By Andrew Woodrow
Hundreds of students and leaders gathered across Illinois in October for Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism conference for students. In Marion (above), Decatur, and two sites in Chicagoland, almost 1,400 attenders heard from speakers and worship leaders who encouraged them to keep going in their faith, even as they face unprecedented challenges from the culture around them
For young Christians, following Jesus can be a lonely pursuit. Especially in today’s pressure cooker culture. It’s overwhelming, said student pastor Mark Davis, when young people have constant, instant access to information—and much of it beyond their years.
In that environment, discovering and developing your faith can be difficult. It’s easy to feel alone. At Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism-focused conference for students, young believers have an opportunity to escape societal pressures for a while, and fully engage in worship with hundreds of other students like them.
They leave the conference—held this year in five locations around the state—better equipped to live out their faith and share it with the people around them.
At Youth Encounter, middle school and high school students are led in worship by up-and-coming Christian artists, and inspired and challenged by some of the top student ministry speakers in the country.
But perhaps the greatest encouragement students receive from the conference is knowing they’re not alone.
“Oftentimes, the students feel that if they talk about their faith or visibly live it out, they’re going to be abandoned,” said Davis, pastor to students at Murdale Baptist Church in Carbondale. “Youth Encounter gives them a chance to see they’re not alone. And seeing there are other students in their area, not just a handful but hundreds of them, helps encourage and embolden their faith.”
For the first time this year, Youth Encounter events were scheduled in five locations across Illinois. Nearly 1,400 students and leaders attended the first four conferences, including sites in Decatur, Marion, and two in Chicagoland, and 62 people have given their lives to Christ. The final Youth Encounter conference for 2018 will be held Nov. 11 at First Baptist Church in O’Fallon.
To students like Jade Nappier, Youth Encounter is a break “from the stress during the school year that can be hard to find at church.” Nappier, a student from First Baptist Church in Marion, also said Youth Encounter has helped her discover she’s not alone in exploring her faith, motivating her to “be the Christian I want to be.”
Selena Petrowich from Third Baptist Church in Marion has been coming to Youth Encounter ever since she can remember. Now a senior in high school, she describes how Youth Encounter helped her not feel alone in discovering her faith.
“A lot of people trying to come to Christ feel alone. I know I did. So, having more people around you that you know are exploring their own faith [makes it] definitely easier to share mine.”
Petrowich expressed how moving it is to see school acquaintances at Youth Encounter who wouldn’t otherwise show their faith. “What caught my eye was seeing so many teenagers actually open in wanting to learn about God,” she said. “That’s when you realize, ‘Okay, I can do this too.’ And for me, that was my biggest thing: realizing that not just older people can be interested in worship and in God.”
Changing world, unchanging Word
“One of the great things Youth Encounter presents to the kids is that while the culture is constantly changing, the Word is unchanging,” said Madison Presswood, minister of youth at FBC Marion. Presswood encourages his students to be less concerned with the media and warns them where their attention is kept the most is where their sphere of influence is the strongest.
There is also a need, though, to engage the culture without fear, Andrew Nippert encourages his students. “If a church wants to help their young people survive their culture they’re living in and help them prepare to engage with their culture and be gospel-relevant in their communities, you can’t be scared of the culture or of change,” said Nippert, youth and children’s minister at Third Baptist Church in Marion. “Because the one thing that should never change is God’s Word.”
Amid pressures from the world they live in, students are going to mess up, Nippert said. “But that’s why we work with them. That’s why we minister to them. Because they’re who need the Lord. We all need the Lord in our own way, and we just have to be willing to go to those that are, sometimes, the troublemakers. And give them the One who can lead them out of their troubles.”
Equipped to go out
Youth Encounter helps prepare students to take their faith into the community by exposing them to bands and speakers they can look up to, and by equipping them to live out their faith, despite cultural pressures.
“IBSA does a really good job getting solid speakers that unpack the gospel and the reality of Christ in a way that makes sense to the students’ worlds,” Nippert said. “So then, it’s a lot easier to walk back into their world with Christ at the center of what they’re doing.”
High school junior Seth Lindhorst has already been to the youth conference multiple times. He said Youth Encounter teaches students his age realistic ways to live out their faith “and still be normal.”
One of Lindhorst’s frustrations with societal pressures is the bombardment Christians receive for living a ‘boring’ life, despite attempts to be more involved and have appropriate fun outside the church. “It’s extremely difficult for a Christian my age,” said the student from Third Baptist in Marion. “So, the Christian youth in today’s culture feels pressured into doing things that really aren’t appropriate for kids our age.”
Coming to Youth Encounter, however, encourages him not to back down to the peer pressure.
“When I go back to school after Youth Encounter, I always walk with a jump in my step. It gets me pumped up,” Lindhorst said. “Youth Encounter equips you for the long run and gives guidelines you can use in your daily life. And as I’m singing songs, as I’m listening to the speaker, I’m thinking to myself, ‘How can I change my life to make Jesus’ name look better?’”
For more information about resources and opportunities for students, go to IBSA.org/students.