In 1938, Jim Rayburn, a young Presbyterian youth leader and seminary student in Gainesville, Texas, was given a challenge. A local minister invited him to consider the neighborhood high school as his parish and develop ways of contacting kids who had no interest in church.
Rayburn started a weekly club for kids. There was singing, a skit or two and a simple message about Jesus Christ. Club attendance increased dramatically when they started meeting in the homes of the young people.
After graduating from seminary, Rayburn and four other seminarians collaborated, and Young Life was officially born on Oct. 16, 1941, with its own Board of Trustees. They developed the club idea throughout Texas, with an emphasis on showing kids that faith in God can be not only fun, but exhilarating and life changing.
By 1946, Young Life had moved to a new headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the staff had grown to 20 men and women across several states. Volunteer leadership began at Wheaton College in Illinois in the late 1940s, and today Young Life clubs depend heavily on the mission’s 19,000 volunteer leaders.
Prior to the 1960s, Young Life had directed its ministry almost completely to suburban high school students. By 1972 it had begun ministries in approximately 25 multi-ethnic and urban areas. Today, Young Life has more than 700 multicultural ministries reaching more than 18,000 inner-city, racially underrepresented and poor young people. In the 1980s the mission developed two new cutting-edge ministries — WyldLife for middle school students and the Capernaum Project for kids with disabilities. Young Life has also developed the Small Town Initiative, which aims to bring Young Life to rural areas around the country. The most recent new outreach ministries to be formed are YoungLives, which focuses on pregnant teens and young mothers, and Young Life College, which targets students on college campuses.
Young Life’s outreach to kids outside of the United States began in 1953 with the work of Rod and Fran Johnston in France. That ministry, under the name of Jeunesse Ardente, continues to this day. Within 10 years of that first overseas outreach, Young Life had extended its reach to British Columbia, home to a camp called Malibu; to Germany, where MCYM began reaching out to kids on military bases; and to Brazil. In the decades since, Young Life’s international outreach expanded both in scope and types of ministries. A mix of American and national staff and volunteers are reaching kids with the Gospel through more than 700 ministries in more than 70 countries.
Young Life’s mission remains the same — to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith. This happens when caring adults build genuine friendships and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. For more than six decades, God has blessed the Young Life staff, increasing its numbers from five to more than 3,300 — from one club in Texas to clubs in nearly every corner of the world.