In the two weeks since youth returned from Nazarene Youth Conference 2015: Thy Kingdom Come, event organizers and staff members have received dozens of messages about the conference’s impact.
The quadrennial conference brings together thousands of USA/Canada Region high school students for five days of worship, discipleship, and community service. Louisville, Kentucky, hosted this year’s event from July 8 to 12. More than 6,000 youth from Nazarene churches attended, joined by about 1,000 youth leaders, sponsors, volunteers, and staff.
The USA/Canada Region’s Nazarene Youth International Office, led by coordinator Justin Pickard, produced the conference.
Pickard said a theme started to emerge from the many responses his office received.
“It hit me the week after [NYC] when I was just poring through these stories that people were telling me,” he said. “There were three words that I kept hearing come up again and again and again. We’re hearing stories of life change, challenge, and calling. I think it shows how impactful this was and how God’s presence and power made a difference.”
That impact extended far beyond conference participants.
“NYC isn’t just about the 6,000 or so students for a week in one city,” Pickard said. “There has to be a larger connection, a larger experience. We tried to connect the entire church, for the whole church to see this as not just an event, but a movement of the church that everybody could engage in.”
One of the main connection points was prayer. The NYC website featured a call to prayer video and a prayer wall, where anyone could pray for individual students.
“The call to prayer for the whole church was really impactful and helpful for people that didn’t even come to NYC to feel a part and engaged,” Pickard said.
Additional prayer initiatives included a prayer team led by Mickey Cox, bookmarks enclosed in district assembly packets, and prayer notes written by M15 participants.
“God honored our prayers and showed up in a powerful way,” Pickard said.
Worship, led by Harbour, also reinforced the “Thy Kingdom Come” theme, as did event production by PK Pictures. Both groups are made up of former NYC participants.
Live streaming and social media allowed parents, family, and friends to follow the event from home. Social media alone reached 300,000 people and the conference’s official hashtag, #nyc15lou, rose to the No. 1 trend on Instagram during the event.
Students left their mark on Louisville and the surrounding area through the Ministry With Others service projects and the Bundles of Hope infant-care supply donations.
Pickard received positive feedback from venue employees at the KFC Yum! Center and the Kentucky International Convention Center, as well as from community leaders throughout Louisville.
“They were just amazed at the attitude, the respect, the service of the students all around the city,” Pickard said. “I thought to have that many people from venues and agencies suggest that this may have been the best youth event that they’ve ever seen held in the city spoke a lot to our students and leadership and the event as a whole.”
The event’s seven speakers — Rick Rigsby, Gabriel Salguero, Amena Brown, Mark Buchanan, the Skit Guys, David Busic, and Eric Samuel Timm — each focused on a specific word during their messages.
“David Busic did our message on Saturday night and our theme that night was ‘Call,’” Pickard said. “For each kid there were different things that spoke to them, but there was something about Saturday night and what happened there.”
Pickard said the intent of the evening was to emphasize that God calls everyone as believers, but asked the question, “What is God specifically calling you to do or to be?”
“[Busic] just hit that message out of the park,” he said. That whole night was just really special.”
Students filled out response cards and many also used social media to share their experience.
Eric Samuel Timm led the final service, held on Sunday morning with the theme “Go.”
“That Sunday morning message was a powerful commissioning,” Pickard said. “I’ve often said NYC can’t be a destination; it has to be a launching point. If we just look back on it fondly and say, ‘Remember when…’ but it doesn’t compel us forward to live the message, to flesh it out, then all it is is a faded memory, and I think that God desires for so much more.”
Organizers’ desire for students to “flesh out” the message carried over into other aspects of the event as part of an overarching effort to make it diverse, creative, and interactive.
“We didn’t want students to just be spectators at NYC, but we wanted them to really dig in and involve themselves,” Pickard said.
In place of the typical workshops, students spent 90 minutes in The Experience, a multisensory journey through the Lord’s Prayer. Six stations explored different section of the prayer. Activities included writing a letter to our Father and dissolving sins in water at the foot of a cross.
“We say it by rote, and sometimes those things that you just do by rote maybe lose a bit of meaning, so we felt like this maybe this would bring a fresh perspective and life to the Lord’s Prayer for students,” Pickard said.
Pickard hopes students left with a deeper understanding of the kingdom of God.
“Thy Kingdom Come — we hope — has becomes more than just a prayer,” Pickard said. “I think Eric Samuel Timm said it something like this: that this moment becomes a prelude to a lifestyle. That’s what we’re aiming at – for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ to not just be this rote prayer, but to become our lifestyle, how we live, how we impact our families, churches, community, and world.”