Every weekday morning, a group of mostly high-school girls had been gathering to pray for the salvation of their school leaders.
"I was kind of targeted," recalls Jay Kesler, now president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. The year was 1952, and Kesler was 16 years old. One of the girls from that gathering soon led him to the Lord. "It changed the whole course of my life," the 59-year-old Kesler says.
Those high-school girls were an early part of Youth for Christ (YFC), which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.
YFC/USA, based in Denver, has 235 locally run American chapters plus chapters in 62 other nations.
Over the years, YFC has evolved along with the youth it has targeted, says YFC president Roger Cross. "Kids are so different today in what they are exposed to."
With Billy Graham as its first full-time employee, YFC began in 1944 to coordinate an explosion of successful youth rallies nationwide. The organization also began YFC Clubs, "local, evangelistic school chapters"; Jack Hamilton became the first national YFC Club director. The club program's name changed to Campus Life in the 1970s to further facilitate outreach to non-Christian youth.
Today, YFC continues to diversify and change to reach teens. That involves seeking passionate local volunteers and then building less centralized, more personalized methodologies around them.
"There is no one methodology that is going to work with kids nowadays," Cross says.
In many ways, YFC has always relied on the creative involvement of local student and lay leaders. Since its inception, YFC has provided young people exhibiting talent and leadership ability the chance to test their mettle, whereas "the institutional church puts people in sort of a holding pattern" by requiring seminary and other training, Kesler says.
With time, scores of ministries were either founded or eventually led by YFC influenced people. The list includes: Bibletown (Torrey Johnson, YFC's first president); the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (Billy Graham and George Wilson); the Institute for Church Growth (Budd Arn); Gospel Films (Ken Anderson and Billy Zeoli); Destiny Ministries (Dave Breese); Greater Europe Mission (Bob Evans); Liberty University (Jerry Falwell); Christian Aid Ministries (Bob Finley); Transworld Radio (Paul Freed); Leighton Ford Ministries (Leighton Ford); Overseas Crusades (Dick Hillis); Humbard Evangelistic Association (Rex Humbard); Samaritan's Purse (Bob Pierce); World Vision, Inc. (Bob Pierce and Ted Engstrom, a former YFC president); The King's College (Bob Cook, also a former president); Compassion International (Wes Stafford); and Christianity Today, Inc. (Harold Myra and Paul Robbins).
Kesler, himself a former YFC president, says the spawning of leaders by YFC was in an unusual sense also a drawback. People often have left YFC to pursue their own vision, and "the parent group has continually had to renew itself."
When YFC started, there were few viable church-run youth groups, but the landscape has changed, in part because YFC'S early success alerted local churches to the need for youth ministry. Today many churches and parachurch groups do youth work. Cross says YFC's future depends on cooperating with them.
Copyright © 1994 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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