2011 NIYC: Equipping Youth for Evangelism
From December 27 to 30, 2011, the National Inspirational Youth Convention took downtown Indianapolis by storm. The impact of two thousand youth engaged for Christ was evident from the Spirit-filled worship services, to the lobby of the Marriott, to the restaurants and shops in the city. What made their presence special was not the retail boost of young people from all over the United States; rather it was their unbridled enthusiasm for sharing God’s word with anyone and everyone they encountered on the streets of Indianapolis. The food court at the Circle Center Mall was the site of conversations between NIYC delegates, inspired to share their faith, and shoppers who were willing to listen. The hotel lobby was the perfect evangelism training ground for delegates; working in groups of two or three, they approached guests to begin a conversation about salvation. The homeless that populate every downtown street corner received hats, gloves, and other gifts of love that brought warmth and were given along with a message of hope. These were items that delegates acquired by giving their own personal items in trade.
What inspired this evangelism blitz? The program for the 2011 NIYC, centered on the theme of “Evangelism through Diversity,” was designed to challenge, inspire, and equip young Christians to answer the call to evangelize. “NIYC has always been a place of equipping,” according to convention president Michael Thigpen. “We fellowship, we gather, we inspire; but it’s an equipping place where young people are charged and ready to take hold of what God has given them: their voice.” Throughout NIYC the diverse panel of workshop leaders and speakers emphasized the need for evangelism to cross cultural, racial, and social boundaries, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit and, as Thigpen characterized it, to “be the ambassadors God has called us to be.”
Using the Great Commission as the foundation of his message, Mark Cahill kicked off the convention on Tuesday night with a challenge to the young people to share the good news with family and friends. “You have no biblical right to go to heaven by yourself,” Cahill said. He implored the attentive young people to share their story now, because evangelizing is the one thing no one will be able to do in heaven. Cahill followed up the challenge with an evangelism boot camp on Wednesday morning, which helped participants approach witnessing as a conversation rather than as a presentation. He recounted anecdotes from his own encounters with famous as well as non-famous people on his evangelistic journey. Among them was a conversation on a golf course with Tiger Woods, where he posed this question to the champion golfer: “What do you think happens after you die?” The question opened the door for a discussion about God’s commandments and the forgiveness offered through Christ Jesus, as it has many times in Cahill’s travels. One crucial take-away from Cahill’s message was this: the greatest weapon in the evangelist’s arsenal is knowledge of the Bible, which allows you to counter misinformation and misdirection with truth.
The thousand plus NIYC delegates received more inspiration and wisdom for evangelism from Dr. Ronda Gibbs and Dr. Andy Stephenson. Dr. Rhonda opened Wednesday night by performing a song of praise on her saxophone, which illustrated her message of using your God-given talents as a means of connecting to others. Of primary importance is having a right relationship with Christ and knowing that love for yourself, so it can be shared effectively with others. “When you’re doing evangelism,” Gibbs said, “you don’t have time for ‘sloppy agape!” Gibbs went on to tell delegates to never depart from their love of Christ, and it would renew them for the work of evangelizing.
During Thursday’s morning service, Dr. Andy Stephenson told the story of King David as an example of how God uses even the most ordinary people to expand the kingdom. “God can use you, even with all of your scars,” Stephenson told the delegates. In a very personal and poignant message, he reminded delegates that God’s grace transforms our deepest wounds into something that helps us to empathize and connect in meaningful ways.
Stephenson and Gibbs also brought home the idea that was at the heart of the NIYC—that evangelism has to be done with the vision of one church in mind. Put simply, salvation is a message that Christ intended for everyone to hear, that all might be saved. Gibbs suggested that evangelism through diversity begins with an extended hand and the word “Hello.” Stephenson reminded delegates, “We are all family.”
Additional highlights of NIYC included workshops on prayer, worship, and maintaining sexual purity and modesty, with separate sessions for young men and young women. On Thursday night, several past NIYC presidents joined Michael Thigpen on stage and were recognized for creating a legacy of leadership. Special sessions for children (King’s Kidz) and daily choir rehearsals culminated in dramatic performances and a concert during the final service on Friday. All of the services at the NIYC were enhanced by the Holy Spirit-filled music of worship leader Freddy Rodriguez. For Thigpen, it was worship that was the true highlight: “All of us being together, in one place, worshiping God—black, white, young, old—under one heaven. It was awesome!”
The end of 2011 also marked the final NIYC under the leadership of President Thigpen, who summarized the event in this way, “When I see young people going out and reaching the lost, reaching the homeless, telling their stories, serving those who need to be served—those things give me hope. As the body of Christ, all we have to do is get activated, and NIYC is an opportunity to be activated.”
Mary Baker Boudissa is the chief of strategic communications at Church of God Ministries in Anderson, Indiana.