That simple question, asked from the Youth Encounter stage, has stuck with Kendra Lorton ever since she attended IBSA’s annual conference for students.
“When God asks where are you, are you right behind him, or are you away from him?” Lorton paraphrased speaker Brian Burgess’ final message of the weekend.
“That’s been in my mind every day since then.”
Lorton attended her first Youth Encounter December 27-28 as a leader from Herrick Baptist Church. The church sent a group of 20 students and chaperones, including Pastor Jay Huddleston. He told the Illinois Baptist three students from his church made decisions to follow Christ, including a brother and sister. Four Herrick students recommitted their lives to Christ. Huddleston also remembers Burgess’ “where are you” message:
“I’m telling you, the spirit of God touched all of us … it was unbelievable.”
Final reports indicate 32 people at Youth Encounter made decisions to follow Christ; 1,003 students and leaders were registered for the conference, representing 91 churches.
At the heart of Youth Encounter is the desire to present the Gospel in clear, creative ways, said Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism. That’s why Sadler and his team work to recruit a variety of artists and personalities for the YE stage. In addition to Burgess, the 2013 conference featured bands Citizen Way and 33Miles, evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake, entertainment from 321 Improv, and local rapper Loudmouth. And they didn’t come just to perform.
“I was super impressed with the time our artists took with the students out in the lobby,” Sadler said. “They were willing to pour into the lives of the students.” Huddleston agreed. His group took pictures with Loudmouth and Drake and came to see the artists as “down-to-earth people.”
Breakout sessions, new to Youth Encounter this year, gave attenders another opportunity to engage with leaders in a smaller group setting. After the opening session, students streamed downstairs to the lowest level of the Prairie Capital Convention Center. They lined the walls of two large rooms to hear about summer missions opportunities in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica.
Students also crowded into a classroom to learn from Sadler about sharing their faith; others met with IBSA’s Steve Hamrick to hear about Illinois’ All State Youth Choir. And a group of leaders listened as Pinckneyville native Brent Lacy gave suggestions on how to make the most of youth ministry in a rural context.
GO Week, a new student experience from IBSA, also got its own breakout session. The inaugural project, scheduled for July 13-18, is an opportunity for those in grades 7-12 to work alongside church planters in Chicagoland. Students will stay at Judson University in Elgin, and also gather there for worship led by Ben Calhoun of Citizen Way. GO Week is part of a partnership between IBSA and Judson to involve more students and graduates in church planting.
Missions was a major focus at Youth Encounter on purpose, Sadler said. “The wedding between missions and IBSA’s student events finds its roots in the Bible,” he said, referencing James 1:22-23. “The rightful response of every believer is to live the mission; to impact the neighborhoods and the nations with the Gospel.”
For Kendra Lorton’s group, Youth Encounter was such a good experience that she wishes they could go more than once a year. Her youth group runs 18 to 20 on Wednesday nights in Herrick, a town of less than 500.
“I think being in a big arena like that and that many kids, it opened their eyes up to a whole new experience.”