Young Life Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Life

Young Life
Young Life Logo.jpg
FormationOctober 16, 1941; 80 years ago (1941-10-16)
FounderJim Rayburn
HeadquartersColorado Springs, Colorado, United States
  • Worldwide

Young Life is an evangelical Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado which focuses on young people in middle school, high school, and college.[1] Week-long Summer camps, often of resort-quality, are a major focus.[2][3]

There is a definite emphasis on evangelizing with the Summer camps having once or twice daily large-group “Bible talk” speeches 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.[4] 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" [5]

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.’)”[6]

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.[7]


In 1939, Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn started the Gainesville, Texas chapter of the Miracle Book Club for high school students. The book club became Young Life on October 16, 1941. The headquarters moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1946.[8] 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 has over 700 ministries located in 324 cities, reporting about 18,000 members.[9]

In a 1981 court case, Young Life was described as “an evangelical Christian organization primarily concerned with adolescents,” with this California appeals court ruling that Young Life was sufficiently similar to a church in terms of function that it did not have to pay state unemployment tax.[1][10] However in 1982, the Colorado State Supreme Court went the other way and ruled that Young Life did have to pay their state's unemployment tax.[11][12]

Mission statement[edit]

As of 2022, Young Life states, “Our Mission​ is to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith.”[13]

Camps and clubs[edit]

Swimming campers at Young Life's Washington Family Ranch.

Young Life maintains summer camps in 18 American states[14] as well as camps in British Columbia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Armenia, and France.[15][better source needed] 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. The most recent Young Life property is Camp Lonehollow in Vanderpool, Texas, purchased in the Spring of 2019.[16]

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.[17][18]

These camps are often resort-quality.[2][3][19]

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).[20]

The Summer camps have a definite evangelizing or witnessing emphasis with large-group “Bible talk” once or twice a day often followed by small-group “cabin time” discussions led by the adult in charge of the dorm. For example, large group might involve 500 teenagers and small group might be about 10 teenagers. At night later in the week, the young people are asked to “to go outside in silence, be alone for 15 minutes and try to talk to God.”[4]

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.”[5]

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.’)”[6]

Young Life also runs local Young Life clubs for high school and college students, held weekly and in local areas, which include singing, skits, and where the Christian gospel is explained in short talks. There are around 700 Young Life Club chapters worldwide. Throughout the United States, some Young Life clubs are held in places such as churches or other places such as barns, fields, etc. Not every Young Life is set to one school. Each club is composed of volunteers who contribute their time to mentor and assist high school students based on Christian values and principles. [21]

Young Life also has specific organizations for:

  • middle school students (usually ages 11-14) called WyldLife,[22][23][24]
  • teen moms called YoungLives,[25]
  • for adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities called Capernaum,[26]
  • Multi-ethnic young people,[27]
Sharptop Cove
  • Military-Club Beyond,[27]
  • Small Town/Rural young people,[27]
  • Young people on the margins,[27]
  • International divisions (please see section below),[27] and
  • Catholic relations.[27]

Additional properties[edit]

In addition to camps, Young Life operates clubhouses.[28] Young Life operates two clubhouses in Topeka, KS directly adjacent to Washburn University at 1615 SW College Ave and 1616 SW Boswell Ave. The property on College Ave is owned by Aim 5 Foundation.[29] The property on Boswell Ave is owned by Our Rock LLC.[30]

Young Life International[edit]

Young Life began an international program in the 1940s focusing on teens living on US military bases. Shortly after that, Young Life expanded from military bases to ministry with local adolescents. Young Life International reports divisions in more than 100 countries.[31]


Wyldlife resides remarkably like Young life except for middle school students instead of high school students. Like Younglife, Wyldlife has club meetings, small group gatherings, and overnight camps. Wyldlife leads into Younglife. Club meetings happen once a week where students gather for fun activities, songs, food, and scripture readings. The small groups are called campaigners. Campaigners normally take place on a different day at a leader's house, where students enjoy a meal and discuss scripture. Many people say, campaigners have the same focus as a normal bible study. Summer camp usually lasts for five days, while weekend camps are Friday to Sunday. At camps, the focus is fellowship and celebrating the word of Christ.

Camp Staff Breakdown[edit]

Students from all over the world go to Younglife camps. Currently there are 26 camps across the world. To run a successful camp, many people must help. There is a work crew, which are high school students who are assigned a job for a month. Also, there are summer staff who are college students who stay at the camp for the entire summer. They have harder jobs than high school students. There are also camp directors who live at the camp and direct the leaders, work crew members and the activities. At Younglife camp, the leader from the student’s hometown club oversees the student all week. A student would not be placed put with someone they have never met. This allows the student and leader to bond, and they can carry that bond back to their hometown.


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.’” [32]

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).”[33] Eight members of Young Life's teaching staff based in Durham, North Carolina resigned their positions after these “non-negotiables” were announced.[34]

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.[35][36]

