Thousands of children across the United States will attend youth ministry conferences this year put on by an organization that has emerged to help fill the void left by the closure of Ron Luce’s Teen Mania and it's iconic national “Acquire the Fire” youth conferences.
As financial troubles caused Teen Mania to fold in 2015 after more than two decades of holding revival-like events attended by over 3 million youth nationwide, Ryan Edberg, the frontman for the Christian rock band Silverline, has acted on a new calling in his life after over 13 years in the music industry.
Edberg, who performed with his band at “Acquire the Fire” events in the past, co-founded Kingdom Youth Conference to be a “fresh new youth event” designed to impact students and leaders and inspire them to live out their faith.
He told The Christian Post in an interview that he was inspired by the impact that he saw “Acquire the Fire” have on the youth in attendance.
Since 2016, dozens of two-day Kingdom Youth conferences have been held at various megachurches, hotels and conference centers nationwide that are typically attended by 250 to 300 students and 30-plus church youth groups, Edberg told CP.
“We felt like we were called to do youth conferences or something for youth but we weren’t really sure. And I think that God really knew that there was something that needed to keep going for the youth,” said Edberg. “A lot of the people that had come [to our events] had thanked us and said, ‘You know, we're trying to find something for the last couple years for us to do. We just couldn't find anything anymore.’”
Kingdom Youth’s conferences are predominantly attended by kids who are already a part of church youth groups. According to Edberg, Kingdom Youth Conference is the “cheapest youth conference around” with tickets starting around $25 per child and averaging about $35 per child.
“So I've seen a lot of the youth conferences up to $200. And we just want to make sure that every student that wants to go to the event isn't hindered by finances,” he said.
The conference usually begins Friday mornings with worship and transitions into a Gospel message after that. The day ends with a concert on Friday evening. For the last two years, Kingdom Youth Conference has partnered with the Australian band Verses.
“They sound amazing,” Edberg said. “Kind of like Hillsong.”
On Saturdays, when the conference is held, Edberg said there is a full day that consists of worship, messages and breakout sessions. The day usually runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We'll have three different sessions, small groups and stuff like that, where [there are] breakout rooms [for different interest areas],” he said. “So if there's something that's really on your heart, you can go into a small group, probably with 50 to 60 to 70 kids in it and ask questions and stuff like that. And some of our leaders that are doing that stuff full time will be in there and talk to students about that.”
The events are open to churches of all denominations. The conferences have even been held in churches ranging from Baptist to Lutheran to Assemblies of God.
Speakers at events include the likes of former addict-turned-evangelist Todd White, Bible school teacher and conference speaker Joseph Zupetz and Kemtal Glasgow, a pastor at Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, who formerly served as an executive director for Acquire the Fire.
Beginning in the fall of 2016 with the just five conferences, Edberg said Kingdom Youth Conference saw the financial realities of what it takes to put on youth conferences and events. The realities are ones that not only led to the financial hardships faced by the now-defunct Teen Mania but also what led to a reinventing for Teen Mania’s contemporary ministry Dare 2 Share.
Edberg said that Kingdom Youth Conference finished 2016 with a deficit of about $70,000.
But as the ministry has grown and is now holding conferences more regularly, Edberg says that he and his team have sort of figured out “what to do and what not to do.” Edberg projects that the organization should be out of debt and “into the positive” this year.
“It's been very encouraging. And we've learned a lot,” Edberg said. “And so we've right-sized everything and figured out the dos and the don'ts. And now it's just doing one event at a time. Each one helps a little bit and there's been a lot of churches and support from people that said they want to back us.”
Edberg said that the organization has seen around 4,000 students “come to Christ.”
“And it ended up that we were one of the last people doing youth conferences now on a national level,” Edberg said.
In order to avoid the financial difficulties that similar national youth ministries have faced, Edberg said that Kingdom Youth Conference really has to stay within its budget.
“We’ve got an amazing board of pastors and leaders from all over the country that have been a part of larger-scale stuff. And so I think for us, we really have to stay in our budget and know I can't just pay a band $10,000,” Edberg said.
“Someone's like: ‘Why, why don't you just get TobyMac to come play at every event?’ Well, I could do that. But then we'd be here for [only] one more year. If you focus on the entertainment side of it and the production side of it, then you could go broke real quick. If you focus on the message and worship, and the power of the event, you hear from a kid their favorite things about the weekend was that the message spoke to them.”
“The worship was really powerful stuff and is not expensive,” Edberg continued. “It's like, sometimes we focus on the entertainment side of it and that can put you under real quick. We obviously have bands, we have entertainment, it's fun, but we're not getting the massive expense and overhead right now.”
Kingdom Youth Conference is not the only ministry putting on conferences and events for children across the nation.
As previously mentioned, the Colorado-based Dare 2 Share, which held youth conferences for 25 years to train teens to evangelize and share their faith with peers, changed its approach in recent years.
At its peak, Dare 2 Share held around eight to 10 regional two-day conferences each year. But in 2017, Dare 2 Share ended its two-day conferences and created a one-day simulcast event called Dare 2 Share Live.
The simulcast event incorporates satellite sites and a mobile app to allow youth to engage one another in real time.
In addition to Dare 2 Share, there is also Christ in Youth, which has been around since 1968. Christ in Youth partners with churches nationwide to put on separate events for pre-teens, middle school and high school students.
CIY’s events are attended by tens of thousands of youth each year.
"We are growing every year and we had a lot of our events closeout where we couldn't get anyone else in," CIY’s Executive Vice President Jayson French told CP in 2018.
"There are lot of groups hurting. We could go through the groups that are shut down and are no longer in business, that are struggling financially but I can't speak to why they struggle. For us, I know that the more we love the Church and respect Church and the more that we call students to use their gifts and talents for the Kingdom, the more we grow."