BIG DAY – The Theme Is King

I Love Board Games

I love board games. Thick, meaty board games. You know what I mean?

The best board games have a back-story to what you are trying to accomplish. Each mission is different and memorable because of the storyline behind it.

I play every Tuesday. Here we are–grown, bearded men with kids of our own–laughing and carrying on like pirates (if it is a pirate game) or astronauts (if it’s a space game) or alchemists (if it’s that game). We immerse ourselves in the story. Themed games are the most memorable games.

The best themes–game OR conference themes–permeate everything.

Many times, the theme of a conference seems tacked on, or an afterthought, like it was thrown together just because a conference should have a banner with a theme on it.

But the Preaching Rally theme IS the conference! The Preaching Rally does not revolve around the guest preachers, but rather around the theme.

I bring in preachers that many of our guests have never heard of. We rarely put the preachers’ pictures on our promotional material.

The PREACHER is not the highlight. The CONTENT is.

We want people to trust that the content of the day will be beneficial, regardless of who is preaching it. We want youth pastors to trust that when their youth group attends the Preaching Rally, the young people (and youth workers!) will be encouraged, revived and challenged to be and do more for God.

The theme is the driving force behind everything in the Preaching Rally. Each year, the theme drives the decorations, the skits, the games, the booklets and everything in between.

And it comes full circle. While the theme determines what everything else will be, everything else drives the theme home in the observer’s heart. Everything about the Preaching Rally enhances the theme.

In short, the theme drives everything. And everything drives the theme home.


Choosing the Theme

I choose themes based on important topics among teens. I think, “What would have helped ME as a teen, and what resonates with my teens?” Here are the themes and graphics that we have used over the past few years:

2011-preaching-rally-surrenderSurrender. Brother Bryan Samms preached powerful messages on the topic of surrender. The exterior and interior decorations depicted the battleship where the document of unconditional surrender was signed as Japan yielded to the Allied Forces of World War II. The graphics depicted the raised hands of surrender.

2012-preaching-rally-choose-to-aboundChoose To Abound. Pastor Jason Gaddis and Pastor Wayne Hardy preached pointed messages on God’s abundant blessings from the story of God’s provision for Ruth. The tagline of the theme  was, “Healthy waters produce abundant living,” challenging Christians to obey God and enjoy his abundance. The exterior decorations showed the filth and trash of OUR way (unhealthy waters), while the interior decorations took us underwater to teeming fish and abundant coral — life HIS way (healthy waters)!

2013-preaching-rally-timelessTimeless. With the onslaught of trendy and new, Christian teens need to be anchored to something that will not change. The Israelites had their monuments, as in the days of Joshua. Brother John Lande challenged teens to choose the timeless over the trendy, while the decorations transported us to the scene where Joshua crossed the Jordan River and set up 12 stones for future generations. Concluding the meeting, attendees were given a 150-page book on the theme.

2014-preaching-rally-pure-lovePure Love. Pastor David Hetzer preached powerful sermons on purity and marriage–God’s commands for future spouses. The decorations took us to an ice cream parlour as we were challenged to build “Ice Cream Sundae Relationships,” and the skits, music, and even the ice cream sundae snack made the point clear. As attendees were dismissed, they received the minibook, “A Case For Dating God’s Way” and a brochure that visually explained the “Ice Cream Sundae Relationships.

2015-preaching-rally-gender-mattersGender Matters. In the same year that Fecebook unveiled about 43 different gender options, President Obama openly defended homosexuality and Apple CEO Tim Cook came out as gay, our church hosted the Preaching Rally on the theme “Gender Matters.” Bro. Rick and Mrs. Anna Williams preached and taught on the theme, using two combined sessions and one split session (men and ladies) to show  the importance of following God’s direction when it comes to our gender. The graphics were the stereotypical pink/blue contrast, and all the games and decorations added to the theme.