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.[37][38]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b What is Young Life, and what do they believe? Got Questions Ministries, who also describe themselves as evangelical, state that: “Young Life is an evangelical Christian ministry that focuses on reaching middle school, high school, and college-aged youths.” Last updated: Jan. 4, 2022.
  2. ^ a b When God Shows Up: A History of Protestant Youth Ministry in America, Mark Senter, 2010, page 220: “ . . Clubs became the vehicle to get high schoolers out of their own context and to a fabulous resort . . ”
  3. ^ a b Young Life’s Malibu Club Selects Vycom’s Designboard for Facility Upgrades in Resort-Like Setting, June 27, 2016. This press release for a plastics company states, “Young Life, with 32 resort-like camp facilities worldwide for adolescents, . . ”
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ a b Vancouver Sun, “Club Malibu: Young Life's luxurious Christian camp”, Douglas Todd, Sept. 15, 1994 (reprinted in 2016).
  6. ^ a b Young Life Access, “Young Life's Impact Over 8 Decades”, May 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Facts at Your Fingertips". www.younglife.org.
  8. ^ "Young Life History". Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Young Life History". Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  10. ^ Young Life Campaign v. Patino, Court of Appeal, Third District, California, decided July 31, 1981. This affirmed an earlier court decision that Young Life was close enough to a church in terms of function that it did not have to pay state unemployment tax.
  11. ^ Washington and Lee Law Review, Establishment Clause Limits on Governmental Interference with Religious Organizations, Carl Esbeck, 1984. This article describes Young Life as “a nondenominational, evangelical youth ministry which was pervasively religious in purpose and practice” — footnote 347 (page 404 internally).
  12. ^ Young Life v. Division of Employment and Training, Colorado State Supreme Court, decided August 16, 1982.
  13. ^ Young Life: Who We Are, 2004 - 2022.
  14. ^ "Find Young Life". www.younglife.org.
  15. ^ "Find Young Life". Younglife.org. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
  16. ^ "Camping". www.younglife.org.
  17. ^ Preusch, Matthew (2 December 2008). "Christian youth camp at ex-Rajneeshee commune gets $30 million gift". The Oregonian. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  18. ^ "Once a cult compound, now world's biggest Young Life camp". East Oregonian. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  19. ^ The Funnel Model of Youth Ministry and Young People Leaving the Church, Kenneth Andrew Moser, dissertation towards PhD, Faculty of Theology, Practical Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa, April 2019, pages 84-86 internally in PDF file.
  20. ^ Colorado Springs Gazette, “Christian Camps Predict Near-Normal Summer”, Steve Rabey (religion correspondent), May 17, 2021.
  21. ^ "Younglife Leaders". Retrieved 2018-02-18.
  22. ^ YoungLife O’ahu, What is WyldLife, 2018.
  23. ^ c-ville (Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.), “Wyld thing: Parents at Buford concerned about recruiting tactics,” Lisa Provence, Nov. 4, 2015. This article primarily includes criticism of WyldLife. For example, one parent said, “recruiting students to attend WyldLife events, and doing it in a way that was not making it clear the religious nature of the group, while emphasizing the social nature of the event.”
  24. ^ The Daniel Island News (Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.), “Wyldlife And Young Life Kick Off New Seasons On DI (Daniel Island),” Kate Maas, Oct. 18, 2017. This article primarily includes a positive view of WyldLife. For example, one adult leader says, “At Wyldlife and Young Life, we get to share about our relationship with God and Jesus with many kids who for the first time in their lives are learning that God loves them.”
  25. ^ YoungLives, or Teen Moms, 2004–2020.
  26. ^ YoungLife Capernaum, 2004–2022.
  27. ^ a b c d e f YoungLife For Every Kid, 2004–2022.
  28. ^ "YL Houses". Young Life. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  29. ^ "Real Property Information Listing". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  30. ^ "Real Property Information Listing". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  31. ^ "Young Life International". www.younglife.org/ResourceLibrary/Documents/Facts%20at%20Your%20Fingertips.pdf. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  32. ^ Christianity Today, “Gospel Talk: Entire area Young Life staff out after evangelism mandate”, Collin Hansen, Jan. 7, 2008.
  33. ^ "Something is Wrong at Young Life". Patheos. 8 January 2008. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Volunteer Leader Packet. Young Life, 2006.
  37. ^ Large, Jerry. “Snohomish Woman's Heartfelt Decision about Young Life.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 4 June 2015.
  38. ^ Nile, Amy. “Volunteer Quits Young Life over Ban on Gay Leaders.” HeraldNet.com, HeraldNet.com, 11 June 2015.
  39. ^ "J.D. Gibbs, a Young Life story". jdgibbslegacy.com/younglifestory/. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  40. ^ "Seahawk Clint Gresham, 'I play football to glorify Jesus Christ'". MyNorthwest.com. October 15, 2013.
  41. ^ "New Artist, Brandon Heath". Hope Today Magazine. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  42. ^ "We Were Made For This". younglife.org. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  43. ^ "More than 60 Colts players to participate in 'My Cause, My Cleats' campaign". December 3, 2019.
  44. ^ "Cheering on Aaron". www.younglife.org/relationships/pages/2013/04/cheeringonaaron.aspx. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  45. ^ "Stevie Nicks on Lindsey Buckingham 1". www.inherownwords.com.
  46. ^ "Country hit-maker Chase Rice plays at Keith-Albee on Sunday". AP NEWS. April 13, 2019.
  47. ^ "Jordy Nelson and Young Life". www.wearegreenbay.com/news/jordy-nelson-and-young-life/162083177. Retrieved 2019-02-21.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cailliet, Emile; Young Life (1963)
  • Meridith, Char; It's a Sin to Bore a Kid: The Story of Young Life (1977) ISBN 0-8499-0043-3
  • Miller, John; Back to the Basics about the early years of Young Life including a lot of Rayburn's life.
  • Rayburn, Jim III; From Bondage To Liberty – Dance, Children, Dance a biography by his son (2000) ISBN 0-9673897-4-7
  • Rayburn, Jim: The Diaries of Jim Rayburn (2008, Morningstar Press and Whitecaps Media) Rayburn's personal journals, edited and annotated by Kit Sublett ISBN 978-0-9758577-7-9

External links[edit]