Youth Conference


When I was a teenager, Especially for Youth was not even a twinkle in someone’s eye yet. For me the big annual Church event was our stake’s Youth Conference.

They still do Youth Conferences to this day, but what they do now is quite a bit different from what we did then. In our stake at least, they seem to have a rotating pattern of themes: one year the focus is missionary work, another it is service, another it is temples, and I forget what the fourth one is.

But when I was a kid, Youth Conference was basically a mini-college experience.

After my freshman year of high school my first YC was held at Lake Forest College near Chicago. We stayed in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria, played sports in the athletic facilities, took mini-classes (including on secular topics) in the classrooms, socialized with Mormon kids we didn’t know well and normally didn’t see, had a big dance (the social highlight of the Mormon year in upstate Illinois back then), and ended with a testimony meeting Sunday morning. In other words, it kind of gave you a sense of what going to college might be like–especially a college with a healthy LDS enrollment, such as BYU.

My next three years the venue moved to Rockford College, but otherwise the basic idea was the same.

I must say, I absolutely loved those YCs. And when I went to BYU as a college freshman in 1976, I went with the idea that it would pretty much be a nine-month long version of YC. And for freshman year, at least, that’s exactly what it was for me. I had the time of my life that year.

Our youth seem to enjoy their modern, new fangled YCs well enough. But a part of me feels kind of sorry for them. I would much rather pretend to be a college student for a weekend than pretend to be a missionary.

What have your experiences with YC, either as a youth or as an adult leader, been?


  1. Angela C says:

    My experiences in PA are more like what you experienced. We went to several different local colleges for ours, and they were pretty great. We stayed in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria, and had a big dance (last song was always Nights in White Satin). There were lots of pranks, lots of noise, and the kids in our ward often skipped activities to go off and engage in shenanigans. Ours were usually 3 stakes together, which was great because we made friends with people from a few hours away, and the dances were much less incestuous as a result.

    As I recall, we developed a bit of a reputation, thanks to the pranks, and had a hard time being invited back to a few campuses. I remember that at my first ever youth conference, we watched Psycho for one of our activities.

  2. Some sort of service, ice blocking, a testimony meeting, and a dance.

    The closest I’ve ever come to a physical altercation happened at a youth conference. A girl I’d never met got mad at me and smeared butter all over my arm (?) during lunch. Then she embarrassed herself at Fast and Testimony meeting directly afterward, so the church is true!

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    By contrast, my own YC experiences (early to mid 90s, northern CA) were very poor. In hindsight, we were being force-fed a manufactured “spiritual” experience. We had lectures from local high-profile institute teachers, which were good, but mostly over our heads, or fear-inducing. They seemed to dwell on topics like Mormon eschatology a lot more in those days; I distinctly remember one teacher telling us young men that we would probably be recalled from our missions to be drafted into the military and fight in Armageddon/WWIII, thus preparing the way for Christ’s return (that golden nugget of “doctrine” freaked me out as a 14-year-old, so it was the only lesson from YC I remember).

    There were no college campuses or amusement parks, instead it took place mostly in the confines of the stake center. We slept in the homes of local members (usually elderly empty-nesters), which was…strange. No free time either, everything was tightly scheduled and heavily supervised. Testimony meeting invariably became a 2-hour public confessional of past transgressions. The centerpiece of the weekend was an all-day service project, usually picking up trash on an embankment (a job typically reserved for those on juvenile probation where I come from). As I recall, this was a time period where the Church was clamping down on youth activity budgets, and also placing more and more restrictions on the kinds of activities allowed.

    Overall, the stereotypical happy smiling Mormon kids seemed to eat it up, but for those of us on the outer fringes of LDS youth social circles, there was no buy-in; for me at least, it was another reminder that I didn’t belong, and it pushed me even further away.

    But I am grateful I got my YC experiences out of the way just before pioneer treks became a thing.

  4. Around 6-7 years ago, I served on a YW presidency in Ohio and the girls had the same youth conference you described. Stay in college dorms, use their gym and cafeteria, have group games, attend different classes, there was a dance. The girls thought it was great.

