Archives For Youth Encounter

By Andrew Woodrow

YE 2018 Marion

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.

Encouraged, emboldened
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

Ministering to Students

ib2newseditor —  September 12, 2016

Mission Illinois Offering Week of Prayer Devotion Day 2

MIO-box-smallTeens and college students today are seeking an authentic faith that leads to real life change. Through discipling events and campus ministry, IBSA missionaries and churches are doing their part to help kids understand that they are loved by God.

The biggest IBSA evangelism effort each year is Youth Encounter, held simultaneously at three locations on Columbus Day weekend. Junior high and high school students listen to well known bands, hear the gospel presented by dynamic speakers, and have the opportunity to respond to Christ. At YE 2015, more than 1,500 students attended, with 109 salvation decisions at the Decatur location alone. “My hope is that next year we would be able to have even more people,” said Erin Willis at the Chicago location.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Pray for Mark Emerson and the Church Resources team who lead this work. Pray for the salvation of young people in your church and statewide.

Youth Encounter 2016 is Sunday, October 9, 2016 from  3 – 9 p.m. in Chicago, Decatur and Marion. Find out more at

Watch the slideshow below to see photos from YE 2015.

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“I never really did much with religion,” said Austin Owen. “I went to church and never understood anything about it.” But things changed for Owen at IBSA’s Youth Encounter conference on October 11. The 17-year-old was one of many students who made decisions to follow Christ or deepen their commitment to him.

He had never read the Bible before, Owen admitted. “But today I guess is a good day to start.”

Student ministry leaders say Millennials are looking for the kind of faith that transcends family history or tradition and leads to real life change.

Usually held right after Christmas in Springfield, organizers changed the format to one day in three locations. “We were hoping to make it more accessible to more of our churches,” said Barb Troeger, ministry coordinator on IBSA’s Church Resources team, and that more unchurched kids would attend as a result.

The north site in suburban Chicago, the central site in Decatur, and the southern site in Mt. Vernon saw a combined attendance of 1,519, up from 961 people in 2014. The southern site sold out a week before the event­­—in part due to well-known evangelist David Nasser being the scheduled speaker.

The northern site featured Christian hip-hop artists FLAME and V.Rose. And the central location hosted bands Seventh Time Down, The Neverclaim, and Manic Drive, as well as Passion Painter Ministries artist Andy Raines. Sierra Jones said, “I just really like how the art dude is making all the paintings as people talk. It’s really cool!”

Leaders at each venue tailored the events to their audiences, but the focus was the same in each place: helping students develop an intimate belief in Christ, so that they might know they’ve been chosen and that the creator of the universe loves them.

“That type of belief changes your heart and life,” said evangelist Clayton King, lead speaker in Decatur at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Many salvation decisions were made across the state—107 alone in Decatur. In Mt. Vernon, Owen responded with a firm, “Yes, I did,” when asked if he made a commitment to Jesus that night.

No more ‘playing church’

Changing the structure of Youth Encounter was admittedly a risk. But “ultimately, we hope people are led to the Lord,” said Daymont VanPelt, coordinator of the northern location at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. That’s the main goal—students accepting Christ and taking a different direction in life.

Which is perhaps one of the toughest issues to address, said John Howard, student pastor at First Baptist Church in O’Fallon and IBSA’s student ministry consultant. How do we reach youth? How do we effectively present the gospel to teenagers?

“The most significant spiritual hunger I’m seeing among students is for an authentic faith experience,” Howard said. “That is, many have quit riding the coattails of their parents’ religious experience and are seeking an authentic faith of their own.”

In Decatur, Clayton King summed up the main message leaders at all three locations were trying to communicate. He didn’t pose the question, “Do you believe in God?” but rather, “How do you believe in God?”

In youth ministry, leaders know it is crucial that students not have an inherited belief—putting their faith in something simply because their family does. Their relationship with God also cannot be intellectual, having biblical knowledge in their head that never touches their heart.

One student who attended the south location said it stood out to him when Nasser talked about “just playing church.” Admitting to struggling with that himself at times, John Wittenborn, prior to the final session, said that if he made a decision for Christ he wanted to make sure it was a real one.

In the trenches

The post-Christian culture we live in often fuels teens’ spiritual crises. Even students who have grown up in the church are susceptible to society-prompted doubt.

“Leaders should walk through the trenches of these uncertain times with students, both counseling toward and modeling an authentic faith walk,” Howard said.

An especially timely example is the debate on homosexuality. Howard said one student in his youth group, a leader for others, has begun to question whether Christians have it right regarding their stance on the issue. His question then snowballed and soon he was perplexed about everything he once believed in, “to the point of questioning the existence of Jesus,” Howard said.

