Mainstage worship, soul-stirring speakers, hug lines—many a Christian Reformed person has fond memories from attending at least one Youth Unlimited convention.
Often known just as “Convention,” the summer event started in 1920 (for men only) and has run ever since, except during World War II, becoming co-ed in the 1950s.
Convention often attracted between 3,000-4,000 teens in the ’80s and ’90s. But in recent years attendance has dipped, at times well below 1,000.
So Youth Unlimited (YU), which runs the conventions, is going in a new direction.
A new biennial event called “Live It” is planned for 2011. Jeff Kruithof, YU’s executive director, said they hope to have at least 1,200 young people attend next summer.
Why the change? Today’s youths need a more participatory event, say organizers.
“Young people today are connecting faith to life differently than in my generation,” said Kruithof. “They need to experience their faith, to do it.”
At Live It, teens will choose a group by their interests—arts, sports, youth ministry, discipleship, or service projects—and will engage in the community with that group. Speakers will be matched to each group. Evenings will include large-group worship, as in the past.
Jolene DeHeer, a motivational speaker from West Michigan who has been to every Convention since 1985, agrees that today’s youths require a new approach. She said the service component of the newly branded event is on-target. “West Michigan kids have been going to church since they were in utero,” she said. “They’ve been inundated and encompassed by grace, and they need to start putting it into action. They start to see injustice and poverty, and they want to do something about it.”
Emily Hull, youth director for Brookfield (Wis.) CRC, said her church’s youths have been attending the Convention every other year anyhow, so the new biennial format suits them well.
“The crowd at Convention seems to be dwindling. I think that youth groups are in the same boat, trying to do both service trips and go to Convention, which gets expensive,” she said. “I think [the new format] is a great idea.”
Luane Mills, youth leader for First CRC in Pella, Iowa, said it became a “hassle” every year to decide whether to go to the youth convention or do a service project: “There are always some kids who have a preference, so it will be nice to be able to do both,” she said.