On December 28-30, The Wesleyan Church (TWC) will host Follow 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. With the theme of “Empowered,” drawn from Jesus’ last words to his disciples, the conference is aimed at inspiring students and leaders to see their lives transformed by God’s ongoing invitation to serve the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

These conventions have been the sites of watershed moments for generations of Wesleyan youth. From the earliest history of TWC, our denomination has emphasized the importance of seeing the image of God in the young leaders in our congregations. Youth conventions are an important part of developing students in character, leadership and vision for their role as leaders in their communities. And this year, that message is extended beyond Follow’s traditional middle/high school audience, as Follow 2023 launches a track for young adults, ages 18-30, and leaders who can use Follow to hone their skills and listen for God’s voice.

Those young adult and leader tracks will be important as the conference expects 1,000 young adults and around 1,000 youth leaders to attend alongside 4,000 junior-high and high-school students.

Follow 2023’s speakers — Karrie Garcia, Jeff Wallace, Davey Blackburn, Nicole Reyes Smithee, Santes Beatty and Olivia Williamson — will offer various pictures of life in the Spirit from their own diverse experiences, helping attendees learn to live a Spirit-empowered life in this cultural moment.

One of the most powerful ingredients in these conventions is the opportunity to be in a focused space with others who are intentionally seeking to live as disciple makers and multipliers of Jesus. Middle and high schools pull students in various directions, offering so many priorities to choose from; these gatherings provide a firm anchor where attendees can refocus on the rhythms of discipleship and learn how to put those into practice. Through powerful messages, interactive workshops and shared experiences, participants are reminded of their unique purpose and role in the broader narrative of faith.

Beyond calling all participants to deeper faith, youth conventions have often served as catalysts for mobilizing both men and women into various ministerial roles: some in the church through vocational ministry and others through marketplace ministry and missions.

Follow will serve as the “launch” for resources around people who are working to discover that calling, with an online hub helping people have pathways forward for identifying, articulating and working alongside their local congregations during the process of being called to ministry. District youth pastors (DYPs), university chaplains and other youth leaders will have an up-front role in developing these resources, which Rev. Santes Beatty, director of NextGen Ministries for The Wesleyan Church, says are in high demand as people identify their calling in local churches.

“As we work alongside youth pastors, many are part-time at their church, but want to know how a student who is interested in pursuing a call to ministry can pursue their calling alongside a community; our hope is that Follow will curate and create these resources and we’ll continue building the site and cohorts in collaboration with others,” said Rev. Beatty.

Follow 2023 promises to build upon the legacy of its predecessors, offering a space for all ages to gather, learn and be equipped for the journey ahead. With a lineup of inspiring speakers, musical guests — including Tauren Wells, Young Escape, Steven Malcolm, Unified Sound, among others — and space for students to discover their calling, Follow 2023 aims to empower a new generation of believers to embrace their identity in Christ and step boldly into ministries that transform lives, churches and communities with the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ.

As readers pray for Follow, Rev. Beatty invites that prayer to be directed in three specific areas of mission the Follow team will be focusing on in their planning:

  • Connection for students and leaders: “This is one of the only spaces where our students and our leaders connect together to a larger mission/vision beyond their local church and can build relationships,” said Rev. Beatty. “Some of these conventions have been opportunities for people to establish lifelong friendships and lifelong ministry partnerships — I don’t think you can start that too early.”
  • The call to both lay and clergy ministry: “We see significant calls to ministry at these conventions — not just to the vocational pastoral role but to missions and to the marketplace,” Rev. Beatty offered. “That remains one of the most memorable things for a lot of people who come away from the convention: that everyone is called, but not everybody is ready to accept it — but we invite people into that every convention, and it never fails that we have hundreds, if not thousands, that do that.”
  • Collaboration in a Wesleyan voice: “Students are called in local churches, equipped and discipled in local churches — the same is happening at camps, at colleges/universities, and Follow is where all of that can be unified,” said Rev. Beatty. “We’re offering our first young adult track this year and programming for leaders and adults to learn more about how to discover what God’s doing in this next generation of leaders.” If you are looking for a place to convene your people, this would be a great place to do so.

For more information, and to register before the early bird deadline of September 30, visit followconference.org. 

Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.