Church vans largely populated the parking lot of the Macon Coliseum on Saturday as thousands of youths from around the state came for an annual event that tailors the gospel directly to them.
In its 36th year, the Georgia Baptist Conventions Move Youth Evangelism Conference drew about 5,000 youths from around Georgia and the Southeast, said Brian Bone, state missionary with the Georgia Baptist Convention.
The event, which began Friday, features musical artists, comedians and illusionists, all of whom brought the message of Christ to the mostly middle and high school students.
Some churches are seeing a growth in participation of youths, but most are not, Bone said.
In general, in our churches we are seeing that its a tough culture, Bone said. A lot of cultural values go against church values, so you are seeing a lot of churches struggle to connect with teenagers. Thats why we have events like this.
A.J. Ragin, 12, of Fort Valley, was making his first trip to the conference. He said he was getting a lot out of it.
Its helping me understand, he said. The more I listen, the more I understand how God sends people here to talk through what he wants them to learn and how to tell other people how to have faith in God.
Connor Mays, 12, of Warner Robins, said his favorite part of the conference was the illusionists.
They keep you on the edge of your seat because you dont know whats going to happen next, he said.
Musical performers included former American Idol contestants Colton Dixon and Mandissa.
They have a crossover, cultural appeal to teenagers who havent necessarily been raised in church, Bone said.
The conference started in 1977 and has been held every year except one, when the youths attended a national conference instead. It has been held a few times in Atlanta, but most years it has been in Macon.
Its a really good location for people to drive to, Bone said.
One of the speakers was Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Sporting a bald head and a beard, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, he spoke from a platform in the center of the Coliseum.
He said there are few young males who get involved in missionary work, and that should change.
Men stand up for whats right and they oppose whats wrong, he said.
He also said high school students spend too much time trying to be cool.
A lot of you sitting here today think you are too cool, he said. Ive been around a lot of teenagers for a long time, and you are not that cool.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.