Kyle Childress is the pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Being a small church our youth groups have always tended to be small and therefore the pool of rising seniors have been even smaller. We made a decision early on to limit our DYA applications to kids in the summer before their senior year in high school. We wanted the young person to be mature enough to benefit the most from DYA’s depth about Christian discipleship yet have a year left in high school upon returning in order to provide leadership in the youth group. At the same time, we hoped our DYA kids would be better participants in the congregation, as well. The thing was, they came back to lead the whole congregation. Age was no longer a factor, well-formed Christian character was. The congregation sat up and noticed by calling our DYA youth to step up.
Early on, I had to convince the Finance Committee of the church that the church should cover the cost of DYA for each young person while the youth and her or his family came up with the travel and spending money. After our first young person returned from “theology camp” as it came to be called, I never again had to persuade anyone about the church paying for DYA. They were convinced. From then on, adults came to me each year ensure we had the money for DYA and the kids could raise the money for travel.
Beginning in middle school, our kids know about DYA and hear stories about it. Some of them pray to see if they might be called to attend. We’ve sent seven youth to Duke Youth Academy over the years stretching back to the early 2000s. Each of the seven youth found it to be one of the most important and enriching experiences of their young Christian lives.
I’m not suggesting that DYA turned seventeen year-olds into super-Christians. I am saying that DYA went a long way towards giving these young people a template by which they continued to grow as followers of Jesus.