By Levi Scott
On June 20, 1924, what we now call the International Youth Convention of the Church of God was just beginning to take shape. For the first time in the history of the Church of God, there was an entire day of Anderson Camp Meeting devoted to young people. Back then it was called the Convention Youth Day. Influential leaders of the time, such as J. A. Morrison, Frances Tallen, and others spoke to both youth and other church congregants about the challenges that youth faced in their context. These speakers encouraged, warned, and ministered to many young people that day, but they were likely unaware of the plans that God began to put into action at that time. Shortly thereafter, Convention Youth Days became an annual occurrence. A look back over the past fifty IYCs reveals an experience that has shaped not only the life of young people who attended these services, but the Church of God itself.
The first official International Young People’s Convention of the Church of God convened in late August 1930. Unlike its predecessors, this was not a single day of camp meeting, but its own three-day convention. In his article, Russell Olt, writer for the Gospel Trumpet, spoke of the power and conviction experienced by more than 800 attendees at the event. From this point on, events were scheduled biannually for several days at a time. Each convention was planned at least two years in advance by committees of volunteers and youth who greatly cared for the future generations of the church.
About the time of World War II, the convention went through several drastic changes. It took on the name International Christian Crusaders Convention in 1938. By 1943, the conventions had become so big that the Church of God realized it needed to establish an official position for a leader of the convention. They named A. Leland Forrest as the first field secretary of IYC. The war itself took a toll on the world at large; mass genocides horrified millions, but what God did through the church at that time was truly amazing.
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.”
As the years progressed, IYC grew even more popular. In 1970, a record attendance of nearly 6,000 youth and adults at Louisville, Kentucky—a peak which was surpassed decades later at IYC2004 in Nashville, Tennessee, with 6,840 attendees.
Many youth groups know that getting to the convention itself can be its own experience. In an article written about the 1972 convention, titled “Thousands Register for Boston, Scramble for Transportation,” it was stated that “arranging for transportation to the convention is one of the biggest challenges now facing delegates.” While many groups take buses or vans, Southern California and Arizona youth groups chartered their own United Airlines 707 to arrive at the Boston IYC in 1972! Young people continued to commit their lives to Christ, spread the gospel, and feel the call to go into vocational ministry at these events.
While the convention was a major source of growth for countless souls through the decades, one year marked major changes in IYC for the decades to come. It was in San Antonio, Texas, in 1992, that a group of seven youth dared to change things forever. Now this was not unusual. According to Vital Christianity, each IYC had a group of youth who helped plan it, but this year was different. This group was incredibly concerned with social justice and moving youth from the convention worship services out into real-world service. From July 19 to 26, almost a week before the convention, “Project Mexico,” took place. It was a ministry across various cities, and villages in Mexico. About 500 students and adults lived out the Word of God in a cross cultural setting, gaining an understanding of the gospel in other cultures, as well as partnering with these locations to do service projects. The following week, July 26–29, the convention took place as usual, but this time the students and adults participating painted houses, picked up trash around the city (an estimated 150 tons in total), and took part in other public service ministries. In the following week, 375 individuals stayed in the San Antonio area to take part in “Project San Antonio,” where youth and adults showed the world what it meant to serve in the name of Christ.
At IYC2016 in San Antonio, Texas, history will repeat itself—in a good way! IYC has always been a life-changing experience of service, leadership, and growth for our youth. It brings people face-to-face to God through ministry, worship, and lessons that speak to the lives of thousands. As stated in 1984 by John Albright, former director of youth ministries for the Board of Christian Education, “When they gather… and see 4,500 other youth with similar faith, I hope they will feel inspired and thrilled that they are a part of something significant.” Taking place in 35 cities in 21 states, across two countries, IYC has always been an event where the Church of God invests its time and resources in our students and young adults, and God brings about lasting life change.
Learn more and register for IYC2016 at www.iyc2016.org.
Levi Scott is a Christian ministries major at Anderson University.
Hale, Mabel. “The Young People’s Convention,” Gospel Trumpet 44, July 3. (1924): 8.
Linamen, Karen S. “4,500 Youth Expected in Kansas City,” Vital Christianity 104. May 20. (1984): 25.
Oliver, C.D. Jr. “International Youth Convention bridges the borders,” Vital Christianity 112. October. (1992): 43-45.
Olt, Russell, “International Young People’s Convention Report,” Gospel Trumpet 50. September 25. (1930): 29-30.
Smith, John W.V. A Brief History of the Church of God Reformation Movement. Anderson: Warner, 2006. Print. 89-90.
“Thousands Register for Boston, Scramble for Transportation,” Vital Christianity 92. July 9. (1972): 19.