Churches unite behind evangelism initiative

Christian Week
July 7, 2006
Frank Stirk

VICTORIA, BC - A citywide youth evangelism thrust is fostering a new sense of shared vision and purpose among churches to reach teenagers for Christ.

Developed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada (BGEAC) and launched in 2004, Epicentre is a yearlong, seven-stage initiative that helps Christian teens build relationships with God, share the gospel and counsel those who choose to accept Christ.

"It's given us a wave to ride and we're riding it together," says Andy Moore, youth pastor at Glad Tidings Victoria. There's a tremendous sense of unity among youth leaders, among students from a variety of churches."

The climax of Epicentre is ignition, a crusade-like "big-event" to which teens who have been through the training can invite their non-Christian friends. In Victoria, that will take place September 30 and feature Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham.

Organizers hope to attract upwards of 6,000 young people. "Every church we've spoken to that has teens in it is saying 'yes' to ignition, says Moore.
"I am defiantly going to be bringing a lot of my friends," says Emily Yeats, 18, a member of Epicentre's youth communication team.

"Kids don't want to go to church.  They want to go to a concert.  And we're really putting it out there like that.  But you still have the main message of salvation, and you still have a worship service."

Dion Collins, youth ministries manger for BGEAC in Calgary, says while the organization will make every effort to connect new believers with a local church, their primary goal is to guide young people into a personal relationship with Christ.

"And my contention," he says, "is that when they have a relationship with Christ, then they're naturally going to want to get together with other Christians and share what they have-and well, that's a definition of what a church is."

Scheduling ignition for late September was deliberate, adds Moore.

"Our leaders are fresh, students are excited about a new season of life-and here's this new introduction to Christ.  And now we have the whole school year to work toward discipleship and assimilation."

Collins says Epicentre's phased approach recognizes the fact that one event is not enough to impact young people whose families and peers have little or no church involvement.

"We found that a lot of people really…have no idea what it means to be a follower of Christ," he says. "And there's no way you can develop something over a period of two hours that will give them all the tools and the information they need about Christ."

But it also reflects the determination of churches to make up for their failure in years past to evangelize many of these teenagers' parents-the so-called "lost generation."

"Most church youth groups are larger right now than they were 20, 25 years ago," says Collins.

"They're putting more emphasis into youth ministry, into children's ministry. Twenty years ago, very few churches had children's pastors. Now many churches do."

Still, if Victoria's churches had been offered Epicentre even two or three years ago, Moore says, "I don't think we would've been ready, I think there were still some key youth pastors and some key students that were either too young or too green I their positions.  But now it seems to just be the right timing for something of this magnitude."

Yeats predicts ignition will have a profound impact on Victoria's teen population long after the event.

"Our city is such an upbeat and lively city, I think they're just going to want that and I think it's going to change a lot of things," she says.

Already, Moore is picking up a "trickling of reports" of teens who are winning people to Christ. "And if I'm hearing about one or two, "he says, "I'd have to suggest that there's many others."

BBB Festival of Hope My Hope with Billy Graham

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada

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