ST. LOUIS – An estimated 16,000 Christian youth attended opening night of Urbana 2012, a triennial student missions conference, at Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis Thursday. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organizers, who are hosting the event, hope that students will come to a decision about serving God locally or globally.
"Surrender your plans and allow God to surprise you. God's invitation may be unexpected," Tom Lin, who is the Urbana conference director and InterVarsity's vice president, said from the stage. "You and I are called to share God's Kingdom news not just for our campuses, not just for our cities, but also for the ends of the earth – the unfamiliar places, the unfamiliar cultures, and for unfamiliar friends.
"I encourage you to hear God's voice this week. I encourage you to give yourself to areas of God's mission that are unfamiliar to you," Lin added.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a national ministry based in Madison, Wis., is keeping a rather low profile during the event, while hosting more than 250 exhibitors during the 5-day event. The fellowship has almost 900 chapters active at 576 U.S. colleges, from Ivy Leagues to community colleges.
Organizers say that conferences such as Urbana are more important than ever. A recent study done in Canada about young adults and the church showed that among 2,000 adults surveyed, all having some connection to the church as children, many no longer claimed any connection to faith.
Statistics from the study, called "Hemorrhaging Faith," show that only one in three young adults who attended church as a child still do so today. Out of those who are no longer in church, 50 percent no longer identify as Christian.
However, Lynda MacGibbon, who is the communications director of InterVarsity in Canada, said there is hopeful news.
Young adults who had gone on a short-term mission or attended a Christian summer camp, were most likely still committed to their faith. More than half of the young adults who were no longer engaged with faith said they were open to studying the Bible if a friend invited them.
"At Urbana, students will study Scripture and go home and invite their friends to join them," organizers state. "At Urbana, students will be inspired to go on short-term missions and commit their whole lives to mission. Thousands will say 'yes' to this."
InterVarsity's president and CEO, Alec Hill, told The Christian Post during a press conference earlier in the day that his hope was that students not only take back what they learned from the event to their campuses, but come away with a sense of God's calling.
"The thing I like about Urbana is this sense of calling to submission to the Lord and how that is expressed," Hill said. "What I hope to see this week is students responding to the Holy Spirit where they say 'take me, use me, I'm yours, wherever that is.'"