By Rev. Wayne Herring and Rev. Phillip Palmertree
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, students of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Jackson, Mississippi, returning in the fall after summer internships at various churches around the South, frequently voiced to one another a complaint that became all too common: there simply was no good youth conference to which they could take their young people. Plenty of conferences were available, but the primary - if not exclusive - purpose seemed to be to provide fun. Good biblical teaching for high school students was hard to find, and where it did exist, it was often dry and legalistic. No one, apparently, wanted to teach the basics of Reformed theology and play basketball.
Three RTS students - Wayne Herring (class of ‘71), Pete Hurst (‘72) and Wayne Rogers (‘72) - good friends who loved both theology and fun, decided to attempt do something about the situation. The need yawned large in their minds, and the burden grew in their hearts. In the autumn of 1971, a Saturday afternoon of planning, dreaming and prayer yielded the idea of Reformed Youth Movement (so named because they were unable to think of anything cleverer). Gradually, though, “RYM” stuck.
Hurst and Rogers, graduates of King College in Bristol, Tennessee, thought the college might welcome a summer youth conference there. Once the college agreed to rent its facilities, the three men wrote letters far and wide, made phone calls and did all they could to get the word out. They prayed that God would send fifty young people. To their great surprise and delight, 125 came! The mornings were filled with solid teaching and the afternoons were devoted to fun. Evenings featured serious preaching with an evangelistic emphasis provided that first year by Dr. O. Palmer Robertson.
The conference grew rapidly, moved several times to different locations and settled in at Covenant College for a run of nearly ten years. In the mid-1980s, Bebo Elkin convinced the RYM Board to try Laguna Beach Christian Retreat in Panama City Beach, Florida. Before that move, the conference usually numbered around 400. After the move to Florida, attendance went up dramatically and eventually reached what it is today: 1,300 in the High School Florida week #2 conference alone.
Herring recalls that many pastors and church leaders were initially unsure about RYM and could not wholeheartedly support it. Gradually, he says, that changed, and today “we are very grateful for the men who came and stood with us in those early days. And we still believe that only eternity will tell what God has done through RYM. To him alone be the glory.”
As the High School Florida conference grew, the RYM Board recognized that there were more opportunities to reach students for Christ and strengthen youth ministry in the local church than ever. The lives and culture of youth need the transforming power of the gospel of Christ. Families and communities devastated by sin need the restoration and hope that only the gospel of Christ can bring. Thus, in the late 1990s the RYM Board decided to expand its conference base beyond a single-site summer youth conference. In the summer of 2000, a middle school RYM conference was begun at Laguna Beach, and youth ministry training seminars were held at various sites. In 2004 and 2005, additional summer conferences were planted in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, an additional high school conference week was added at Laguna Beach. In 2013, an additional middle school conference was added in Texas. And in 2015, a high school week was added to the Mid-Atlantic region.
RYM (renamed Reformed Youth Ministries in 2007) is now poised to assist churches by providing training and resources in the development and implementation of a biblical philosophy of youth ministry, a church internship program and the promotion and publication of curriculum and other resources to help church leaders and parents point young people to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of sinners. We thank God for the birth and growth of this ministry - and we’ve never grown tired of having fun!