YC 2011: girls crowd surfing and all the hype 89$ {early bird special} can buy.

YC 2011 has come and gone this year, and I figured a bit of reflection would be in order, as next Sunday will be the day where many Churches will invite some of the youth to come up and speak about their experiences at this event. For those who don’t know, YC is a yearly  interdenominational Christian lolapalooza where some sixteen thousand teens and young adults descend upon Rexall place in Edmonton for three days of concerts and conference messages. I have been to nine YC’s in my life, being a part of three different youth groups, and going as a attendee, chaperon, and conference volunteer.

By way of reflection, YC was always the one event where it was cool to evangelize and invite your unsaved friends. We would tell them how awesome it was, how there were hard rock concerts, great live shows with killer lighting, and tons of free time in between to play basketball or laser tag or sumo wrestling in fat suits in the amphitheatre. We used to hype up how fun it was, and at the time it really was a blast. I certainly had a good time. People would show up in all kinds of outfits. In a way it was a time to show off and dress up and try to stick out and see how much attention you could get. There were Christian kids with death spikes, Goth clothing, and eyeliner. In our youth group, the kids would buy bottles of hair dye in bulk and always dye their hair and spike it up to stand out. Some would put in fake dreads. Others would wear fake lip rings. The goal was always the same though; stand out, get attention, have people look at you.  This year, a kid who is going showed me his “YC outfit” which he had purchased specifically for this event. White pants, white belt, pink shirt and skinny tie- all for the low sum of 300$.

Friday evening was always super exciting. Tons of people would be holding up their cellphones or glow sticks, and they would spend their time before the main show shouting “I love Jesus, yes I do, I love Jesus how about you!?” and then pointing to a part of the arena, who would then echo that phrase and point it to another part of the arena. When interest in that began to wane, one large group would start to do the wave. Then the house lights would dim to black and  the stage lights would begin going crazy, flashing and strobing  blue, yellow and red hues. Throw in some smoke and pyrotechnics and the atmosphere was electrifying.  It served to jack you up on the biggest emotional high you could get, and it would literally be weeks before you crashed. To that end, there was the opening conference message, by Mike Love, an altar call, a concert, and then a good night.

We barely slept that first night. The kids in my youth group downed coffees, red bulls, caffeine pills, and more energy drinks. Oftentimes we would not sleep at all, but spend the whole night in our hotel rooms talking. In the morning, we would arrive early where they would have Veggie Tales playing on the Jumbotron. One of the speakers would take the stage at a certain time and asked if we were doing good. We would scream back our affirmation. He would ask if we liked the concert, we would repeat. He would ask how many of us even went to bed, and that scream was by far the loudest and fullest. We would then do morning worship, and then the breakaway sessions would start, where people could pick to attend messages or concerts or games on different side stages. Concerts and games usually won out.

There’s always a big marketplace in Hall A where they sell a variety of Christian music, clothes, and wire crosses and fish necklaces made of horseshoe nails. Teen Message Bibles were everywhere, and I remember buying a few because they looked super cool and they were bound to spark a discussion between my classmates once I got back to school. Bands sold their merchandise and usually stuck around for autograph signing. Kids in my youth group would snatch those up as fast as they could, along with stickers and CD’s. I remember saving all my money for months before the event, because I knew there was so much stuff to buy, such as shirts with logos that said “A Bread Crumb and Fish” [Abercrombie and Fitch], shirts with the Sprite logo on them that said “Spirit: quench your thirst”, and shirts that said “I am the Christian the Devil warned you about!” and other such things.

The concerts were something else. Many of them were punk rock/hard rock/heavy metal in small venues, and you could always count on a mosh pit to start up near the front. Both boys and girls would jump around, headbanging and throwing elbows.  There was invariably always a 11 year old girl who would join the fray and then get crushed by everyone who were slamming into each other. There were also the poor souls who weren’t part of the mosh pit, but were in that intermediate stage right behind. They would spend the whole time pushing back at the people who were bumping up against them, which seemed to dampen their experience.

There were two other staples at these concerts. One was that there was an unbelievably bad smell; a lingering odour of stale body sweat that wafted over the entire venue. Such is the result when you have so many prepubescent boys perspiring in tight quarters. The other thing of note was that there were always an abundance of girls, dressed in spaghetti strap tank tops and short shorts, that would begin to body surf over the crowds. Not just during the concerts, but I saw it once even during the worship. I’ve never body surfed before, so I can’t speak for what it would be like having hundreds of hands of the opposite sex touching you all over your body. I do remember later in the hotel room on Saturday night that the guys from my youth group, many who had raised their hands in worship and wept just a few hours earlier, would talk about how hot the girls body surfing were, and how they wished they could have “passed her along”.

