The International Youth Convention: Movement Celebrates a Century of Life Change

 In All Church of God, CHOG, IYC: International Youth Convention, Youth Ministries

By Carl Stagner

It all started with an idea. After all, adults weren’t the only segment of the population attending the annual Church of God camp meeting in Anderson, Indiana, in its earliest days. If just one day of camp meeting could be set aside for services and activities designed for “young people,” as they were known broadly in those days, surely the experience would be enhanced for all ages. It wasn’t long before one day wasn’t enough and, by 1930, the International Young People’s Convention was a three-day conclave, attracting over 800 youth. At one time, IYC even took on the unusual moniker of International Christian Crusaders Convention! Regardless of name, length, place, or format, the past hundred years of the International Youth Convention of the Church of God—slated for ceremonious celebration at IYC2024—most importantly represents a century of life change.

Every region of the United States, plus three Canadian provinces, have hosted the International Youth Convention. The growth and expansion of the Church of God movement, combined with major technological advances and sociological changes, not to mention World War II, spelled natural and necessary adaptations and iterations to the event’s appearance and approach. The event had become so big by 1943 that the Movement concluded an official convention leader had to be named; A. Leland Forrest was the man for the moment. As World War II left scars on all sectors of society, IYC took on a uniquely therapeutic and transformative role for the culture within and beyond the church. Levi Scott, former Anderson University intern with Church of God Ministries, writes about the phenomenon:

“The International Youth Convention became a stage for Church of God young people to live out the gospel stories of reconciliation. According to Barry Callen, theologian, professor-emeritus, and historian, ‘inspired youth have often been at the forefront of change, both in the church and in the culture at-large,’ which is why the Church of God has invested a great deal of time and effort to host each IYC. Callen later stated that, in the ‘1950s after World War II, youth leaders from the United States met with youth leaders from Germany in order to build relationships, to begin a major healing process between their nations.’”

Through his research, Levi goes on to divulge that IYC ultimately grew to a peak attendance of nearly 6,000 in 1970 in Louisville, Kentucky, a record that was smashed several decades later at IYC2004 in Nashville, Tennessee, when 6,840 attendees were counted! Levi’s historical overview of IYC, written for the 50th International Youth Convention (held in 2016) chronicles several other fascinating details, including the landmark 1972 year, when some youth groups in the southwestern United States chartered their own flights to reach the highly anticipated Boston gathering!

Besides the incalculable number of students making first-time decisions for Christ because of the ministry of IYC, as well as those who received calls to vocational ministry at the event, the act of “giving back” by the students inspires generosity to this day. An IYC history recap on the event website summarizes it like this: “Since 1992, participants have given back to each host city with over $1,000,000 worth of total volunteer service hours. Still, the giving goes beyond the IYC host cities. Since 1998, thousands of attendees have participated in IYC-related mission experiences in eleven countries. Over 42,000 students and leaders have attended IYC since 2002. IYC wants to make a lasting difference. Since 2006, IYC has partnered with churches in communities where the event has been held to help plant churches and serve in various ways with existing churches. IYC also helps to nurture a giving heart and a lifetime focus on others. Collectively, students have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of missions, both locally and globally.”

A. Leland Forrest may have been the man for the moment in 1943, but many anointed leaders since have planned and directed IYC in the years since, propelling the experience to new heights of excellence and influence on students, their leaders, and convention host cities. Adam Rentas serves as IYC director today, and he delights to recount how God brought him into the mix.

Explosive worship at IYC2010.

“The first IYC I attended was in San Antonio in 2008,” Adam discloses. “Having not grown up in the Church of God, this was my first experience with a Church of God gathering outside of my state functions. I was appreciative of the intentional time for processing with our own groups. The deep conversations we were able to have helped solidify what God was doing in the lives of our students and leaders.”

“I also remember experiencing the Silent Walk for the first time,” he continues. “There is something powerful about seeing 3,500 to 4,000 students walking in silence as they pray and reflect on the incredible things God has shown them during the week at IYC.”

In anticipation of looking back at the “Origins” of IYC, as well as the origins of our own individual and collective stories with Jesus (see the IYC2024 theme Scripture, Psalm 145:4–7), Adam can’t wait for this year’s crop of students and leaders to descend upon the Orlando World Center Marriott to experience, of course, life change.

“The World Center Marriott,” Adam concludes, “presents a unique opportunity to have the hotel and convention center on the same property. This means you won’t have to venture into the Florida humidity when walking to and from the convention center—it’s all air conditioned! Beyond that, the property itself is beautiful, boasting a water park with several pools, six water slides, and a lazy river. Of course, Orlando is home to several theme parks, providing groups with some great options for free-day activities before or after IYC.”

Learn more about the history of IYC, watch life-change videos, find all the information your youth group needs to make Orlando your summer destination, and register for IYC2024 (June 27–30) at www.iycchog.org.

Feature (top) photo: Gearing up for the 5K at IYC2022.

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