Young Life Aims to Bring Teens Back to Church


By Edward Henderson

I can remember lying in the bed on some Sunday mornings as a teenager trying to come up with every excuse in the book stay home. My apprehension came from daydreams of playing video games all day coupled with the boredom I would often experience during the length of Southern Baptist services. My story is common for teenagers. According to a study published by Christianity Today, 70% of young adults drop out of church. As a response, many Christian organizations are working to mobilize the youth back towards the church. James Wiley Jr. of Young Life Inner-City San Diego is working hard to educate teens about the gospel in a way that is digestible and fun for them.

Young Life began in the early 1930s when an elderly woman, Clara Frasher, recruited a group of her friends to pray for the teenagers attending Gainesville High School in Texas. As of June 2015, there are Young Life ministries in 6,936 schools and other outreach locations, as well as 68,385 volunteers in the United States and around the world making an impact on 1,864,257 kids.

Wiley’s involvement with Young Life began in the year 2000 when he started volunteering at Lincoln High School. Coincidentally, this was the same campus he had his own spiritual awakening as a student.

“My life changed in high school when I met Christ,” Wiley said. “I went back to school with a totally different person with a different outlook on life without fear. One thing that motivates me is to want to see that for the students I interact with.”

Wiley has worked with Young Life on Lincoln’s campus in a leadership capacity since 2008. The program’s approach to bringing youth back to church is capsulized in 5 categories.

Contact Work

Young Life leaders go to high school campuses to outreach, build trust and build relationship with students and faculty members. After creating that relationship they’re able to begin teaching the gospel based on the chemistry they’re able to create.


After the relationships are solidified with a campus, Young Life starts a weekly club in a room on campus. They provide food, host mixers, play games, perform skits and in the last ten minutes share a story or lesson from the gospel.


Campaigners is a weekly gathering for students who wish to learn more or grow in their faith through study, service and leadership. Along the way, Young Life encourage them to celebrate their faith through participation in a local congregation.


For every Young Life staff person there is a team of dedicated leaders who works directly with kids. In each community, the local “committee,” comprised of parents, Young Life alumni and civic leaders, provides a foundation of financial, administrative and moral support for the local Young Life team.


Wildly considered one of the highlights of the program, Young Life camp gives 300 to 400 students to get out of their environment and experience a summer camp setting. They participate in classic camp activities like water sports, arts and crafts and outdoor activities coupled with nightly talks about the gospel.

“The best way to reach teenagers is to be creative with the story and make it applicable to where they are in their lives,” Wiley said.” “We try to give them something they’re familiar with and make it fun. We try to make every moment memorable and one they won’t forget.”

The Inner City component of Young Life focuses on students in Southeast San Diego to deliver a tailored approach to the gospel that caters to the challenges many of the youth face from the area. Summer Camp provides inner city participants the opportunity to mingle with youth suburban communities and realize they have more in common than they have differences.

“Working inner city is challenging when it comes to resources and running programs, but it’s more fulfilling to see when students come out of Young Life and they become successful and grow in their faith,” Wiley said. “We end up being the spotlight of camp because we have a different flavor and style than the suburban kids are used to.”

To learn more about Young Life and how you can get involved, visit



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