That was another part of it; going to YC for the hookups. An unbelievable amount of time was spent trying to pick up girls, get their phone numbers, and whatever flirting you could get away with.  There were some teens in the youth groups I was a part of, and also chaperoned who had sex in the hotel rooms at some point in the weekend, in between the concerts and the open sessions. I remember feeling confused at the time because I had seen them worshiping just hours before they hooked up and slept together, and I couldn’t reconcile that. To that end, the amount of energy which was expended on getting the attention of the opposite sex during this weekend was, in retrospect, astounding.

The messages themselves usually followed a predictable formula. It is a interdenominational service, and so much of the talks were in vague abstracts, mostly revolving around being sold out for Jesus, dreaming big dreams, being a history maker, and taking your school for Christ. There were no theological distinctive or hard lines, as it was an event crafted by the nondenominational denomination to appeal to Baptists, Roman Catholics, other non-denominationals, and various mainline protestant evangelical stripes. I do know that apart from the messages, there were many exhortations to ask Jesus into your heart, and a continual emphasis on those who had back-slidden. They would say “Some of you haven’t been living the Christian life this past year…well now is the time to rededicate your life to Jesus.”

Which is not to say it was all like that. I know there are some very fine speakers there who were rock solid in their faith and gave great messages, I just don’t really remember any of them.  Maybe as of late the speakers have been phenomenal, but back then it was light, fuzzy, and easy. The only message which really stuck out to me and which will be seared into my memory was from a guest speaker who had been brought in short notice. It was Saturday evening, about ten years ago, and after seeming to become frustrated with audience who were talking and laughing throughout his whole message, said “Lets call this weekend what it is, a place for kids to make promises to God that they never intend to keep.” Having had rededicated my life to Christ at 4 of those 9 YC’s, and knowing exactly what he was talking about, it was a punch in the gut.

Saturday night was the last major concert, the headliner, though right before there was an intense worship time. Individual songs with catchy riffs and shallow words would be sung for five, ten, twenty minutes until the crowd was in a tizzy, and every hand was raised and people were on their knees in tears. People would be laying hands on strangers and you could hear little pockets of tongues here and there. After that, the concert blew the ceiling off the roof.  If you weren’t drained of energy by the end of it, you just weren’t trying.

There was a message in the morning, a final exhortation, and then we were dismissed around 2:00pm. It was a long, sleepy way home. On the way back, we would brag about who had slept the least over the course of the three days, and some kids would recount their sexual conquests and regale with stories who they had hooked up with. We argued which concert was best, but we all agreed on one thing- that it was a really fun weekend, and that we couldn’t wait until next year.

Are my experiences typical? I think they are. Not everyone will have the same experience, but I think many will recognize familiar aspects of it. I have seen the YC experience change some people’s lives for the better and utterly transform them. [Or was it Christ who transformed them despite the YC experience?] But I’ve also seen the darker, more cynical side of it, the part of it which reduces the whole weekend to pretty much a less worldly version of Burning Man. To that end though, my comments shouldn’t be taken as an indictment against those who attend now in 2011. I don’t know if it is the same event. I don’t know what the preaching was like this year. I don’t know what the worship was like this year. I certainly don’t know the hearts of the people going there, other than to say from few people I’ve talked to who are going, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, or that the mindset that a 16 year old has as he approaches this weekend has changed in any fundamental way than from when I went.  This is simply a reflection on my own experiences with past YC’s.

I certainly remember YC as a time of pure euphoria for me. It was spiritually exhilarating. It would make even the most uncaring heathen a Christian for a day- it just had that effect on you. The whole weekend was a blur of exploding surface level spirituality;  an assault on the senses which moved both people who knew better, and those who didn’t. I think that some people who went to it with the right mindset took away from it some very good things. I think it grew and strengthened those who had that firm biblical foundation to begin with, who were able to approach it with the right attitude and discernment.

In so many ways it is a celebration of the Christian subculture, and I’m not sure how helpful that is. In fact, I think the whole weekend is probably a loss less Christ-exalting and God edifying than many people think it is, especially once they begin to reflect on it, and the attitude and mindset it breeds. If you think its cool and acceptable for Christianity to try to be relevant by aping the culture and Christianinzing everything they do, then I imagine this weekend was a great time. I have a hard time seeing it, in retrospect, as anything other a celebration of Christian subculture, instead of a celebration of Christ. It was all about being pumped up so that I could do great things for Christ, instead of taking time to drill deep the great things Christ has done for me.

