Young Christians’ Weekend touches many Baptists
BRANSON – Young Christians’ Weekend (YCW) at Silver Dollar City, a fixture for many Missouri Baptist youth groups for the better part of 30 years, offers music, Bible teaching and seminars in various settings at the theme park. On the peak middle day of the March 30 through April 1 event, about 11,500 people flowed through the turnstiles.
Silver Dollar City General Manager Brad Thomas, a member of Second Baptist Church in Springfield who attended many YCW events in high school and college, oversees the theme park’s administration of the event. He clearly enjoys his role with YCW, describing it as a special part of the overall annual lineup for Silver Dollar City.
“It’s a great opportunity for Silver Dollar City to open the doors to teen-agers who want to listen to Christian rock music,” Thomas said. “We also do a variety of workshops and seminars. All of our stages are dedicated to either Christian contemporary music or workshops.”
For Missouri Baptist youth ministers and youth workers, YCW is where God often makes Himself known. Sometimes He even calls people into youth ministry right there in the midst of all of the Christian activity in the theme park. That is the story of Randy and Melissa Swearengin, the couple leading youth ministry at First Baptist Church of Marshfield.
“It was at one of the rallies,” said Melissa Swearengin, recalling the time in 1986 when she and Randy were dating. “We had an awesome youth pastor, and he and his wife were so genuine and so sincere in their faith, so faithful to the Lord. We loved our youth group, and this was always a huge thing that we did. I distinctly remember that the Lord dealt with us, and we both felt in our hearts that somehow in our lives we would be working with youth.”
The Swearengins are coming up on their 18th wedding anniversary in May. She has been to 24 YCWs and he has been to either 21 or 22.
“This has been an awesome spring retreat weekend, kind of a kickoff to our summer programs at church,” Randy Swearengin said. “It really helps re-focus the kids.”
Seminars lasted about 30-40 minutes and covered such topics as sexual purity, quiet times, how to prosper spiritually in a dysfunctional home and helping your friends come to know Jesus. Concerts featured various bands at theaters, the Opera House and the Gazzebo. Matthew West played March 31 at the Echo Hollow Amphitheater, and Joe White, president of Kannakuk Kamps in Branson, preached an April 1 worship service with Charlie Hall leading worship.
“I enjoy the concerts that they have, and it’s worth your whole weekend just listening to Joe White’s talks on Sunday morning,” said Cara Holliday, who along with her husband, Jim, took a group of youth from Lebanon Baptist Church, McGirk. The Hollidays have been coming to YCW for as long as they have been married—20 years.
The Swearengins have found over the years that their youth don’t necessarily want to go to YCW simply to enjoy the rides at Silver Dollar City.
“We always require our kids to go to at least two or three seminars of their choice on Saturday,” Randy Swearengin said. “They come out of there better individuals and they really grow from the experience. Most of them come out taking notes and applying biblical principles to their lives.”
Jim Holliday is a former youth minister at Lebanon Baptist and a member of the McGirk church for the entire time he has been married to Cara. Their experience with the seminars at YCW has been similar to that of the Swearengins.
“We’ve always encouraged the kids to at least go to one seminar,” Cara Holliday said. “Sometimes we’ve told them to go to two seminars. They are always, I think, well put on—worthwhile for the kids to attend.”
Thomas said that this year there were approximately 23,300 people connected with YCW who came to Silver Dollar City for the event.