FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) – For more than two years, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board youth specialist Jay Barbier has been thinking about the possibility of restructuring the state’s annual Youth Evangelism Conference.
The COVID-19 pandemic opened the door for those changes.
The conference, which has been a popular event for more than 50 years, will have a very different look and feel this year. Instead of being hosted at a central location, it will be streamed to churches all across Tennessee the night of March 13.
Churches are invited to host “YEC watch parties” on their campus and hold their own breakout sessions. The event is free, and registration is open at yectn.org,
Last year’s conference, scheduled for early March, was canceled because of the pandemic. But Barbier hopes the new format will make this year’s event better than ever.
“I am just so excited about what God is doing with YEC; it’s just incredible,” Barbier said. “When you step back and look at how the Lord is providing an opportunity for us to think differently, and for us to engage any church, and every church, with the Gospel of Jesus, it’s just awesome. … I feel like it just has so much potential to help our churches.”
This year’s event will serve as a transition year for the Youth Evangelism Conference, which will become a regional event – held at multiple sites spread out across the state – in the years ahead.
Barbier, who joined the TBMB in his current role in 2018, said the event’s previous format – a two-day event held at one location – created a financial strain for many churches that could not afford to send their youth to Nashville for a weekend.
This year, churches can participate at no cost.
“I am so fired up about this fresh chance to reach our churches,” Barbier said, “and just knowing that we’re doing this for free from the TBMB. … I mean, the truth is, this year, there’s no excuse for a church not to be able to do it.”
Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., will be the featured speaker.
“Having Robby Gallaty is just making me all the more excited about this,” Barbier said. “The movement of God that is happening (at Long Hollow) right now is unreal. They are baptizing people like crazy. And my hope is that the revival fire that’s going on at Long Hollow can spark churches all across Tennessee to catch on fire for God.”
Gallaty said he believes YEC is going to be a life-changing event for students across the state.
“I believe God is going to fan into flame a passion for Jesus in the hearts of students like never before,” Gallaty said. “The flame of revival spreads the fame of revival. You don’t have to advertise a fire; it advertises itself. My prayer is that God would set us on fire for Him.”
In addition to the conference itself, host churches will also have three opportunities to dive deeper into worship and praise through the breakout sessions, which can be held the night of the event or during the days and weeks that follow.
“We are offering three downloadable breakout sessions that churches can choose from to help them grow in the Lord and follow up with what they’ve experienced,” Barbier said.
Barbier and others on the YEC leadership team have been planning the conference for months, ironing out the details. Barbier said some of the meetings ended up being marathon sessions.
“I went to dinner with some other youth leaders one night,” he said, “and we’re in the restaurant, and we look at our watches and it’s 12:30 at night. As soon as I leave the restaurant, my wife calls me, wondering where I am. And I told her, ‘Natalee, I just had one of the most God-led conversations I’ve ever had. And it lasted for hours – because God is moving.’ ”
In 2019, Barbier’s first year as the conference’s director, the event drew an estimated crowd of 6,000 youth and youth leaders to Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. More than 750 youth made professions of faith during the weekend, and more than 60 surrendered to a call to the ministry. Many more decisions were made in the weeks that followed.
“This conference is all about introducing people to the love of Christ,” Barbier said. “And from the opening moments to the grand finale, it was all about Jesus.”
Barbier said he believes that changing the format to a regional event is going to open the doors for more churches to be able to participate. He said it won’t be hard to judge the success of the Youth Evangelism Conference.
“We believe we can make it better than ever,” he said, “and we can measure that by looking to see if the new ways of doing things are helping reach even more kids for Jesus. That’s what we want to do. That’s the goal. That’s the point.”