By Carl Stagner
Every year, while others are recovering from Christmas and preparing for New Year’s Eve, teens and adults from across the Church of God meet up for one of the most important events in the life of the movement. December 27–31 may seem like an unusual time* for a church convention, but those who make the effort to travel to the host city of the National Inspirational Youth Convention (NIYC) of the Church of God for the last few days of the year are never disappointed. NIYC 2019 was no different; souls were refreshed, leaders were developed, and lives were forever changed. The ball may have dropped for a tightly packed crowd of partiers in Times Square, but the year ended with preaching, prayer, and praise in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Some of the finest expositors of the Church of God preach at NIYC each year, and each year the moments of worship in song and dance are deeply moving. But even while some may be excited to see and hear their favorite speakers, it’s their encounters with the living God in the power of the Holy Spirit that leaves the lasting impression. As Carron Odokara, associate pastor of Farmington Hills Church of God in Farmington Hills, Michigan, says, “NIYC was amazing with the worship and inspiring speakers. God’s presence was in the worship times, the conference sessions, and even in the hallways as we got to see people we know and meet new people.” But how did God move in the hearts and lives of those at NIYC 2019?
“For me personally,” Carron recounts, “I appreciated the clergy roundtable. Hearing from leaders like Dr. Cheryl Sanders and Bishop Timothy Clarke was great and challenging, along with the additional insights offered by Pastor Ron Fowler and Dr. Ed Foggs. They gave us a realistic picture of the church today, but also hope for us to keep following God in our calling to see what God will do yet in the future.”
Brian Burton, advancement and church partnership director for Church of God Ministries, noted that the bringing together of such incredible talents and gifts certainly sets NIYC apart, and though the convention was designed originally for youth, it has grown into a gathering for teens, adult laypeople, and pastors, too. “There is something spiritually helpful and encouraging for each person who attends,” he observes of NIYC, the theme of which in 2019 conveyed truths about our reunions when we assemble as the family of God here on earth, and how these are but a foretaste of glory divine.
Kevin Earley, outgoing president of NIYC, speaks to the convention messaging: “The theme was ‘Reunion Squared,’” he explains. “Based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, we created an opportunity for delegates to reminisce and reconnect with family and friends from previous conventions. At the same time, we celebrated the greatest and most anticipated family reunion ever—when Christ returns and all the saved meet him in the air.”
NIYC is a contributing factor to the growth, spiritually and numerically, of the family. Leo Robinson II, pastor of a local Church of God revitalization happening in Flint, Michigan, describes what he will remember most vividly about NIYC 2019. “Two of the men we brought from Flint went to the altar at one of the services and recommitted their lives to following after the King,” he explains. “They are both young adults who are still searching for their identity in Christ. I truly believe this conference was a catalyst for them. They arrived back in Flint ready to serve!”
Leo and his wife Miosha were also blessed richly to offer prayer and comfort to a young lady who had recently lost her father. “Knowing God divinely appointed my wife and me to pray with this young lady, who we would’ve never met if it weren’t for NIYC, was tremendously humbling and a memory that we will never forget.”
A teenager from Akron, Ohio, adds, “One way God touched my heart at NIYC…he gave me the healing and power that I needed. It was a real eye-opener…God made a lot happen that week and I’m very thankful!”
Another attendee, a young adult from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, adds, “My heart was so filled as leaders ushered us into the presence of God. The word was brought forth with power, following miracles, signs, and wonders.”
This kind feedback warms the heart and soul of Kevin Earley, as he reflects fondly on his time as NIYC president. “Of all the great things that took place during the NIYC 2019,” he says, “the thing I will remember most is the love and appreciation expressed toward me, my wife, and my kids as I ended my tenure as president…. I will remember the amazing video tribute, plaque from the National Association of the Church of God presiding elder and CODO, and accolades from the incoming president, Michael Copeland, as he acknowledged the sharing and sacrifice of our three kids.”
Indeed, just as the event itself is a family affair, so has been the event production. This aspect as also had a lasting effect—for the good—in Kevin’s life. “My wife earned her master’s degree in integrated marketing and communications two years before she took on the role as the marketing and commutations director for the NIYC,” Kevin explains. “I have watched her grow from self-deprecating to confidently embracing her unique gifting. She used her skills to stir excitement among our delegates prior to the conventions, saturated the respective cities with our branding, and highlighted the importance of online components of the church. This not only impacted the appeal and attendance of the NIYC, but also her ideas were noticed and effectively mirrored by other conventions and congregations inside and outside of the Church of God movement. Her growth and the accolades that have followed have blessed me tremendously.”
Kevin, Carron, Brian, and Leo agree—NIYC has, and will continue to have, a vital role to play in the Church of God. Leo captures this assertion well: “I wholeheartedly believe the Church of God movement has something truly special with the NIYC. It’s not just a youth conference; it’s a family conference. There’s a smorgasbord of opportunities for your family, as well as the diversity of small conference sessions for ministry-specific needs. You won’t feel left out no matter what age you are or capacity you serve in at your local church. There is something for you.”
NIYC 2020 is December 27–30, in Atlanta, Georgia. Registration is open, and super early-bird rates expire January 31 at www.niyc.org.
*Since 1938, NIYC has taken place between Christmas and the New Year. Pioneers of the event, including Gabriel Dixon, observed at the time that young people tended to lose spiritual fervor and be drawn away from the Lord at the end of the year. As Kevin Earley explains, “To help combat this and aid the youth in starting the next year off right spiritually, these dates were selected.”