This spiritual crisis is not yet over for this student, he added, and although there are still many questions to wade through, “there have been strides made in the right direction.”

“Events like IBSA’s Youth Encounter seek to gather students from across our state in the name of Jesus Christ,” Howard said. “Despite our many differences, one thing many different people from [all] different places can converge on is our great God…Students engage in a relaxed atmosphere where they will hear great music, be led in genuine worship, and hear the true and relevant gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed, explained, and applied.

“Much time, effort, resources, and prayer are poured into creating an avenue through which God can save souls, rebuild hearts, mature disciples, and call servants to serve him with their lives.”

And what about the temporary “spiritual high” that often results from big events? Howard said all the time, but especially after an event like Youth Encounter, be intentional about setting aside time to invest in “doing life” alongside students. Large scale, evangelistic endeavors can be the tool through which the Holy Spirit works, but remember that ultimately, “Only God can save a life and transform a heart.”

Morgan Jackson is an intern for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

HEARTLAND | Youth Encounter, the annual evangelism conference for junior high and high school students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association, has a new look in 2015. Instead of one location, it’s in three. And the traditional post-Christmas date has been moved to October 11.

Changing patterns in youth culture and a decreasing number of attenders in recent years necessitated a re-launch of the Youth Encounter strategy, said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. Noting the event’s rich heritage among Illinois Baptists, he said, “We are working to allow more students to have access to this event, while at the same time renewing its evangelistic purpose.

“Youth Encounter is more than just a concert; it is an event where pastors and student leaders can bring lost students to hear the gospel presented with the opportunity to respond to Christ. Not only are we praying that more churches will be involved with Youth Encounter this year, we are praying that hundreds of students will give their lives to Jesus.”

YE 2015 will take place in three cities: Country Club Hills in Chicagoland, Decatur and Mt. Vernon. The conferences share a purpose—inspiring students toward deeper devotion to Christ—but will welcome different speakers and musical guests:

North | Hillcrest Baptist, Country Club Hills
Hip-hop artist and St. Louis native FLAME will return to Youth Encounter after making his YE debut in 2014. Joining him at the Chicagoland site are singer/songwriter V.Rose and performance artist Marc Eckel. IBSA pastors from the area will lead in teaching at the northern location.

Central | Tabernacle Baptist, Decatur
Evangelist Clayton King is the featured speaker in Central Illinois. Bands Seventh Time Down and Remedy Drive will lead students in worship, along with artist Andy Raines.

South | Another YE returning guest, 321 Improv, will bring their comedy act to the southern location, joined by worship artists Jordan and Jessa Anderson, Shuree Rivera and The Great Romance. Evangelist and Liberty University Senior Vice President David Nasser is the guest speaker.

Each YE conference is 3-10 p.m., with dinner included. Until October 9, the cost is $25 per participant for churches affiliated with IBSA, and $30 for all others. Cost is $30 at the door.

For more information about Youth Encounter or to register, go to

YE_blog92 profess faith at Youth Encounter

NEWS | Rick Gage stood in front of nearly 1,000 students and leaders meeting at the Prairie Capital Convention Center for the Youth Encounter evangelism conference. The room was much quieter than it had been just a few minutes earlier, when the Dec. 29-30 event kicked off with high-energy music, improv comedy from Team WordPlay, and a performance by illusionist Bryan Drake.

When Gage took the stage, he spoke first to leaders who brought students to the annual event, thanking them for investing in young people’s lives.

“We’re here to meet with God. We’re here to do business with God. And it’s our prayer—it’s your prayer—that God would use these next 24 hours to impact not just the teenagers’ lives, but all of our lives.”

A few minutes later, after preaching a message on what it means to have an authentic relationship with God, Gage called students to the front who felt led to make a decision for Christ. They streamed down the aisles. Almost 300 people crowded near the stage (above) as the evangelist prayed over them and instructed them to head backstage to meet with counselors.

All told, 92 people made decisions to trust Christ at Youth Encounter, and 205 recommitted their faith. During the two-day conference, 20 students also answered the call to ministry, and 33 committed to pray for lost friends or family members.

“God has his hand on some guys and when they preach the gospel…I can’t explain it. I just watch it happen and shake my head, but when they preach, people respond to the gospel,” said IBSA’s Tim Sadler. “There’s an anointing that’s on their lives, and it’s just a powerful thing.”

Students met with counselors after each session to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make.

