Alberta’s Youth Conference Ends After a Quarter-century

A YC Veteran Reflects on What it All Means

By Ian McKerracher

On the May Long Weekend, I had the privilege of being one of a small cadre of adult overseers, who escorted a herd of teens to Red Deer’s Enmax Centrium to attend something called YC (Youth Conference). This annual conference has been going on for 25 years, and for many of those years was likely the biggest Christian youth conference in Canada. But this year a lot of us experienced a bitter-sweet nostalgia as YC’s demise had already been announced. The principal driver of the whole thing, a man named Mike Love, was retiring, and, like sand in an hourglass, his commitment to YC had run out. Thank you, Mike for an amazing run of A-list Christian musicians and speakers ministering to Alberta’s boisterous teens. Thank you for providing them with life-changing worship experiences. And thank you for staying true to the original vision to the very end. As always, this year was both awesome and worrying.

I have always regretted the lack of intellectual appeal at these events because I’m convinced a growing understanding of The Faith is a necessary aspect of discipleship, even for teens.

Knowing the end had come couldn’t help but hurt because I have been a part of YC from its beginning, dropping my two kids off at the first few YCs in Red Deer, and then volunteering at a string of YCs when it moved to the Coliseum in Edmonton to mount a spectacle of smoke and lights for 15,000 attendees at a time. The weather was a little cool with rain threatening and a chilly breeze pushing between the assorted school buses, vans, and cars in the parking lot and even into the venue itself. This year’s 5500 attendees felt small compared to the crowds we had back in the day, but it was still a respectable size considering the spiritual malaise that impacts so many churches these days.

I just celebrated the thirty-somethingth anniversary of my 29th birthday, but the kids looked no stranger than ever. There have always been teens who coloured their hair in weird shades, or who hung “Free Hugs” signs around their neck, or who dressed inappropriately, and this year’s YC was no different. Nevertheless, I felt just a little bit sorry for the young girls who willingly suffered from the cruel wind because they insisted on wearing shorts. All seemed like previous years until I saw a young fellow in a giant T-rex costume. That was a first, and strangely symbolic considering YC was headed for extinction.

Photo taken by Ian McKerracher at 2019 YC

The music was, as usual, VERY LOUD. The Red Deer venue allowed me to enjoy the music without the earplugs I was forced to insert at the Edmonton Coliseum. A lot of the music went right over my grey-ish head. One concert featured an artist who spoke rhythmically to the beat of the only accompanying musician; a drummer. I think it was supposed to be rap music but wasn’t quite…I, at least, remained unpersuaded. Tim and the Glory Boys provided a rousing bluegrass set, complete with choreographed movements between the instruments; they’re music and lyrics set my feet a-dancin’. The last concert was provided by the currently hot For King and Country and was well-received by a boisterous crowd of appreciative teens. Leading the crowd in worship were Aaron Boyd and Worship Central. Stellar work from both!

The group dynamic at YC events has always left me a little uncomfortable. The whole thing (music and speaking) relies heavily on emotional appeals and I often wonder what happens when these excited young people go back to their mundane existence. I have always regretted the lack of intellectual appeal at these events because I’m convinced a growing understanding of The Faith is a necessary aspect of discipleship, even for teens. The youth leaders I’ve known are certainly committed, in the sense that they care about their charges—but I sometimes wonder if even they could respond with good answers to the questions that, sooner or later this much-loved crowd of almost-adults will have to face.

What goes on in front of the stage raises just as many questions. The kids who sat behind me talked continuously about anything and everything throughout the ….uhmmm…sermon (?) by main speaker Reggie Dabbs. An elaborately coiffed young man declared me to be “cool”—for being there I guess—but a young lady with eye-watering perfume made me wonder what kind of show she thought she was attending. HOWEVER, at the time of the altar call the kids did appear to be paying attention. They responded to the invitation to “dig deeper into this God-thing,” and as far as I could tell were genuinely moved by the Spirit of God. That gave me great hope that God was speaking to them—and that’s what counts!

I found myself thinking that despite my doubts I will miss YC. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. The kids I brought spoke of wanting “a little YC” at our own church next year. That would be fun!