The convention showed what 15,000 high school students, two youth organizations, and scores of churches have in common.

Amid much hoopla, more than 15,000 Christian high school students and youth leaders converged on Washington, D.C., hoping to “ignite our world.” The convention, called Youth Congress ’85, was cosponsored by the high school ministries of Youth for Christ (YFC) and Campus Crusade for Christ. It was intended to give kids a spiritual shot in the arm and a strategy for on-campus evangelism.

Testimonies were punctuated with resounding applause. Hard-driving musical praise brought delegates to their feet—stomping and clapping. Sermons triggered the kinetic response of an old-fashioned tent meeting.

But Youth Congress organizers had higher aims than merely sizzling student emotion. They wanted to fire up students and youth leaders to influence their world for Jesus Christ, with the goal of establishing a ministry to students in every high school in the country.

Seminars at the convention focused on practical areas of consistent Christian living, offering ideas and tools for personal evangelism. To put those ideas into action, students took to the streets to gain initial exposure to witnessing. Some 6,000 of the teenagers marched through downtown Washington, witnessing and feeding the poor. Others shared their faith in a park through music, drama, and personal evangelism. Some surveyed area residents on their religious beliefs, while others visited refugees in nearby Virginia.

It took two years to frame the logistics of the mass gathering, to hammer out themes, to agree on speakers, to secure top Christian music acts, and to write a new edition of “The Four Spiritual Laws” evangelism tract. (The Youth Congress version, used in outreach efforts during the week, featured five principles, reworked diagrams, and a different title. It carried the imprint of both YFC and Campus Crusade for Christ.)

Like the tract, nearly everything about Youth Congress ’85 was marked with collaboration. As much as being an evangelistic strategy session, it was to be a display of Christian unity. The convention lineup was carefully balanced: one-third YFC people, one-third Campus Crusade people, and one-third representatives of local churches.

The convention’s general sessions were programmed for the television age, complete with sophisticated sound and lighting systems and huge video screens. Christian music celebrities, man-on-the-street style interviews, music videos, and, of course, sermons, all found their way into the programming. In the end, what mattered most was not so much a Christian rock singer shouting “Oh yeah, you really need a Savior … RIGHT NOW,” but author Rebecca Manley Pippert quietly urging the 15,000 delegates, “You are called to be compassionate more than you are called to be cool.”

Inner-city youth worker Buster Soaries told the students, “We’re here to talk about courageous faith.… Courageous faith is, ‘Though I stand alone, I’ll stand. Though I pray alone, I’ll pray. God is with me.’ ”

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, warned about “yuppie-ism,” the tendency of Christians to adopt their values from American culture. “If you turn on the television [to view most Christian broadcasting],” he said, “you will see that the message is, ‘Come to God because he can give you more blessings, more wealth, more success, more happiness.’

“No,” Colson thundered. “We don’t go to Christianity because it makes us feel good. We go to Christianity because Jesus Christ was laid to rest in a tomb. But he rose out of that tomb, and he conquered death, and he lives today!” When he finished speaking, 15,000 teenagers rose to their feet in ovation.

At the closing rally on the Washington Mall, popular Christian speaker Josh McDowell told the crowd: “We need young people who are going to follow Jesus and let the crowd follow them.… Will you make a difference in your world?”

“Yes!” the delegates screamed.

“Will you make a difference in your world?” McDowell repeated. Again the affirmation swept across the Washington Mall.

It will take time to assess the convention’s impact. But Youth Congress organizers are optimistic. Said YFC president Jay Kesler: “We cannot ask adolescents to grasp everything that a middle-aged person would grasp. But, to the best of their ability, I think these kids grasped that the Christian faith [means] giving all you know of yourself to all you know of God.”

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