Students met with counselors after each session
to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Gage knows how to “draw the net,” said state evangelism director Sadler, who also directs YE. The decision to invite Gage was strategic because of his experience as a youth evangelist, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist.

“And I’d also add into that, I’ve heard several of our youth leaders, our local church youth leaders, talk about how they intentionally sought to bring unsaved kids to Youth Encounter this year,” said Chad Ozee, pastor of Journey Church in Bourbonnais and YE’s backstage manager.

“And that’s the key. If they just bring their core kids, then there aren’t people here that don’t know Christ, to hear that message, to have that net drawn.”

‘I’m changed now’
Jay Huddleston brought 19 students to Springfield, and all 19 made some kind of spiritual decision at Youth Encounter. The pastor of Herrick Baptist Church said the group’s Bible study after the Monday evening session got so intense, the students didn’t even finish the pizza they’d ordered.

Huddleston knows personally how Youth Encounter can change lives. He answered God’s call to preach shortly after attending the event as a leader in 1996. He’d actually realized God was calling him years earlier, but still hadn’t responded. But when some young women from his group came back from YE ready to surrender their lives to God’s purposes, he knew he had to make a decision of his own.

“The girls were standing up there talking about how they were going to make a commitment and give their life to Christ, and I’m running.” He pastored two churches before coming to Herrick Baptist, where he has been for nine years.

One of the students he brought this year was 15-year-old Michael Mey, who made a decision to trust Christ during that Monday evening session. Mey went to YE last year, so he was more used to the event this year, he said. What drew him to respond was what Gage said about only having so much time to respond to God.

When asked if there are things he’ll do differently after his decision, Mey said, “I feel like I’m changed now.”

Arrested my soul
During his message in the first session, Gage told the story of how his own life changed when he was a football coach in his 20’s. In the same vein as the Apostle Paul, Gage listed his religious qualifications:

“I was raised up in a Christian home. I was raised up in Bible-believing churches. My father, Freddie Gage, who preached the gospel for more than 50 years around the world, saw more than a million people come to know Christ. I had a very godly mother. I’ve been surrounded by great men of God all my life.

“I mean, if anybody should have been a champion for God, it should have been me.”

But he wasn’t. Gage told students how he had walked the aisle as a child, but repentance hadn’t taken root in his heart. “For nearly 18 years of my life, I professed to be a Christian because of what I did when I was eight years of age. And on top of that, my father’s Freddie Gage. And I did OK for a while, until I learned how to do bad.”

The only thing that set him apart from his classmates and teammates, Gage said, was his presence at church on Sunday—until he went away to college. Drifting farther from God, he finally found himself at a church service where a family friend preached on repentance.

“And God used that service and that message that night to reveal to my heart and my mind that I had never truly repented of my sin,” Gage told students. “And when the invitation time was given there that night…the Holy Spirit of God that night arrested my soul.”

At Youth Encounter 2014, hundreds heard a similar message—and responded. Standing near the stage on the conference’s last day, one young man asked if the group going backstage after the invitation was going for the same reason he had the day before, to repent.

With confidence, he said, “I did that yesterday.”

In 2015, Youth Encounter moves to three regional events, each held on Columbus Day Weekend, October 11-12. For more information, watch

Layout 1NEWS | “Where are you?”

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.”

Speaker Brian Burgess

Speaker Brian Burgess

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

IBSA's Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

IBSA’s Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.


Musician Chad Lister and his band led more than 1,400 teens in worship during Youth Encounter, the annual student conference sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association, December 28-29, 2012.


Youth groups from across the state traveled to Springfield’s Prairie Capital Convention Center for the two-day event. Forty-eight people made professions of faith in Christ, 52 committed to full-time Christian service, and 60 people rededicated their lives to the Lord.


Mark Emerson of IBSA’s Missions team shared about Go Teams, groups of students who will engage in missions this summer in St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Haiti and El Salvador.


Rich Ratts, pastor of First Baptist Church, Forsyth, talks with students about missions opportunities in El Salvador.


Evangelist Brady Weldon delivers a passionate message calling students to set aside the things that are hindering their relationship with Christ and walk in the freedom only He provides.


Recording artists Sanctus Real closed out Friday evening’s Youth Encounter session with a concert.


The Youth Encounter student event begins tomorrow, December 28, in Springfield. Tim Sadler, IBSA’s evangelism director and organizer of the two-day conference, asks you to pray for these three things:

1. That even now, God would be working in the hearts of students who will attend Youth Encounter, and that those who don’t know yet Him will have open ears and hearts to the Gospel.

2. That the Gospel would be clearly preached.

3. That students would hear and respond, and that many would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.