gatlinburg, tenn. — What’s the longest name in the Bible? From where was the biblical guy who had 12 fingers and toes? Who ate a book that tasted as sweet as honey?
Mahershalalhashbaz, Gath and Ezekiel (John, too) were on the tip of your tongue, right?
These and other “Obscure Bible Trivia” questions entertained 10,000 teens, youth ministers and adult leaders gathered for the Challenge Youth Conference — an event whose focus on the Bible was anything but trivial.
CYC meets every February in this mountain-resort town.
The three-day conference begins with a Friday night session, continues all day Saturday and wraps up with Sunday morning worship.
With the Great Hall at the Gatlinburg Convention Center holding 6,000 people, planners accommodate the crowd by scheduling early and late versions of the sessions and concluding assembly.
On Saturday morning at this year’s CYC, ministers Ben Hayes and Travis Creasy primed the crowd for upcoming activities.
During “Fun with Ben and Travis,” the ministers led songs, orchestrated a crowd wave and invited the audience to tweet the Hebrew names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for a chance to participate on stage later in the day.
Next came S.W.A.T. — “Skits With a Truth.”
As the lights came up on a darkened stage, the audience met the operator of an elevator to heaven. When a judgmental passenger objected to others on board — including someone in bad need of a bath — the operator pointed out the only qualifications for the ride up.
Each person aboard, the operator explained, “believed in Jesus, repented of his sins, confessed him as Lord, been baptized, lived a good Christian life.”
“So many times you get in front of kids and you entertain them, and it’s goofiness. Well, we have goofiness with a point,” said Lonnie Jones, S.W.A.T. member and a professional counselor in Alabama. “We want the kids to maybe look at themselves in the scenario and go, ‘If I were there, how would I have reacted?’”
The spiritual messages behind the skits — “values-based entertainment,” as Jones called them — illustrated a key quality of CYC: traditional, Scripturally anchored teaching about faithful Christian living in today’s world.
Addressing the theme “Jesus” — “Jesus the Child,” “Jesus the Man,” “Jesus the Door,” “Jesus the Savior,” “Jesus the Friend” — speakers dug deeply into bedrock themes of Christian faith, drawing a sharp line between what the Bible says about Jesus and society’s answers about how to get to God.
“I have labored over this lesson and have no possible way to explain to you the significance of what I’m about to say,” Kyle Butt, editor at Alabama-based Apologetics Press
, told the CYC crowd.
“Jesus Christ was 100 percent God when he came to this earth but at the same time was 100 percent man,” Butt said. “You know what the incarnation means?
“Jesus wasn’t a superhero. … He wasn’t invincible. He wasn’t impervious to pain and emotional heartache. You see, Jesus was just like you.”
Speaker David Shannon paced in front of a single red door in the middle of the stage as he addressed the audience.
Minister of the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ near Nashville, Tenn., Shannon took issue with those in today’s culture who affirm multiple pathways to God.
He insisted that Jesus is the one door to the Father.
When organizers launched CYC in 2000, “our goal was just to have a solid, Scriptural, Bible-based conference, one where the young people would … be challenged to live their lives for Christ in a world that’s often indifferent to living that kind of life,” said director Larry Davenport, a development official at Mars Hill Bible School in Florence, Ala.
The conference has its roots in the Florence area. With local youth events such as special series and singings well attended, leaders decided to plan a bigger activity, Davenport said. Held in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the initial event drew 325 people. As word spread, the crowd grew to 800, then 1,300, then 1,800. After two years, the conference moved to nearby Gatlinburg.
This year, CYC organizers counted 9,900 registrants. With that number added to a staff of more than 100, it was CYC’s first time to break the 10,000 mark, Davenport said.
While most of the 350 to 370 youth groups in attendance come from Alabama and Tennessee, the rally also draws teens from Michigan to Florida, Davenport said.
CYC is one of two large gatherings for teens in Churches of Christ in Gatlinburg in February. Winterfest
drew more than 12,000 people one week before CYC. The nearly back-to-back Gatlinburg conferences are planned and carried out independently.
“The two probably reflect different communities,” said Brad Poe, minister of the Rome Church of Christ
in Proctorville, Ohio, attending CYC with 24 people from his church. Poe felt the “format and content” of CYC were aimed at more traditional congregations.
Though the conference is focused on young people, not everyone at CYC is a teen.
“You can’t explain how inspiring it is,” said Nina Smith, a member of the New Hope Church of Christ
in Celina, Tenn., attending CYC with her granddaughter. “I came one year with two of my grandchildren. And then it just keeps growing, and … I want to be part of it.”
“They need some grandparents along,” added fellow New Hope member Jo Nell McLerran.
Of the 60 people attending CYC from the Savannah Church of Christ
in Tennessee, 13 were adults, said George Williams, who drove the congregation’s 30-passenger bus to the conference, accompanied by two vans and four cars.
Offering a home-cooked alternative to Gatlinburg’s pancake houses, fast-food restaurants, and upscale eateries, the Savannah adults prepare some of the weekend’s meals in the two cabins they rent. Breakfast included bacon, biscuits and sausage balls, Williams said. Friday night the group feasted on hot dogs and chili.
Mike McKay from the Wildwood Church of Christ
in Florida hopes CYC will make a lasting impact. He recalled his own daughters, now in college. “When they have kids, they’ll be looking for something like this,” he said. “That’s why I’m hoping it doesn’t ever stop.”
A speaker’s reference to next year’s CYC caught the attention of 15-year-old Alexus Alvarez.
“I’m not a Christian yet,” Alvarez said. Before moving to Charlotte, N.C., where she attends Mountain Island Church of Christ
, she had little experience in church.
“I actually like what they were talking about,” Alvarez said. “Every time I hear more and more about the Bible … I learn more new stuff.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see cyconline.com