U.S. teens are an open mission field — one that N.C. Baptists are committed to engage.
The next generation is open to the gospel, and N.C. Baptists are responding.
According to a recent study by Barna Group, more than three-quarters of U.S. teens express some interest in learning more about Jesus, with over half stating that they feel “very motivated” to learn more about Him. The survey indicates that even among non-Christian teens, more than 50% display at least some motivation to keep learning about Jesus.
U.S. teens are an open mission field — one that N.C. Baptists are committed to engage. Every year, through camps, youth rallies, leadership training and more, N.C. Baptists dedicate themselves to presenting the gospel to North Carolina teens and raising up leaders to teach, evangelize and disciple the next generation.
These two N.C. Baptists have committed their lives to do just that.
For nearly 23 years, Merrie Johnson has been leading N.C. Baptists in their efforts to reach the next generation.
As Student Ministry Strategist for N.C. Baptists, Johnson oversees the convention’s student BeDoTell summer camp ministries and spearheads retreats, trainings and student rallies across the state. Every year, more than 15,000 North Carolina teens participate in the convention’s student events, which she leads and coordinates.
“It’s just been amazing to see the hundreds of students who have come to know the Lord and just empowering students to share their faith,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re about — to know the gospel, to share it, to really reach our generation.”
The desire to see students reaching other students with the gospel has been a primary motivator for Johnson. Before joining the state convention in 2000, Johnson spent 18 years as a leader in youth ministry, equipping students to share their faith with others. Now in her role with N.C. Baptists, she continues to find comprehensive, holistic ways to equip students with the gospel and live on mission.
One of the primary ways Johnson has equipped students is through BeDoTell’s Summer Youth Weeks, an annual, eight-week program located at Fort Caswell. During this summer camp, students are given multiple opportunities to learn more about Christ and what it means to be on mission for Him.
As Johnson can attest, the experience is often life-changing for students. She remembers one interaction with a student during summer camp as students were packing food to send to Haiti, a yearly camp activity. As everyone worked together, the student approached Johnson feeling amazed.
“‘You mean we’re really going to package food that’s going to go to Haiti?’ That’s going to feed people? Right here in North Carolina?’” Johnson recalled the teen saying repeatedly. “‘Do you know that I’m in a little church in a little-bitty town in North Carolina? And I don’t think we’ve ever done anything outside our church.’
“So that’s been this whole focus for me, to [say], ‘Okay, we’ve got to train students to focus outside the church — to have adults think outside the church. What are you doing to reach your community?’”
Most importantly for Johnson, she plans to spend this summer working with students to bring them the hope of the gospel — as she has been doing for more than four decades.
For Johnson, it’s these moments — when students understand the gospel and the importance of the mission — that make student ministry worth it.
“When the lightbulb goes off, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is what I’ve been looking for’ — that helps me to keep going, even if I’m so tired I can barely move,” Johnson said.
In total, Johnson has spent nearly 41 years serving in youth ministry, and she continues to minister to students with full momentum. This summer, approximately 8,000 students will participate in the BeDoTell Summer Youth Weeks, which Johnson is responsible for organizing.
Most importantly for Johnson, however, she plans to spend this summer working with students to bring them the hope of the gospel — as she has been doing for more than four decades.
“In our teenage years, we are so hungry to know the Lord, we want to know who created all this stuff, what does it all mean, and what’s my purpose here,” Johnson said. “We know the gospel brings peace, we know the gospel brings salvation. But we need to make sure we as the church are prepared and are preparing these students to have these great conversations.”
The need for a comprehensive student ministry strategy has never been more important. With U.S. teenagers showing increasing interest in the gospel, N.C. Baptist ministry is consistently working to ensure a holistic approach to reaching the next generation for Christ.
According to Johnson, this holistic approach includes training parents, youth leaders and other students in how to engage and disciple the next generation. All of these pieces are vital in bringing the gospel to this group, Johnson said.
“They’re so interested in knowing the Bible, knowing the things of God, it’s just that we in youth ministries are going to have to be more intentional on how we meet them, how we train them,” Johnson said.
Following in this desire for a comprehensive approach, last month, N.C. Baptists added an additional member to the student ministry team by bringing in Daniel Rose, another student ministry strategist for the state convention.
As Johnson continues to lead the major student initiatives for N.C. Baptists, Rose will specialize in youth leadership development to ensure that leaders are being properly trained and equipped to reach this generational mission field.
“It’s the biggest mission field that we have access to … it’s the biggest field for evangelism,” Rose said. “I would love to develop … student leaders to lead healthy student ministries that are evangelistic in nature, reaching lost students, making an impact on their local school campuses and assisting and sending students to do missions locally and around the world.”
Rose will specialize in youth leadership development to ensure that leaders are being properly trained and equipped to reach this generational mission field.
For Rose, this emphasis on evangelism is key to the work he has been called to do. Having spent several years working in youth ministry through BeDoTell and at The Summit Church, he has seen firsthand the essential role missions and evangelism play in reaching the next generation.
“[During college], I really started feeling a passion for student ministry and a passion for evangelism,” Rose said. “It’s something that my heart really grew to.”
Rose hopes to pass on this passion for missions and evangelism to youth leaders throughout the state. By developing local student leadership networks, ministry cohorts and individual student leadership training, Rose hopes to see student ministries across the country strengthened and empowered to evangelize and disciple the next generation.
And for Rose, Johnson and many others, that’s the end goal: to see this mission field become a mission force for Christ.
“[I want us] to push back darkness across the state, in our schools, and fight with the light of Jesus Christ,” Rose said. “That students, right now, would put their faith and trust in Him, and that our students in our churches would be the main reason why they do that — because they’re living on mission.”