  5. Glenstorm says:

    The YCs of my youth in Ohio ran the gamut from the college campus experience (my first) to something more like what Jack Hughes described (my last). The latter took the form of a “Wilderness” (read: camping) youth conference. On the first day of which we were only given an orange to eat. As I was just coming off another trip and thus added fatigue to the fasting, I simply remember being pretty out of it.

  6. I grew up in southern Arizona during the 1980’s. All our youth conferences were held in the stake center or at nearby parks. I remember service projects, testimony meetings, dances, and get-to-know you activities. One year we had one of the Yorgason brothers speak (either Blaine or Brenton, I can’t remember which one), but that is the only time I ever remember having a prominent or even out-of-town speaker come.

    We recently moved to PA, and it appears that youth conferences in current stake seem to revolve around visiting Church history sites. Last year they spent several days in Kirtland, and this year the youth are going to the priesthood restoration site in eastern PA. I think they are also going canoeing… it sounds like a fun excursion.

  7. My experiences in Oklahoma were very similar to yours. Youth Conferences were multi-stake events held at one of the major universities–University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, University of Central Oklahoma. And they attracted some pretty heavy-hitters as speakers–I remember Don Black and Blaine Yorgason, who passed at Mormon celebrities at that time. I loved every one of them and looked forward to them all year long.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Glenstorm, yes, I think you’ve hit on the version that I couldn’t quite recall. I’ve heard of the only-an-orange to eat thing as part of that, although I can’t remember what the point of that is supposed to be. And in that version, I think they send you off into the woods by yourself to read a personal letter to you written by your parents, or something like that.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Several have mentioned that their youth conferences were multi-stake affairs, which makes sense. I’m pretty sure mine were just our stake, but back then in the 70s the whole of northern Illinois was a single stake (headquartered in Wilmette and including Chicago), so we were interacting with kids that we almost never saw otherwise and it was sort of functionally the equivalent of a multi-stake approach today.

  10. I can recall only one youth conference, in about 1974 — was that because they weren’t common then, or was it because my family tended to move every year or so and I just missed them? It was at a college campus in Missouri and swept in kids from half of Kansas and at least half of Missouri. I remember a lot of “plenary sessions” but no small group sessions, and if there was unscheduled free time I don’t remember it. I did have a momentary, casual interaction with someone in the cafeteria line that was literally life-changing and that I count today as one of the top 5 crucial moments of my life, so there’s that.

  11. I was part of our stake’s youth conference last week. I gave a 50 minute overview of the Old Testament in three back-to-back sessions (in preparation for this years’ seminary readings), while other people did seminars on college preparation, dating and relationships, personal communication, and a few other topics.

    Since my daughter just turned 14, both of my kids were able to go, so I got a full report. They started with games and activities, then had the seminars, and then had a big dinner. That was Thursday. On Friday, they spent the whole day doing service projects, culminating with the Special Olympics, where they all helped stage the event. Then there was a dance. On Saturday, they had a testimony meeting and went home.

    It was very different than what I experienced, but they really enjoyed it too. And I like the emphasis on service, which we didn’t have. The one thing I now value most about my youth conference experiences is that they essentially doubled as a college campus visit. By living in the dorms and eating in the dining halls, they gave me a taste of college life that stayed with me and made college seem more inevitable.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Michael, I too really valued the entree to the college world that those old YCs provided. As a result I headed off to college without any dread but with a great sense of anticipation, which perhaps became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  13. Also, quite ironically from my perspective, nearly all of the monthly dances and Saturday activities here are multi stake, since there are two stake’s in Wichita that always plan together. Youth conference is just our stake. So, instead of being the big, multi-stake attraction that it was for me, youth conference is the intimate gathering of just the youth in our stake that the kids never get during the year.

  14. I can reme we two YC, one in GA in about 1992 and the other in UT in about 94. My memory is spotty, but in GA it was the members’ homes and dances version (all I really remember from the whole thing is the freakishly large mansion where the last dance was held). Maybe we went waterskiing too. I was just visiting for the summer, and I wasn’t a joiner, so the whole thing really kind of sucked. In UT we did the college visit version at USU. it was more fun because I was with my friends, but I don’t remember anything spiritual–possibly because we were all non-joiners (together, ironically) and probably skipped a lot of the content. My most specific memory is a midnight battle in the halls with ice from the ice machine, which ended in an altercation with our poor chaperones. We were staying in the college hotel/conference center rather than the dorms. The college visit aspect was still valuable though.

