Young Life is an international nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization that uses a relational approach between adults and young people as the principal means by which youth are brought to a transformative spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ. This evangelical movement started in Gainesville, Texas with a part-time Presbyterian youth minister, Jim Rayburn. Rayburn was challenged by his church in 1938 to develop a ministry to unchurched youth at the local public high school. He began to build personal relationships with selected youth at the high school, and then bridged these relationships into a weekly club for students. Determined to not make the event like "church," Rayburn pioneered a format that included games, skits, singing, and food.
After graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary, Rayburn and four fellow graduates launched Young Life in Dallas, Texas, in October 1941. Within the space of four years, they had student clubs all across Texas, and in 1946 moved their headquarters to Colorado Springs, Colorado; by that point they had 20 full-time staff working across several western and mid-western states. A chapter at Wheaton College began in this period to make heavy use of volunteers rather than paid staff. This innovation became a hallmark attribute for the explosive growth that Young Life was to subsequently experience.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Young Life was principally working with suburban high school students and by the end of the 1960s, clubs were found in virtually every state. In the early 1970s,Young Life turned its attention to multiethnic and urban areas, and subsequently to isolated rural areas and other nations. The early focus on clubs broadened over time to encompass weekend and summer camps located on 25 premier properties in the United States and Canada, weekly discussion and Bible study groups called Campaigners, a ministry to youth with disabilities (Capernaum), a ministry to junior high and middle school youth (WyldLife),Young Life "schools" that train adult staff for youth ministry, Military Communities Youth Ministries (U.S. military bases and ten nations in Europe and Asia), and the Amicus International Student Exchange. A total of eight seminaries in the United States offer specialized programs to Young Life staffers as part of their ongoing professional development. Total Young Life staff in 2002 included 3,288 paid staff, and 26,767 volunteers (United States) and 981 volunteers (internationally). All staff members, paid or volunteer, sign an evangelical statement of faith concerning the Bible, the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, personal salvation in Christ, eternal life for the "saved," and eternal judgment for others. A board of 23 trustees, drawn from across the United States, guides the ministry.
As of May 2003, Young Life was in more than 4,073 schools and other outreach locations around the world. Total participants in the 2002-2003 school year included over 180,000 kids in weekly activities and an estimated total of over 800,000 students participating in at least one activity in more than 800 communities in the United States. Over 40,000 adolescents attended summer camps, and another 36,000 participated in weekend camps during the school year. Young Life is present in 49 countries outside the United States, with 393 ministries to nationals, international school students, or adolescent dependents of the U.S. military. Total revenues in 2002 were over $185 million, along with more than $10 million in capital contributions related to the various properties owned in North America. Denny Rydberg, the first executive hired from outside the organization, was named the fifth president of Young Life in 1993.
Young Life continues to provide dynamic and lifechanging experiences for youth through its multifaceted program offerings around the globe. True to the focus of its founder, Young Life takes a decidedly nontraditional approach to youth ministry within the context of evangelical Christianity.