Youth for Christ (YFC) knows that Christian teenagers' behavior often is not that different from that of their non-Christian peers. Thus, the youth ministry devoted its recent DC/LA '97 "SuperConferences" on evangelism as places to teach teens how to put their faith into action.
"We want to help equip Christian kids to live what they believe," said YFC/USA President Roger Cross. YFC's triennial conferences attracted 10,000 teens to Los Angeles June 25-29 and 20,000 to Washington, D.C., July 16-20.
Cross cited George Barna's research as a key reason for the "Live the Life" theme. In his 1995 book, Generation Next: What You Need to Know About Today's Youth, Barna wrote, "The behaviors we tested are virtually identical among Christian and non-Christian teenagers. Both segments were equally likely to volunteer their time to the needy, to cheat on an exam, to steal possessions, to look through a pornographic magazine, to have had sexual intercourse, to have attempted suicide, and to spend time watching MTV during the week.
"Most teenagers' lives do not seem to have been substantially altered by their faith views," Barna wrote.
To help teens "Live the Life," YFC held student seminars at DC/LA with such titles as "Geek-Proof Your Faith," "How to Take the Garbage Out," "S.O.A.R. (Sold Out And Radical)," and "What Kind of Billboard Are You?"
At the conferences, YFC also kicked off its "Gotta Care" campaign, a game plan for helping teens practice six Christian disciplines—praying, giving, Bible reading, witnessing, serving others, and abiding in Christ (see "Campolo: You Gotta Serve!" at the bottom of this article).
Students in D.C. said they were eager to return home and practice the things they learned at the conference.
"DC/LA has affirmed the things I already knew to be true by bringing me back to the basics and enabling me to share my faith in its most basic form," said Matt Hammitt, 17, of Toledo, Ohio. "Sometimes I stumble over my words when I'm witnessing to my friends. But now I'll be a little more fluent when I'm sharing my faith."
That is exactly the type of statement youth leaders want to hear.
"We want our kids fired up to spread the Word of God," said Lenore Taormina, youth director at New Covenant Church in East Meadow, New York, who brought 22 students to D.C. "For them to see so many other Christian kids in one place really pumps them up to 'Live the Life.' "
For many teens, that apparently includes wearing the right apparel. Among the biggest-selling items at the convention were T-shirts with Christian messages and cloth bracelets bearing the letters "WWJD," meaning "What Would Jesus Do?"
YFC is committed to helping students stay on track after the letdown that often follows such an emotional event. YFC has set up a toll-free telephone number and two resource-laden Web sites (www. livethelife.org and www.gottacare.org) for follow-up.
"This is a mountaintop experience for many kids, and there could be a letdown," said Cross. "Most follow-up falls into the hands of the youth leaders and directors, and we've offered some training sessions to help with that. As far as we're concerned, in many ways, this event really starts after it ends, when kids get back home and start going about their routines."
Two days after the D.C. conference ended, students were already posting "success stories" on the "Live the Life" Web site.
Campolo: You Gotta Serve!
One of the six elements of Youth for Christ's "Gotta Care" campaign is a commitment to service. YFC invited popular speaker Tony Campolo to challenge students in both D.C. and L.A. to make that commitment.
In Washington, Campolo urged students gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol to commit to three hours of volunteer service every week for the next six months.
"You can do it!" Campolo yelled. "You watch television 20 hours a week. Will you set aside three hours to serve Jesus Christ?"
Thousands raised their hands, agreeing to that commitment.
Campolo says, "We're challenging students to go back to their hometowns, to visit the elderly, to do tutoring, to feed the hungry, to serve their community."
Campolo says faith should always translate into action.
"Jesus did not call us simply to be believers, but to be disciples," he says. "And disciples are people who do things the Master wants them to do."
Campolo also challenged youth leaders to keep teens on track.
"All we can do at DC/LA is get kids committed," he said. "It's ultimately up to the youth leaders to find out where the kids should serve. That's an awesome responsibility."
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