As my ministry increased in popularity, an area that became extremely effective for me was speaking at youth groups and camps, so the leaders of the Assemblies of God approached me to unite the youth groups of the churches all over Sydney with large-scale events. Initially, I was reluctant to take this on because Every Believer Evangelism had become a growing concern, but I was also aware of the enormous need of youth. For many years, the Sydney Assemblies of God youth met for a combined meeting every few months with just over one hundred attending, mostly second-generation Christians who’d been brought up in the church. The youth of the churches were unwilling to work together and there were hostilities over a variety of issues, as well as power struggles between the most significant churches, each group thinking they should take the leadership and do it better. I could circumvent these issues because I was an independent preacher with no particular loyalties to an individual church, so I decided to take it on, get it established, then hand over the leadership to someone else. Once this was successfully underway I could then give my total focus to Every Believer Evangelism.
After much arguing and persistence, the name Youth Alive became the name of the organisation, but as we prepared for our first event, other problems began to develop.
Apparently I was doing the work of the devil. As the program continued, even more walked out, arguing with me as they departed. I was trying desperately to keep cool and calm, wishing my spot in the program would hurry up so I would have some people left to preach to. At the conclusion of the one-and-a-half hour program, when I was scheduled to preach, we had lost at least a third of the crowd.
crying, others smiling. All young people who previously had little or no experience of God but wanted to make changes in their lives. Afterwards, when we talked and prayed with each of them, we discovered most had come from difficult situations and were in great need. Mission accomplished, and the foundation laid that Youth Live would always be about reaching out to young people in a contemporary and relevant way.
maybe a middle-of-the-road approach to please everybody, they suggested, be less controversial. They were concerned that by using contemporary means and rock music to communicate with young people, we were lowering our standards and using worldly methods.
Assemblies of God. We had no money to fund such an event, but believed God would provide. When we inquired about a booking, apparently the only night the Sydney Town Hall wasn’t booked was the exact night we wanted. We took it as a sign from God that it had been kept for us. We had enough funds for the deposit so we paid that and worked on the preparations to produce the best program yet. It seemed like a big step of faith but if I’d waited for the funds to be in the bank before I did anything, I’d still be in Orange working part-time in the church.
There were a couple of brief moments of doubt as I wondered if we could draw a crowd big enough. The largest crowd we’d had to date was around 800, but for tonight to be a success we needed over 2000. We opened the doors half an hour before 7pm and the few people who trickled in only accentuated the emptiness of the building. More arrived, and then a steady stream of young people flooded through the doors and took up their positions in different parts of the ground floor. During the last five minutes the ground floor and balcony were packed. The atmosphere was electric, as most of these young people had never been to a Christian event of this size before. The crowd shouted and applauded as the evening’s program commenced. I felt both humbled and excited walking out on the stage at the end of the evening; it was a wonderful privilege to be speaking to this crowd of over two thousand young people. In my mind, I’d rehearsed my message over and over again knowing it would look ridiculous to come out on stage with preaching notes—it was important to speak from the heart. Preaching with passion and conviction, I spoke about the power of God’s love to heal, forgive and change anyone who was willing to acknowledge their need of Him. To say ‘I don’t need God’ seemed a ridiculous statement to me as I was constantly aware of my need for God’s love, forgiveness and power. The response was more than I had hoped for. Over two hundred young people came forward at my invitation to give their lives to God. A stillness came over the crowd as we realised the significance of what was happening. Certainly a new chapter was beginning in the history of youth outreach that would have an impact for years to come.
It was time to find someone else to take on Youth Alive and so I approached Mark, an experienced youth leader, who was managing a Christian organisation in New Zealand. As I’d been supporting myself through Every Believer Evangelism, Youth Alive had no salary to offer him and he declined. Pat Mesiti, the youth pastor of an Italian congregation in Sydney, had been my enthusiastic assistant, so he was my next choice. Pat did a tremendous job and under his dynamic leadership, Youth Alive continued to grow, opening up opportunities for him to preach around Australia and overseas. Seeing the potential in Pat, Brian Houston, the senior pastor of Hillsong Church, invited him to join their team. Basing himself at the large church in Sydney, Pat became a very popular speaker and sold thousands of tapes, videos and books on youth topics, as well as speaking regularly at multi-level marketing conferences for companies like Amway.