    I’ve reflected on my LDS youth/high school experience a lot lately since my 20 yr high school reunion was just cancelled due to non-participation. I had a pretty horrible experience in Brigham City in the early 90s, but I’ve always assumed it was my own fault. It seems the malaise may have been more general though.

  15. My experiences in MI in the late 70’s were similar to Kevin’s. One year at UM, another at MSU, and a couple years at a small local college. It was just one stake, but we had good participation from all the units, so it was a chance to see people in wards/branches 100+ miles away. Lots of classes, little free time, and occasional shenanigans. I think there was seminar on “Signs of the Times” every year where we would be told the world was coming to an end. The schedule went Fri-Sun, and had a dance on both Friday and Saturday nights! Sunday morning was a very long testimony meeting. I don’t remember any service projects, but I think that’s the only improvement our current format of mock mission training, historical sightseeing, or pioneer death march have made. I serve in my stake YM and want to get away from the manufactured spiritual experiences we currently favor and return to a program of education and social interaction that lets the kids enjoy being with their Mormon friends for a weekend.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark, I think you’re right that they went from Friday to Sunday with dances both Friday and Saturday nights. Now that you say it that rings a bell with me.

  17. elizabethany14 says:

    I loved youth conferences! In SW Oregon 04-07, we had both stake and multistake conferences, Friday-Saturday, at a stake center, staying the night in local members’ homes. We would have a dance, various class rotations, a big service project, and a testimony meeting at the end.
    Many of my memories revolve around the Mormon boys that I otherwise never got to see (my branch was rather lacking in the under-45 age group). I was not a shenanigan type, and remember a few spiritual nuggets still, but my fovorite memory still makes me chuckle: I was, for some reason, talking with one of the institute teachers and he remarked something like, “A pretty girl like you ought to have a body guard with all these boys around!” To which I replied, “Oh, don’t worry about me; I’ve got two!” And walked off, arm-in-arm, with the two boys that I’d met that weekend. (I promise, the institute teacher’s words were not creepy in context.)

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    It turns out that my stake had their YC this past weekend. I asked my bishop about it, and they held it in our stake center (just our stake) and the theme was a combination of family history and missionary work. Friday night they did a river cruise in Chicago (one of the benefits of living close to the City!), which I’m sure the kids loved. They had workshops and classes on Saturday, a lot of which revolved around social media, which again was probably within the kids’ wheelhouse. Apparently the kids liked it and it was a success.

  19. Though many details are lost in my memory, I remember the first couple YCs in the mid-80 were a blast. Over 3-day weekends at a college campus, we ran the full gamut of workshops, cafeteria food, games/activities, Saturday night dancing, staying up late past midnight, two+ hours of testimony meetings imbued with tears and sobbing. In subsequent YCs I’m sure it was SP Willard Marriott (yes, THE Mariott) who funded trips to Kirtland during winter break, and a trip to Nauvoo/St. Louis in the summer. I recall that our Greyhound bus broke down in the sweltering humidity on some interstate and we waited for two hours for new transport. Not sure where we slept, maybe one night in a motel and the other nights on the bus. Fun times.

  20. Hedgehog says:

    I think we called them conventions rather than conferences. From Friday evening to Sunday Morning. Held at the stake centre. Since the stake centre was my ward building, and I had a Saturday job, I recall only ever attending the dances on Friday and Saturday. This would be mid-80s.

  21. Ryan Mullen says:

    Michael Austin, I’m giving the OT intro at our stake’s seminary kick-off in ~a month. If you would post your thoughts or outline of your overview, I’d love to read it!

  22. As a seminary teacher, I also would love to read Michael Austin’s thoughts/outlines. Any possibility of doing so?

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Ryan and Cate, perhaps Michael will see your request, but in the meantime here are some notes from my Introduction to the Old Testament for my GD class at the beginning of 2014:

  24. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thanks, Kevin. Sorry for the thread jack, but I appreciate the link. Good stuff!

  25. I just noticed this and sent my outline and PowerPoint to Ryan. Cate (and anyone else who might be interested)–I think I can post links here through my Google Drive. Let me know if this doesn’t work.

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