I know that for the vast majority of people who would give their testimonies on the following Sunday about how YC changed them and how they encountered God, that most of them left youth group, left the church, and became practical atheists and agnostics. Many of the people who will be offering their testimonies next week will be living as if it never happened the week after that. That creates a really weird situation, I think, in the life of a youth group and the Church.

What do you all think?  For those who have gone to YC or other similar large Christian shindigs, how much of that can you relate to?

13 thoughts on “YC 2011: girls crowd surfing and all the hype 89$ {early bird special} can buy.

  1. very very interesting.. I must say, your youth group must have been quite a joke for the way you keep referring to it. lol I fully believe (and don’t necessarily think it’s RIGHT) that more often than not, that is the only way to get most teens to do a weekend of church, is to make it so fun that it’s disguising the real teaching and experience. So if all the fun and games gets a few unsaved kids to come out, great and if it’s helping even a couple other kids then that’s even better. You’re a guy, you were a teenager, you can’t say you never went there for the fun and yes, Dustin, even the girls to some extent.

    So I totally see where you’re coming from, but that’s just how teens and God work! 15 yr olds don’t think like you do…obviously…

  2. So are you helping to shape the lives of teens now. Building into them so they stick with church and a relationship with Jesus or just critiquing from behind a computer screen. There is the reality that stuff does happen, but I can also tell you numerous experiences of youth being challenged and changed, with their lives taking drastically different directions after such conferences. Easy to lob bombs, but harder to actually do something about it I guess.

    • be careful not to lob bombs at someone you think is lobbing bombs, mike. it could all blow up in your face. (just a thought of course… not meant to be another bomb.) ;)

    • Mike, I think you are fortunate that you have seen kids’ lives radically changed through these conferences. Here is a question though, I imagine that you have taken plenty of youth to YC, so how do you know how to avoid that stuff? As a pastor, how do you effectively shepherd your teens through that sort of thing at conferences, or are your kids part of the ones who are chugging monster enegery drinks, body slamming in the mosh pits, talking about girls and sex, confusing emotional highs for spirituality, and crowd surfing? I’m not making accusations, just wondering how you weigh the pros and cons of whether or not to attend these events, and how you watch over these teens during this time? :)

  3. I like how you shared your personal past experiences… no one can argue with those. I personally have experienced and thought pretty much the same thing as you about conferences… growing up in the church and going to these types conferences all my life help make it pretty clear that what you have described is true. no argument there at all. Each individual will make their choices at these events, good or bad, and will have to deal with the effects of those choices later.

    It’s true that a lot of ppl go to conferences with the wrong motivation. a lot of christians do that every sunday too. so it is definitely not an isolated once-a-year issue.
    Yes, at these events I have seen friends make commitments that they stray from later on, But I have also seen unsaved friends come to these conferences (for the concerts, games, and the opposite sex), that end up choosing to follow to christ. And I have also seen christians make further commitments to God’s call & have gone on to live more effectively and passionately for him!

    It’s all a journey. and it looks different for everyone. God is soveriegn and can use anything to draw a heart closer to him.

    I love when you said “I think it grew and strengthened those who had that firm biblical foundation to begin with, who were able to approach it with the right attitude and discernment.” That is a great statement, and is true not just about YC, but also about every day christian living.
    The thing is… everyone needs to start somewhere… they can’t begin to build a firm biblical foundation or the right attitude or discernment without first inviting the Holy Spirit in to teach and grow them!
    so if God wants to use a crazy, hyped up, hormone infested event to start that process in a person’s heart, spirit and life… then more power to it!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love reading your stuff! :)

    • Thanks. You are right of course that no one can argue with my personal experiences. This may have been a radically different experience for some. Because the thing is that experiences may a very poor baseline by which to judge whether or not something is good and right- my own experiences especially. You cant trust them, and ultimately they count for very little.

  4. I think a weekend away with church and friends is a great thing for Christian youth. When I was in youth group, we had Acquire the Fire that we went to, and it was always a highlight for me. Did we stay up all night? Of course. Did we jump and yell and sing our hearts out? Yes. Did we hear silly sermons and see pointless skits? All weekend. But there was a lot of good mixed in there, and it was an experience where we could go and have FUN, clean fun, supervised fun, where we could let our guards down a bit because we could almost escape the crap from the world we had to deal with every other day.

    My youth group wasn’t having sex at these events though, but I think it’s healthy and good for teens to desire meeting other teens of the same faith as opposed to just some cute girl in their public school History class, especially if they go to small churches and don’t have many “options” in that regard to building healthy relationships with the opposite sex.

    Overall, a weekend of emotional high is great and needed in life. I feel that same high after a day at the amusement park or any other concert, Christian or not. It’s the FUN high, and of course you come down off the “that was the greatest night of my life!” feeling. Heck, we even had the WE JUST GOT ENGAGED, then WEDDING and HONEYMOON highs that hit the ground crashing the day back to work.

