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Christian youth conference in Cranberry Twp. touts fun, faith, fellowship

A group of smiling teenagers strikes a pose at the 2023 Encounter Conference at Victory Family Church in Cranberry Township. The conference seeks to create a more intimate relationship between young people and God. Submitted photo

Organizers of the fourth annual Encounter Conference to be held next month at Victory Family Church are excited to see youths forge a closer relationship with God.

The Rev. Ben Archer, pastor at Victory’s New Castle campus, said about 1,700 young people in fifth through 12th grades, plus 2024 graduating high school seniors, are expected to attend the conference from June 19 to 21 at the church on Route 19 in Cranberry Township.

Archer said the conference is twofold, as a youth conference and a separate conference for youth pastors occur at the same time.

He said about 300 youth pastors, youth leaders and volunteers in youth ministry programs attend the conference to develop their skills.

“It becomes a win-win for youth groups and a win-win for churches,” he said of both students and youth leaders who attend from the same church.

He said the conference was born four years ago, when it was suggested that instead of holding the church camps Victory offered for 20 years, the church could offer a larger youth conference.

“When our lead pastor’s wife, Michelle, was younger, her life was turned around at summer camp,” Archer said of the impetus for the yearly camps and now the conference.

He said most students and youth leaders who attend are within a two-hour radius of Victory Family Church, and return home overnight.

But conference organizers partner with local hotels so anyone from farther away can stay in Cranberry Township, Archer said.

What’s planned

He said national, top-tier ministers from across the U.S. travel to the conference to serve as the main speakers, then breakout sessions throughout the church campus address the big questions kids ask themselves, like ‘Where do I belong?” and “Who did God create me to be?”

Other breakout sessions will help students deal with intimidating topics they deal with in everyday life, such as anxiety or depression.

Still other breakout sessions help students pursue a devotional personal life that includes Bible reading and prayer, Archer said.

For fun, the huge lawn at Victory becomes a wonderland for young people and children.

Archer said inflatables and bounce houses, video game trucks, ice cream trucks, a slip ‘n slide, football and other fun features allow kids to have fun and relax.

“One year, we had a giant zip line,” he said, adding that safety always is the top priority in planning the outdoor fun area.

The main speakers this year are John Bevere, co-founder of Message International; Brandon Cormier of Zeal Church; and Bubba Massey of Church of the Highlands.

“The biggest take-away would be helping the emerging generation to know God intimately,” Archer said of the conference. “We want (young people) to have an active relationship with him and walk with him daily and look to him to lead you and guide you daily.”

Positive feedback

He said feedback over the past four years by those who have attended the conference has been positive.

“Their lives are changed,” Archer said. “They feel that God has set them free from struggles like anxiety and depression, and a weight is lifted off them.

“Sometimes, they tell Mom and Dad ‘I’m sorry for acting in certain ways.’ It really is a life-changing event,” he said.

Students receive lunch and dinner, which is prepared by a legion of volunteers from the Victory congregation.

Volunteers also help lead breakout sessions, check in attendees, run small groups, man activities outside and perform any other tasks needed to make the conference a success.

Archer said planning for the next year’s Encounter Conference begins the day after the current conference is over.

“It’s not a little event,” he said.

The Rev. Chris Marshall, founding pastor at New Life Christian Ministries in Clinton Township, said youth and youth leaders from his church will attend the conference for the first time next month.

“It’s a great opportunity for a very low cost, and Victory is doing a great service to all the churches of the area in providing this (conference) to our young people,” Marshall said.

He said the conference is a concentrated opportunity to experience worship and teachings of a Biblical nature while having fun with other young people.

“Kids today feel like they are the only one really pursuing their faith, but there will be so many other kids there who are like-minded and going the same direction,” Marshall said.

“I hope they come back with a stronger sense of their relationship with Jesus and a wider understanding that there are a lot of people their age who are also pursuing their faith.”

Marshall said New Life has partnered with Victory for many years. He said Victory is intensely concerned about making life better for everyone in the region through Christian teachings.

“Jesus said ‘Go to the ends of the Earth,’ and Victory helps people do that,” he said. “I hope every church will take advantage of this great opportunity and send their kids to the conference.”

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