About 25 youth ministry leaders met at Christ Haven retreat center, outside of Colorado Springs, for three days to discuss what God was doing among youth and what He might want to do in the future. In the process they discovered how much they had in common.
Continuing to meet each year, they backed up their words by signing a covenant of commitment about their walk with God and their ministry to youth. The National Network of Youth Ministries officially formed that year to facilitate cooperation and personal growth. That same covenant has been signed by every Network member since.
In 1983, the Network heard about Youth for Christ and Campus Crusade for Christ planning separate conferences for the same city in the same year. The Network challenged both organizations to consider co-sponsoring an event, pooling their resources. The result was Youth Congress 85, and 16,000 delegates trained in evangelism. Out of that came the DC/LA conferences which meet every three years.
Bill Hodgson of Australia liked what he saw of the emerging U.S. Network. He took the concepts, and with the help of fellow Aussie youth workers, created something for his country. Today many Networks have formed in countries around the globe.
Youth worker fellowships began to focus their local groups around the Network objectives of reaching every student on every campus. By 1987, there were 100 local chapters. Today there are well over 600 Network Coordinators serving in every U.S. state.
Youth leaders sponsored prayer rallies at schools in Texas and Oklahoma at the start of the school year. The results spread like wild fire. See You at the Pole has become a national observance, drawing up to three million teenagers in recent years.
In 1990 national youth ministry leaders began to meet for prayer. That led to the annual Youth Ministry Executive Council (YMEC), which unites presidents of national youth organizations and denominational youth leaders. They meet to share, pray and build personal relationships.
True Love Waits was originally planned as a Southern Baptist program for sexual abstinence. But at a YMEC gathering, it became obvious that many groups shared the same concerns. True Love Waits became a multi-denominational campaign helping millions commit to sexual purity.
In February 1996, the Network sponsored the Atlanta 96 Youth Leaders Conference in the Georgia Dome. It was the largest gathering of youth workers ever, uniting over 100 different denominations and youth ministries. The long-time vision of establishing a ministry to every school was captured in the theme: Every Kid, Every Campus, Every Community. Challenge 2000 was born—a partnership of cooperating organizations to accomplish that goal.
Reaching every school was “do-able” because there were already “mission agencies” with “missionaries” in every city—thousands of local churches and youth ministries! By 1998 there were 60 denominations and groups pooling their resources—100,000 churches and 250,000 youth workers. Challenge Sunday was used by churches to “send” students and teachers as “missionaries” to their schools.
The Challenge 2000 Alliance of 62 national ministries advanced the cause of “Adopting Schools for Christ.” More than 300 Network Coordinators were equipped through training events. More than 35,000 schools were “adopted for Christ” by 2000, a 200 percent increase over five years! This national alliance of students, youth workers and educators continues to together to see “Every Student, Every School, Every Community” reached for Jesus Christ.
Many specialty Networks emerged to link youth workers with similar “calling” and expertise from a variety of organizations and regions. Unified by their passionate focus to reach a specific segment of the culture, Affinity Networks began developing in Urban, Rural, Native American, Missions, Campus, Women in Youth Ministry, Critical Incident Response, and many other areas.
Diverse leadership teams prayerfully defi ned the Network’s “true north” course for the future: The result? “Stimulating Partnerships that Reach Teenagers for Christ.” Priorities are healthy Local Networks, effective Affinity Networks, and increasing National Cooperation.
The Network was invited by the federal government to build an infrastructure to recruit and refer large numbers of Christian adults to serve as mentors to young people in every community. MentorYouth.com was launched to mobilize thousands of Mentor Recruitment Ambassadors to recruit thousands of adult mentors for the enormous numbers of youth on waiting lists.
Startling statistics revealed that many Christian students do not stay connected with the church after graduating from high school. A Youth Transition Network was formed to build the bridge for youth who are transitioning from high school to college, military or career.
On its 25th anniversary, NNYM launched Operation Turn the Tide, a strategic plan to network resources and ministries in an all-out effort to rescue a lost and abandoned generation for Jesus Christ. The comprehensive plan targets four compelling initiatives and fifteen vital strategies.
The Network is, above all, a grassroots movement of youth workers taking seriously the task of reaching every young person in their communities for Christ. If this is going to happen, we need a healthy network within the reach of every youth workerapproximately 3,900 in Americawho will build on four building blocks of a healthy network: prayer, relationships, resources and strategies.
The torch was passed from the founding CEO to new leadership. The coinciding global economic downturn took a serious toll on the Network's resources. God used the resulting response to bring a more laser focus on the priority of healthy community networks. Everything came under the scrutiny of championing healthy networks that paved the way for healthy youth workers and healthy youth ministries - resulting in more teenagers being reached and discipled for Christ.
Deeper involvement in the local communities revealed a vast resource of people who care about teenagers - not just the traditional youth pastor or paid youth worker. Teachers, coaches, social workers, business leaders, senior pastors, parents and many others began to form collaborative teams of believers with a common bond to meet the needs of youth in their communities. New and upgraded training was developed that could mobilize the wide variety of willing workers for an increased level of effectiveness.