By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
LAFAYETTE (LBM) – A sense of nostalgia is sweeping through the state as Louisiana Baptist youth and adult leaders prepare to take part in the 30th anniversary of the Youth Evangelism Celebration, a statewide assembly focused on preparing the next generation to share Christ with the world.
Scheduled Nov. 19-20 at the Cajundome in Lafayette, the largest annual gathering of Louisiana Baptists will celebrate its storied history filled with changed lives while equipping students with the necessary tools to share their faith with their classmates.
Since the first YEC in 1988, 141,002 students and adult sponsors have passed through the turnstiles of venues hosting the event, known as YEC, Louisiana Baptist Convention Youth Strategist Steve Maltempti told the Baptist Message. Over the years, 9,815 participants have made spiritual decisions, including 3,205 who accepted Christ as their Savior.
“When this was started, I don’t think most people realized this many lives would be touched and this many churches would be ministered to as their teenagers were encouraged and prepared to be a bold witness for Christ,” Maltempi said. “Kids are able to focus on God and for a couple of days are removed from a lot of worldly influences. Many have been in public school three to four months since summer camp ended and for the first time in those months they are able to be in the presence of the Lord in a powerful way, which they respond to.
“Now that it’s well-established with so many alumni having kids who attend, it’s become self-perpetuating,” he continued. “It’s what Louisiana Baptist churches do to kick off their Thanksgiving week. It’s a good habit churches have grown accustomed to of bringing their students to YEC.”
The catalyst for YEC came in 1987, when students gathered for a witnessing blitz in the Kenner area. Wanting to take a student evangelism emphasis statewide the following year, the LBC hosted 2,100 students at the Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria for the first YEC in 1988.
Over the years, the event continued to grow, topping 5,000 in attendance by its 10th year, and, drawing a record crowd of 7,948 in 2013. While Alexandria has hosted the event the most times, YEC has also been held in Kenner, Lafayette, Pineville and Shreveport.
Notable musical acts have included Al Denson, 4Him, Steven Curtis Chapman, the Gaither Vocal Band, Mercy Me, Audio Adrenaline, Jeremy Camp, Skillet and the Newsboys. Former SBC President Fred Luter, humorist Mark Lowry, former LSU baseball legend Warren Morris and professional wrestling star Ted Dibiase are some of the many personalities who have shared powerful messages.
Julie Woodrum, ministry assistant in the LBC youth strategy office, has been among those serving as part of every YEC since the event’s beginning.
“YEC started as a grass roots effort in New Orleans,” Woodrum said. “Even though
the event is now produced and coordinated by LBC, the beauty of the success behind the event is that local churches and leaders have always had strong, direct input in the programming and direction of the event.”
The event’s long tenure also is a reflection of the compassionate and unwavering support of the entire Louisiana Baptist Convention, Woodrum added.
“There are so many facets in producing an event of this magnitude, from production, to IT support, to media, to mailings, computers and software that make registration flow smoothly, to volunteers from the office that give of their time at the event,” she said. “We really are one big family and it’s always humbling to me to see so many people working behind the scenes to make it all happen.”
When asked what stands out most about 30 years of YEC gatherings, Woodrum responded in terms of the thousands of changed lives.
“Honestly, that’s the bottom line,” Woodrum said. “When a student can attend YEC and leave the event knowing Christ, knowing they have a Savior who loves them, and then to see and hear years later that they went on an overseas mission trip, or are now serving the Lord in full-time ministry, or then went home from YEC and led their parents to Christ, that’s why I love being a part of the event. That never gets old.”
The 30th YEC will feature evangelist Clayton King as the guest speaker for all sessions. The conference will feature worship led by Rush of Fools, illusions by Brock Gill, testimonies from students and a concert by Building 429.
The theme is “Now,” based on 2 Corinthians 6:2. Keeping in step with the theme, students will be challenged by King to share what Christ has done in their lives, now.
During the Monday afternoon session, King will lead training sessions on how to use the Road to Life tract to share the Gospel. Students also will be challenged to share Christ on social media using #HowIGotHere to post their testimony to Instagram or Facebook. After YEC, they will be able to use both tools to spread the Gospel.
This will be the second of a seven-year rotation to equip students with tools to share Christ. For those who began as a seventh grader during the 2016 YEC, they will be trained with seven different evangelistic tools by the time they are a senior.
“All of our students have great stories of how they came to accept Christ and their friends want to know about it,” Maltempi said. “They just have not thought of positing on it on social media. For a lot of Christians they have a hard time verbalizing their love for Christ in conversations. But on social media they put it out there for it to spread to hundreds or even thousands.”
Maltempi is encouraging student ministers and pastors to be proactive and pre-schedule baptisms for students who will make a decision at YEC no later than the Sunday following the event. With each church averaging one decision made for Christ, there could be 300 youth baptisms in one Sunday. Maltempi explained that the first 48 hours following a decision made is crucial to the spiritual health of the new convert.
“Follow up and baptizing them are important components not to be dismissed,” Maltempi said. “Churches need to make baptizing new converts a priority. What better way to keep the celebration going after YEC than to schedule a baptism and get that done.”
The event kicks off 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 19, and will end about 9:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20.
Registration, which is open through Nov. 19, requires a fee of $50 per person.
Seats can be purchased for $25 just for the Monday night session of worship, illusions by Brock Gill, King’s message and a concert by Building 429.
Next year, YEC returns to the Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria, where it enjoyed a 27-year run before renovations of the facilities forced a move to south Louisiana.
Visit the YEC website to obtain more information and to register for YEC 2017.