Young Life

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Young Life
Young Life Logo.jpg
FormationOctober 16, 1941; 80 years ago (1941-10-16)
FounderJim Rayburn
TypeChristian Fellowship
Social Club
University Student Society
HeadquartersColorado Springs, Colorado, United States
  • Worldwide
AffiliationsChicago Agreement: Unity in Mission

Young Life is an evangelical Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado which focuses on young people in middle school, high school, and college. Camps have large-group “Bible talk” speeches once or twice daily, often followed by small-group, adult-led “cabin time” discussions. Toward the end of the week, the young people are asked to go outside at night in silence for 20 minutes and process the gospel.[1] The last night is “Commitment Night” in which young people who have committed or re-committed their lives to Jesus are asked to speak and/or stand at an informal ceremony called a "say-so." The idea of the say so comes from the psalm that states, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so" [2]

The organization was started in Gainesville, Texas in 1941 by Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn. Young Life operates globally using several different organizations with different focuses. As of 2019, Young Life had chapters in 8,513 schools, with average weekly attendance at 369,600 across the organization. Young Life also has 67,000 volunteers as of 2019.[3]


In 1939, Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn started the Gainesville, Texas chapter of the Miracle Book Club for high school students while he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. The book club became Young Life on October 16, 1941. The headquarters moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1946.[4] Young Life volunteer leadership began in the 1940s at Wheaton College, Illinois. At the beginning of Young Life's ministry its focus was directed almost completely to suburban high school students. By the early 1950s, it had begun ministries in approximately 25 urban areas. Young Life now claims over 700 ministries located in 324 cities, reporting about 18,000 members.[5]

Camps and clubs[edit]

Swimming campers at Young Life's Washington Family Ranch.

Young Life maintains summer camps in 18 American states as well as camps in British Columbia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Armenia, and France. Overall, there are 26 camps. 6 of these are not located inside the Unided States. These camps incorporate Christian messages presented in a camp setting along with typical camp activities.[citation needed]

The largest of Young Life's camps is the Washington Family Ranch (and accompanying Big Muddy Ranch Airport) in Antelope, Oregon. The ranch was formerly the site of Rajneeshpuram, an intentional living community centered on the Rajneesh movement.[6][7]

Regarding young people from the United States, in 2019, there were 93,000 Summer campers; in 2020, 15,000 Summer campers; and by the Spring of 2021, Young Life had received 61,000 requests for the upcoming 2021 Summer camping season (which is approximately two-thirds as much as 2019).[8]

According to a 1994 Vancouver Sun newspaper article, out of 350 students attending one particular week-long session at the Malibu Camp in British Columbia, Canada, more than 100 publicly testified during the informal ceremony of “Commitment Night” on the final night saying they had committed their lives to Jesus. According to the Malibu Camp manager about half of the teenagers end up committing or re-committing their lives either at camp or shortly thereafter. One teenager said, “You’re treated like an adult. There’s a lot more freedom here than other Christian camps.” However, another said, “But I’m starting to feel a lot of pressure to become a Christian. I used to just sit there and agree with them, just to get them off my back. But now I’m ticked.”[2]

Young Life states, “33% of all summer campers meet Jesus for the first time. (This is based on our own camp director reports as to how many Bibles we gave out, how many kids went on new believer walk, and those who stood at ‘Say-So.’)”[9]


2007 “Statement of Non-negotiables,” and staff resignations[edit]

In November 2007, Jeff McSwain, the Area Director of Durham and Chapel Hill, along with others, was fired after taking issue with the organization's “sin talks.” McSwain's theology emphasizes that “God has a covenant, marriage-like relationship with the world he has created, not a contract relationship that demands obedience prior to acceptance [as in that of Young Life].” McSwain also said Young Life's 2007 “statement of non-negotiables” often ended up sounding “more Unitarian than Trinitarian by drawing a sharp contrast between the holy God and incarnated Son who ‘actually became sin.’” [10]

Tony Jones describes Young Life's Statement of “non-negotiables” as telling staffers that “they must not introduce the concept of Jesus and his grace until the students have been sufficiently convinced of their own depravity and been allowed to wallow stew in that depravity (preferably overnight).”[11] Eight members of Young Life's teaching staff based in Durham, North Carolina resigned their positions after these “non-negotiables” were announced.[12]

Acceptance or non-acceptance of LGBTQ+ leaders[edit]

Young Life (USA) allows LGBTQ students to participate in Young Life activities, but does not allow them to volunteer or take leadership roles. In the organization's forms homosexuality is described as a “lifestyle” which is “clearly not in accord with God's creation purposes.” Conner Mertens, the first active college football player to come out as LGTBQ, was active in the group as a teenager, and planned to work with the group in college, but not allowed due to his sexuality.[13][14]

Young Life's policy also extends to LGBTQ allies. Local leader Pam Elliott stepped down after being asked to remove a photo from her Facebook page showing her support for the LGBTQ community.[15][16]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ Solstice: The Summer Camp Experience, “New Life at Young Life,” Joey Schwartz, Winter 2016, pages 36-39 in PDF file. As a teenager, the author of this article re-committed his life to Jesus and the Christian faith at a week-long Young Life summer camp.
  2. ^ a b Vancouver Sun, “Club Malibu: Young Life's luxurious Christian camp”, Douglas Todd, Sept. 15, 1994 (reprinted in 2016).
  3. ^ "Facts at Your Fingertips".
  4. ^ "Young Life History". Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Young Life History". Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  6. ^ Preusch, Matthew (2 December 2008). "Christian youth camp at ex-Rajneeshee commune gets $30 million gift". The Oregonian. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  7. ^ "Once a cult compound, now world's biggest Young Life camp". East Oregonian. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  8. ^ Colorado Springs Gazette, “Christian Camps Predict Near-Normal Summer”, Steve Rabey (religion correspondent), May 17, 2021.
  9. ^ Young Life Access, “Young Life's Impact Over 8 Decades”, May 16, 2019.
  10. ^ Christianity Today, “Gospel Talk: Entire area Young Life staff out after evangelism mandate”, Collin Hansen, Jan. 7, 2008.
  11. ^ "Something is Wrong at Young Life". Patheos. 8 January 2008. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
  12. ^ Lawrence, Rick (17 December 2007). "Heartbreak and Controversy at Young Life". Simply Youth Ministry. Archived from the original on 26 July 2010. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  13. ^ a b Zeigler, Cyd (1 February 2014). "Football player's coming-out story disproves every dumb theory about gay athletes". Salon. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  14. ^ Volunteer Leader Packet. Young Life, 2006.
  15. ^ Large, Jerry. “Snohomish Woman's Heartfelt Decision about Young Life.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 4 June 2015.
  16. ^ Nile, Amy. “Volunteer Quits Young Life over Ban on Gay Leaders.”,, 11 June 2015.
  17. ^ "J.D. Gibbs, a Young Life story". Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  18. ^ "Seahawk Clint Gresham, 'I play football to glorify Jesus Christ'". October 15, 2013.
  19. ^ "New Artist, Brandon Heath". Hope Today Magazine. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  20. ^ "We Were Made For This". Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  21. ^ "More than 60 Colts players to participate in 'My Cause, My Cleats' campaign". December 3, 2019.
  22. ^ "Cheering on Aaron". Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  23. ^ "Stevie Nicks on Lindsey Buckingham 1".
  24. ^ "Country hit-maker Chase Rice plays at Keith-Albee on Sunday". AP NEWS. April 13, 2019.
  25. ^ "Jordy Nelson and Young Life". Retrieved 2019-02-21.

External links[edit]