    As a standalone, there is nothing wrong with that, and they make life all the more exciting. The problem is when that high becomes the basis for salvation and faith and if the youth groups work and base their ministry around experiencing the constant high every week instead of discipling and studying and seeking to know God through his word.

    I would like to see you write a post on a solution. It’s all well and good to reflect back on our experiences or the ones kids are going through today and think them through with adult minds, but can we start talking solutions? When we have kids and choose a church, what will you be looking for in the youth group? Should a church even have a youth group? If so, what do you think that should ideally look like? I think it’s interesting too to think about the schooling youth pastors go through before they are put in the position of leadership. Youth leader training programs are chalk full of ideas on structure, planning, what’s important to teens, the effectiveness of Biblical narrative vs isolated stories, etc. Youth leaders aren’t just the first and coolest mid twenties adult who show up wanting to relate to kids. They put years of training, heart, prayer, study, and thought into their profession and how they are going to minister, and while there is a lot of misguided passion being poured into youth in today’s churches, it isn’t all bad, and people like you and me are testaments to that, no?

    There may be a lost of “lost causes” who never made it past youth group in their Christian walk (were they even Christians, or just invited out by friends or whose parents made them go??), and that’s serious and something we really need to look into, but there are also those who learned a lot and found a way to grow, encourage, and be changed by their youth groups and the people who took the time to talk with them and be there for them. My youth pastor read every single email I sent wrestling with scripture and always talked me through it with his wife. Each and every time. They were there for me when I was hurting, there for me when I was excelling, and there for me when I just wanted to argue with them over a lesson. And I’m a better person for it and owe a lot to them even though they took us to snow camp where I bawled my eyes out on the floor after worship surrounded by new friends and hugs and a newly saved former wiccan I had been talking to all weekend or danced the conga lines around the auditorium and then went tubing down the hills.

    I dunno what I’m trying to say anymore.. just that these events are not inherently wrong, and I would like to see an edifying blog post on some ideas on how to change things in the church so we don’t have youth accustomed to faith itself being like these events and can know God for more than just an “experience”.

  5. You say that a lot of people go to these conferences but don’t take them seriously. I wonder if these events just might do more damage to the ones who DO take it seriously…

    I grew up attending a different youth conference, called Avalanche (as well as several smaller local ones). It was great at the time, I would come home pumped up for God, ready to be a history maker for Him, and then I’d crash and feel like a bad Christian… until I got a new spiritual high at the next conference! And I’d repeat this cycle over and over and over… for years.

    Here’s the worst of it. I’m 28 now and have been doing p/t youth ministry for 5 years. I’m following God- and yet I still struggle with feeling like I’m not a good enough Christian. And I literally JUST (like, a week ago) made the connection between my youth-conference saturated adolescence and these current feelings of inferiority. After all, according to these conferences, I was part of a chosen generation. I was supposed to be a history maker, some sort of super-Christian. And here I am, living a relatively “normal” life… therefore, in the eyes of my adolescent self, I have failed. No wonder I feel the way I do.

    I wonder if some of those kids who end up becoming atheists or agnostics might have done so because they were tired of feeling like they failed God because they didn’t end up being spiritual giants?

    • Mary, I think you make a phenomenal point, and I’m really glad you posted here. I too went to Avalanche, and something called Richter, and I’m one of the people who did take those things seriously. Everything about them encouraged us equate an emotional high with a spiritual high, which is why in the worship i would cry and feel so close to God, and you’re right- feel like a spiritual giant. But then the minute I was out of that and sinned, I felt like I let God down. Once I was out of the worship experience, the high would drain and I would wonder at my personal failings for being unable to maintain it. It was a very frustration and emotionally crushing feeling.

    • Why do most Christians think that people become agnostics or atheists because the church let them down or because they are mad at God? That doesn’t make sense… Doesn’t it occur that they become agnostics or atheists because there is no actual evidence for God? I know it’s a radical thought in Christian circles… but really…

      • I don’t believe that, Chad- that people become atheists because the church let them down. I believe that mankind’s default position towards God is hatred for him. That is to say- that all people know there is a God, but that they are simply suppressing the truth about God. that is what the scriptures say. To that end, whenever they say there is no evidence for God, ultimately they are self deceived, as in their unrighteousness and rebellion they have suppressed the truth, and that is why they do not believe.

  6. >>>…where some sixteen thousand teens and young adults descend upon Rexall place in Edmonton for three days of concerts and conference messages…

    And the girls come home pregnant, sans innocence, and the guys come home and give their “testiclemony”… !

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