Another America Gathers 8,000 Youth Workers

Bill Treaneor
March 1, 1996

Over 8,000 church-based youth workers convened in early February for 37 separate professional training events at the Atlanta ’96 Youth Leaders Conference organized by the National Network of Youth Ministries (NNYM). The 37 cooperating groups such as the Center for Youth Ministry Development, Teen Mania, Student Venture/Campus Crusade for Christ, Urban Youth Ministry and Christ for Native Youth, was the largest gathering ever of American professional youth workers. The highlight of the week-long event was two days of joint sessions held in the vast Georgia Dome. In addition to the 8,000 full-time, mostly paid, church-based youth workers and youth pastors, the Dome sessions also drew 215 exhibitors, including the YMCA of the Rockies, Youth Specialities, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family and the D.C.-based conservative think tank, the Family Research Council. Most of the videos, magazines and training packages displayed for sale were more technologically advanced and user friendly than similar products underwritten by government or foundation grants to mainstream groups.

At the Sunday kick-off event, over 10,000 teenagers swelled the crowd for a True Love Waits—Thru the Roof Rally. During the event, 344,000 sexual abstinence pledge cards from teens were stacked 20 stories high after a fervent benediction and boisterous Christian rock music. Australian singer Rebecca St. James declared the abstinence campaign “a teenage movement,” and one 16-year-old speaker, Tony Ariniello of Louisville, Ky., offered this advice—“If I look at a girl lustily. I get down in the hall and do ten pushups." The "once in a lifetime event for youth workers" was scheduled to precede the conservative pro-family Promise Keepers conference, which drew 42,000 clergy — one-third of them pledged to implement its vision of family-friendly social policies. Youth Pastor James Dominy of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., called the training events "fantastic" and he "looks for it to happen again. Youth ministries all over the United States need it."

Chairing the Atlanta '96 Youth Leaders Conference was Paul Fleischmann, director of the San Diego-based National Network of Youth Ministries which he helped establish in 1982 after a decade with Campus Crusade for Christ. "Satan," says Fleischmann, not money or infighting among the 37 member steering committee "is the first thing that comes to mind" as the primary obstacle in pulling off the huge affair. Each group planned and managed its annually scheduled in-service staff training sessions and collected the registration fee. Each of the 37 sponsoring outfits then contributed $35 per registrant to pay for the rental of the Dome for plenary sessions. The entire event was coordinated by Fleischmann's NNYM staff of just six full-time and three part-time staff, augmented by several thousand volunteers in Atlanta.

While "networking" and "outreach" were constant themes in planning and promoting the event. Fleischmann could recall no contact with the more liberal New York-based National Council of Churches. He also had never heard of the D.C.-based National Collaboration for Youth, an affinity group of the National Assembly of National Voluntary health and Social Welfare Organizations, which represents such mainstream youth groups as the Boy Scouts of America, YWCA, Camp Fire, American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Nor had the Assembly's director, Gordon Raley, or other nationally known figures in the youth field ever heard of the Atlanta '96 Youth Leaders Conference or Paul Fleischmann until contacted by a reporter. Contact: 619-451-1111.

Treanor, Bill. "Another America Gathers 8,000 Youth Workers."Youth Today, March/April 1996, p. 35-36.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.