Youth Alive Clubs — Student-Initiated, Student-Led, Church-Fed
Youth Alive clubs are making an impact on school campuses as students launch and lead them in an effort to share Christ with their peers and in time, help them find a church home.Madi, a middle school girl who felt disconnected from the Christian club at her school, felt called to reach her peers for Jesus. Unsure of where to begin, she reached out to U.S. missionaries with Youth Alive Billy and Katy Willis for help. The Willises trained Madi on how to be a leader and, in eighth grade, she launched her first Youth Alive club.
Upon graduating middle school, Madi felt a continued calling from God and launched another Youth Alive club to reach her new high school classmates. “She’s done more with her faith as a 14-year-old than most Christians do in a lifetime,” Billy says.
Billy and Katy attended one of Madi's club meetings, where Billy met a student who was struggling with gender identity. He asked Madi how she navigated ministering to this student, and she replied, “Billy, those kids are the reason this club exists — to reach them for Jesus.”
"One of the reasons we lose teenagers is because we have not given them something more appealing to live for than sin,” Billy says. “As the Church, we must help our students pursue a purpose that is greater than the sin that pursues them.”
Billy understands the importance of students reaching students from firsthand experience, having come to Christ when he was in high school. Two of his classmates, Beth and Jon, made it a point to talk with him about Jesus and invite him to youth group. While Billy admits he was rarely interested in talking with them about the Lord, he eventually agreed to go to youth group, where he gave his heart to the Lord the summer before his senior year. During his last year of high school, Billy continued to live for the Lord and felt called to pursue ministry.
After marrying his wife, Katy, the two became youth pastors and began hosting outreaches and assemblies at local schools, ministering to hundreds of students. The outreaches soon began to receive opposition from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, causing many schools to stop allowing the Willises to minister on their campuses in fear of repercussions.
Billy and Katy felt defeated and began to intercede for new opportunities to reach their schools, knowing that, despite the setbacks they were experiencing, the schools still needed Christ. Following consistent prayer and at the urging of the Illinois district youth director, they began to pursue Youth Alive ministry and became fully appointed missionaries.
Society tells teenagers that they are too young or do not have enough life experience to make a difference. But as Madi clearly has demonstrated, God can use students where they are to impact the world eternally.
Encouraging students to live on mission is a large part of what Billy and Katy do through Youth Alive Illinois. Through events such as the Alive Conference or individual training with students and youth pastors, the Willises travel across Illinois to resource students and their leaders and help them live out God’s plan for their lives.
The Willises believe that, while adult-led events like school assemblies or Youth Alive rallies can be impactful, they are not always a sustainable model of ministry.
“Schools can tell a group that they cannot come in and hold an assembly, but they cannot tell students that they can’t live out and share their faith,” Billy says.
Though Ashton had heard of God, it was not until his sister invited him to go to youth group that he committed his life to the Lord and started to study the Bible in depth. He quickly became enthralled with youth group and soon began studying the Bible for himself, finding confidence in his faith through verses like 2 Timothy 1:7.
In January 2023, Ashton was driving to get groceries when his car was T-boned. While doctors told him the accident should have been fatal, he survived with only a minor concussion and no broken bones. He knew that God had saved him and began to spend hours each night worshipping the Lord and praying for guidance.
“The Lord spared me, and I cannot waste a second of my life,” Ashton says. “I want to take every opportunity to give God glory.”
Ashton felt God call him to start a Youth Alive club and, after praying for confirmation, asked local pastor Doug Davis to sponsor the club. Without hesitation, Davis agreed. What Ashton did not know was that, the night before, Davis had prayed and told God that he would do whatever He wanted him to do to reach the youth in his community.
“You never know whose prayer you might be answering by stepping up and out,” says Davis.
Billy and Katy were able to resource, train, and assist Ashton in starting the Youth Alive club. Months after its initial launch, students from multiple schools started coming to the club with many coming to know Christ and growing spiritually through it.
Since 2022, Billy and Katy have assisted in launching nearly 30 Youth Alive clubs in Illinois, including Ashton’s.
Still, students cannot do this all on their own, and the role of the local church is vital to the success of student-led ministry. Katy shares that the two pillars of Youth Alive are simple: students sharing the gospel with peers who do not know Jesus, and connecting students and their peers to their local church. Billy and Katy will not conduct a training without a student’s youth leader present, knowing that youth leaders are imperative to both the work that the Willises do and the success of student-to-student evangelism.
Jordan Peoples, youth pastor at GT Church in Decatur, Illinois, says that Youth Alive has added another pillar onto the structure of his youth group, creating an avenue to reach kids who may never step inside a church.
“Billy and Katy have captured the heart of every youth ministry they have come in contact with and put wheels to it in a way that we cannot as youth pastors,” he says. “Youth Alive is a great way to show kids that they can take control of their faith.”
The Willises hope to continue to partner with church leaders and challenge them to consider what is at stake in the lives of their community’s teenagers: eternity.
According to a study done by the Barna Group, only 6% of adult Christians made their decision to follow God when they were over the age of 18.
“If we are going to reach someone for eternity, our greatest opportunity to reach them is while they are young,” says Billy. “We must not shy away from the fact that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.”