More than 150 high schoolers from across middle Georgia joined together in Athens on Oct. 20th at the Club Sports Complex to dress up in crazy Halloween costumes, to compete in an embarrassing game with their peers and to hear a little bit about Jesus.
“Young Life’s one mission is doing whatever it takes to bring kids face-to-face with Jesus Christ,” says Dani Runnals, a Young Life leader for Jackson County High School. “So we go where the kids are: their lunchtime, their football games and spend time with them one-on one to build a friendship that will hopefully earn the right to speak about our faith with them.”
Young Life was founded in 1939 in Gainesville, Texas, and has now grown to around 1,500 ministries in over 90 countries. Their mission is simply stated: to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith. But Young Life has set out specifically to let teenagers approach faith themselves.
“We want kids to come to club, but even more so, we’re there to build relationships with them. We’ll talk about faith, but we’ll also go to their games or bring them lunch and see the difference that Christ has made in us and make them wonder what that difference is,” says Cedar Shoals High Young Life leader Kimberly Pritchett. “You are ‘earning the right to be heard’ once that trust is built, regardless of whether that kids decides to step forward in faith.”
Greater Jackson County Young Life Club strives for one goal—to make an impact in kids’ lives and to build lasting relationships for their high school lives. Young Life Club, simply referred to as “Club” for those that attend, is a mix between the kids and the leaders’ goals. There’s what the kids like— rap music, dance music, goofing off and having embarrassing moments that give them a sense of community. But there is also a serious moment and leaders approach the talk about Jesus, but it’s short—no more than 10 minutes.
That way, curiosity is sparked, but the kids don’t feel drowned by a 40-minute religious sermon. And if kids have questions, that’s what leaders are for. Monday Night Club gives the students an alternative to a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night sermon. The purpose for the weekly Club is understood, but it’s not forced in any way. Kids truly feel the option to approach faith at a pace with which they are comfortable.
“I go to Young Life because of the awesome leaders. They always know how to have fun and they know how to send a great message out about God. They’re always there for you when you need them, even if you just want to talk,” Jackson County High junior Kaitlin Thomas says. “The leaders are what make Young Life for me.”
Sophomore Ivy Cleveland explains why she attends Young Life every Monday: “For me, Young Life means a place where someone doesn’t judge you for who you are. They’re there for you when you need someone to help you through something really bad or just a friend to hang out with. I love Young Life and I hope to become a Young Life leader when I get in college.”
Young Life at the University of Georgia has roughly 60 student leaders in their mentorship program and leaders pay the dues to fund the club nights that happen throughout the year. The student leaders are then funneled throughout the neighboring areas, with Athens’ areas including Jackson, Oconee, Clarke and Madison counties.
“As leaders, we want to be role models for these kids’ lives so they have consistency in their lives, because a lot of these kids come from broken homes or really difficult situations,” Pritchett says. “Young Life is not all about seeking out the ‘Christian kids.’ It’s about seeking the lost and disinterested kids or the ones that don’t fit the mold of a typical church kid.”