The largest city in the Canadian province of Alberta, Calgary is highly regarded for its natural beauty, vibrant city center and wealth of winter sporting opportunities. Situated on the banks of the Bow River and ringed by the Rocky Mountains, the city is home to world class theatrical productions, ballet, opera and outdoor stage events.
On Aug. 21, Calgary will host the second stop on the Rock the River Tour West. Along with great music from bands like Flyleaf, Hawk Nelson, Downhere, Skillet, Lecrae and Starfield, Franklin Graham will share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Festival leaders and local pastors say the message is sorely needed.
According to data from Project Teen Canada, non-Western religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, are growing at a rapid rate. In fact, more Canadian teens now identify themselves as Muslim than Baptist, Anglican and the mainline United Church of Canada combined. The number of teens who call themselves Protestant has shrunk by almost two-thirds.
Art Bailey, who is serving as the Director for Rock the River in Calgary, says that even among churched teens, genuine relationships with Jesus can be rare and troubles deep. Speaking by phone from Canada, Bailey said the Leadership Team’s Youth Chair spent the entire past week in the hospital visiting kids from his church who had attempted suicide.
“These kids are fatherless and abandoned,” the youth pastor told Bailey.
“The things that young people deal with today completely dwarf the issues that this youth pastor in his mid-’30s dealt with as a teenager,” Bailey added. “They are so far off the scale of what we dealt with 10 or 15 years ago, I can’t imagine where we’re headed.”
And it is the way kids deal with issues today–the cutting, the drugs–that scare parents and pastors alike. “The things they use for relief, the places they look for acceptance and love,” said Bailey, “adults today can’t even imagine.
“Most kids search out groups—goths, indies, preppies—they try to find a niche where they fit and are accepted, where they find companionship and some people who at least pretend to care about them,” Bailey added.
Church can be just another niche.
“One of the things the youth pastor said is that an alarming number of kids in his youth group are there just to have a place where they fit it,” said Bailey, “They really don’t have a relationship with Jesus. They don’t know how to facilitate the love that God brings into their lives because really don’t have a relationship with Him.”
The teens will substitute church experience for Christianity. “They may be in church and have a religious connection, but they don’t have a real experience of trusting Christ with their lives and seeing Him work,” said Bailey. “Being in church does not equate salvation. Many of the churched kids have never accepted Jesus.”
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Beginning to Bloom
Across Calgary, churches and parents are understandably ready for something like Rock the River. Bailey estimates that 174 churches have gotten involved so far. “We are seeing the church come together and awaken to this. It’s very encouraging. Our ticket sales have been really good. We’ve had a real jump in volunteers calling in. The prayer numbers are growing. We are seeing things really beginning to bloom now.”
Bailey pointed out that this recent “bloom” can be traced to seed sown in the previous seven or eight months. “We are seeing the fruit of our labor.”
One event that generated a great deal of enthusiasm back in April was FM419, a day of training that helps kids share their faith and invite their friends to Rock the River. “We had an extremely enthusiastic FM419,” said Bailey. “That is a well-received new part of our ministry. We had over 1,100 kids come out. We brought in well over 400 counselor applications from that group, which has grown to more than 600 now.”
Area pastors have told Bailey they appreciate that Rock the River is helping kids to focus outside of themselves. “So much of focus in youth groups is internal,” he explained. “It is helping demonstrate to their kids what the difference is between having a relationship with Christ and not having a relationship with Him. That may be a real wake-up call for some of the kids in church. ‘Can I really in good conscience invite another kid to come and have a relationship with Christ? What is my relationship with Christ like?”
After We Leave
“It is helping them not only see the needs of the lost, but to check their own spiritual temperature,” said Bailey. “The community is awakening to the need for evangelism. Most churches don’t emphasize proclamation evangelism. They don’t ask their members to reach out to a neighbor they haven’t met or to a coworker. That is a foreign concept today in some churches.
“We bring an emphasis on evangelism that will stay in a community, a tide of outreach that will continue after we leave,” Bailey added. “People do want to hear the Gospel; people are open to the Gospel – we open that up to the church. Many are surprised at how eager people are to hear about having a relationship with Christ.”
This Saturday, several hundred kids will make decisions for Christ, said Bailey. “But what we are going to leave in this community is a spirit of evangelism that begins to multiply that number. I hope we leave an awakening in the church about their responsibility to reach out to those who are lost.”
Help Us Bring the Gospel to a Hurting Generation
Youth are starved for the hope of the Gospel. You can help bring them the love of Christ by donating to Rock the River West.
How to Pray
Festival Director Art Bailey shared the following prayer needs for Calgary: “The most important prayer we pray is for Franklin—to be intuitive as he speaks; to feel the leadership of the Holy Spirit; and to be able to proclaim not only the Gospel, which he always does very clearly, but to be sensitive to the moment as he is speaking to those kids—that God will reveal to him not only what to say but how to say it.
“He is the mouthpiece that God is using at the moment. We need to remember at that particular point in time, he will be the most important instrument God has on the planet,” Bailey adds.
“I would ask everyone to focus on Franklin and praying for him at the moment he is preaching—that the Spirit of God will literally speak through him. He needs to be so tuned in that God can guide every word, how he says them so they are winsome to those kids. They are going to hear God speak through Franklin.”