The intellectual and moral challenges facing our young people are immense. It's time for the church to step up the training and discipleship of our students. At Stand to Reason, we're doing our best to help parents and leaders with this task. That's why we held our very first Rethink Student Apologetics Conference the last weekend in October, at Crossline Community Church in Orange County (by the way, a huge thanks to the Crossline team of Erik Williams, Matt Smyles, Grant Gunther & Jourdan Svajda for partnering with us to pull this off). More than 400 people showed up, from junior high kids through college students, as well as parents, youth leaders, youth pastors, and other adults. Many were local to Southern California, but people traveled from NorCal, Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, and even Canada.
So, how was this apologetics conference tailored specifically for students? Here's what we did:
#1 - We elevated our expectations: When it comes to the spiritual training of its students, the church has set the bar low. Indeed, it's so low that the majority of our young people now are almost completely inarticulate about their faith. Many churches are satisfied if their students come to youth group once-a-week and hear a 30 minute inspirational message. Not us. We know students are capable of handling a lot more, so we gave them a ton of content: six teaching sessions, each over an hour-long, and two additional Q & A sessions. We fit all of that into a Friday night and Saturday (all day on Saturday, from 9 am to 9 pm). We elevated our expectations for students and they ate it up. We heard student after student rave about the conference.
#2 - We made it accessible: I was careful to pick speakers who not only know their stuff, but can make the content accessible to young minds. No, this does not mean dumbing down the content, but communicating it in ways students can grasp onto. When we don't make apologetics accessible, we run the risk of making it seem irrelevant and then students write-off the whole endeavor. So, having a Ph.D. or being a well-known author were not prerequisites for our speakers. Being an engaging speaker and excellent translator were.
#3 - We made it interactive: We weren't satisfied with students merely sitting through some teaching sessions. We wanted them interacting with the material and reflecting on it throughout the conference. Therefore, we built in 15 minutes of Q & A at the end of every single talk, giving students an opportunity for immediate interaction. In addition, we scheduled two one-and-a-half hour "cohort" sessions, where we broke attendees into three smaller groups for more Q & A with our speakers. We received a ton of good feedback about the cohort sessions. Finally, most of our speakers were able to be there for the majority of the conference and were intentionally "out and about" amongst students, rather than hiding out in the speaker's green room, away from conference attendees. This gave students access to our speakers beyond just their teaching sessions.
Overall, it was an excellent first Rethink conference. The positive feedback from students, parents, and youth leaders was so humbling and encouraging. Indeed, there is such a huge need for this kind of student conference, we're planning a second Southern California Rethink conference for the Fall of 2013 AND another one in Alabama. Start looking for more info at the beginning of next year.