By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Scooter Kellum says there are a lot of things that could define a youth conference.
And he doesn’t mind if the state’s SPEAK conference offers some of them — like good music, Krispy Kreme donuts and a packed late-night concert.
But most of all, he wants the youth who attend SPEAK every year to see and hear one thing packed into every aspect of the event — the gospel.
“It’s easy to get distracted when you put on a conference and get caught up in trying to entertain,” said Kellum, youth ministry strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “Our heartbeat behind what we do, and for this event in particular, is we want to be known for being gospel-focused.”
More than 900 youth, leaders and volunteers attended this year’s SPEAK conference, held July 20–21 at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery. The theme, Tell Your Story, focused on the power of sharing the gospel through personal testimony.
The first night, Adam Robinson, pastor of Double Oak Community Church, Birmingham, in Shelby Baptist Association, shared the story of Nicodemus from John 3 and “gave a clear gospel presentation,” Kellum said. At the end, 48 students made decisions to follow Christ.
On Saturday, Ismael Pruitt, youth and families pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, shared his personal story of adoption and how God saved him.
Cleve Mallory, student pastor at Eastmont, said his students really connected with Pruitt’s message.
“To hear him tell his story that he wasn’t born into a church setting but God rescued him spoke volumes to a lot of my kids,” Mallory said.
In the breakout session that followed, Pruitt taught students how to craft and share their own story.
Kellum said, “We wanted them to know that the conference is about more than just coming and hearing somebody share their story — we wanted them to know that this is what it looks like, then this is how you do it yourself.”
During the last session of the conference, Shawn Emory, a Christian perception artist, used his gifts to share his story. Born with a severe speech impediment, Emory didn’t speak fluently until he was 16, but God has used his artistic talents to open up avenues for him to share.
Throughout the weekend, spoken-word artist Shantrice Coleman also told her personal story in segments.
Coleman has been a part of SPEAK since 2016.
Another highlight of the conference was a late-night concert by Rend Collective and worship music led by the Ryan John Band.
And during the breakout time, high school seniors were given a special opportunity to hear from a panel of collegiate ministers and meet the Baptist campus ministers at the schools they will attend.
“We really want to train up some young students to not only get plugged into Baptist Campus Ministries, but also use that as an avenue to have some community in the church when they get to college,” Kellum said. “They got to actually meet their campus ministers during that time and have prayer with them, which was really cool.”
Mike Nuss, director of the SBOM office of collegiate and student ministries, said SPEAK has grown into “a world class, evangelism-focused event” for Alabama Baptist youth.
“Helping students know their story and understand how to tell that story to others was the singular focus of this year’s event,” Nuss said. “Adding the elements of training for youth ministers/leaders and connecting high school seniors transitioning to college with our Baptist campus ministers makes this an experience that every church student ministry can benefit from and should take advantage of.”
Mallory agreed, saying for him, SPEAK was a great opportunity for churches, regardless of size, to have an amazing conference experience with very little cost and only one night away, rather than a whole week of camp.
“It’s a top-notch experience and it gives a major boost to a church’s youth ministry,” he said.
The next SPEAK conference is set for July 19-20, 2019, at Eastmont Church and will follow the theme As You Go, Speak. For more information, visit speak.ymlink.org.