayward and John Maxwell were among the speakers for Teen Mania’s first stadium event.