As I write this article, I am on a trip to East Asia. The last sermon and invitation at Falls Creek Youth Weeks will have been concluded by the time this article is published. My guess is that the eight weeks of summer youth camps will have ended with approximately 53,000 in attendance, 2,200 professions of faith, and more than 1,000 commitments to missions and ministry. This has been a great summer where the Grace of God was on full display.
What happens to the students who made decisions for Christ at Falls Creek when they go back to their homes and churches? I think it is important to realize that many young people have had little or no contact with the churches that brought them to camp. Many of these youth were invited by friends, and some made last-minute decisions to attend Falls Creek. These students were surprised with joy as the Holy Spirit called them to salvation, and they responded in repentance and faith.
It is of utmost importance that these students who made decisions receive focused attention from their church’s youth ministry, and more importantly, from the whole church. Our goal at Falls Creek is not to have young people make decisions, but for them to begin an eternal relationship with the Savior and His church. For this to occur, we cannot just hope these new Christians figure out by themselves what it means to walk with Jesus.
Every student deserves adults who will walk with them to maturity. Students need Sunday School teachers and other adults who will connect with them, visit their homes, and seek to disciple them through the Word. This is not a one-time contact, but a long-term commitment by the church to reach out to their families, as well as to the students themselves. Too often, we make an attempt or two to connect with these students, and if we do not get an immediate response, we just move on. We must not let that happen!
Just as the church prayed for the students prior to camp, and in most churches an adult prayed for a student by name, we must increase our prayer support when the students return. If you were a prayer warrior for one of these students, you need to introduce yourself to him or her and begin an ongoing relationship of prayer.
Every effort needs to be made to baptize these new Christians. They need to understand that baptism is a very important spiritual act. I fear we make too little of baptism—an unusual statement, considering that we are Baptist! Remember, except for the thief on the cross, the New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized believers. Baptism does not save, but it does reveal the heart, and publicly marks a person as a follower of Christ.
We must seek to fold these new Christians into the whole church family and help them experience what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. Over the last couple of decades, many young people have been attracted to a youth group, and the Wednesday night youth service may have become their only understanding of church. While I rejoice that they are a part of the youth group, we must make every effort to connect them to the whole body. These students need the consistent preaching of the pastor, interaction with adults, and the privilege of connecting with the whole family of God.
Falls Creek is a beginning, but only a beginning. While students are encouraged to use online Bible studies developed by Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma student leaders, this is not enough. Falls Creek is an extension of the local church, and is something we can do better together than alone. What we cannot do is disciple, baptize, and connect students to the church. We can point them toward the church, but it takes the body of the church to connect them.
I pray that the fruit of this summer will be conserved, the lives of students will be blessed, and the church will be strengthened—but it will take intentional effort. Let’s do it!