2016-preaching-rally-DO-somethingDo Something. David’s mighty men visited our church through the preaching of Michael Jones, challenging the teens to Do Something Special, Do Something Strong, and Do Something Selfless. The walls were covered with swords, spears and shields, and the platform was the scene of the Philistine camp where David’s mighty men got David some water from his favorite well. The graphics were rugged and fierce, emphasizing the need for strength in the Christian walk.

Guidance Document

In assigning a theme, I prepare a guidance document for each session, outlining the main goals and purposes of the overall theme, as well as showing how each session will help accomplish that goal. This guidance document goes to the guest preacher, the skit chief, and the decorations chief a couple months before the Preaching Rally.

When I choose the Bible text and the general direction of each session, I ask that the guest preachers follow the theme carefully. Because the Holy Spirit’s primary function is to illuminate the Scriptures that have already been inspired by God, there is no theological problem with asking a preacher to fit within certain guidelines, as long as the theme he is asked to preach is properly interpreted from Scripture.


Examples. The following guidance document outlines the story of Joshua as he entered the Promised Land. My best friend Bro. John Lande, Heartland Singles Director at Southwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, preached the 2013 Preaching Rally, and followed this guidance document:

Theme: Timeless

Tagline: My generation must choose the old paths

Session 1 – Ryan Rench – “What is timeless.” I’ll explain my way through the whole concept as I incorporate some background and explanation from Joshua 3 and 4. Timeless is an emphasis on the timeless over the trendy. When Israel followed the God that the monument represented, they were fine. When they wanted the trendy way of the world, they fell. Be timeless and it will affect your whole life.

Session 2 – John Lande – “Why be timeless.” Lande will preach on a little bit of the history of God’s Word up to the point of our story in Joshua. As they followed God’s cloud through the wilderness they were fine. As they followed the Ark of the Covenant they were fine. Following God’s Word is what makes us timeless. The monument they built was just a pile of rocks… but it represented something so much more. It represented God’s Word to them. As time went on, they heard less of God’s voice because they had more written monuments–the book of Joshua itself is a monument to the testimony of that day’s events. The book of Joshua is timeless. God’s Word is timeless. We are to be timeless by following God’s Word in the Bible today.

Session 3 – John Lande – “How to stay timeless.” Lande will preach basically the whole session on application. The platform will have large rocks built up as a monument, and Lande could let each rock represent some area in which the teens need to stay timeless–and what timeless looks like in today’s culture. See the attached booklet for ideas on Timeless in media/entertainment, Timeless in person (thoughts, relationships…), and Timeless in church. The final segment is really what I want to emphasize as kind of an assault on the Contemporary Christian Movement among churches like ours, but the first two sections (timeless in media and timeless in person) are given to show that Timeless as a concept applies to many different areas of life.


When I do not choose the text myself, I ask the guest preacher if he has preached sermons on the topic before. If he can craft his own sermon that is 1) Scripturally accurate, and 2) in line with the theme, he chooses the Bible text to preach.

The following example is from the 2014 Preaching Rally, preached by Pastor David Hetzer of the West Valley Baptist Church in Nampa, ID, who chose to preach from Hebrews 13:4 on the theme:



Tagline: Together we purely love God.

Concept: Every aspect of the day will drive home the idea that dating relationships MUST be God-centered and Bible-based. The whole point of dating is to prepare 2 surrendered, godly Christians for marriage. Dating is not for fun, not for excitement, not for pleasure… dating is not selfish—is not self-focused. It is God-focused. Dating, if done purely, is a sacred and special time of life, and should only be started with the purpose of marriage. Since almost no teens will be getting married any time soon, no teens should be dating.

SESSION ONE:Together we purely love God.” Ice Cream Sundae Relationships. Ryan Rench preaching.

Session One will focus on the dating, and how it ought to be done. The implication will be that because dating is marriage-preparation, no teen ought to be dating. We will not be dogmatic about teens not dating. We will just be dogmatic about what dating ought to be. If teens can see what dating ought to look like, they will decide to date only when they can date “correctly.”

Session One will be on Ice Cream Sundae relationships. The BASE is the spiritual aspect. The ICE CREAM is friendship. The SYRUP and NUTS are the intellectual connection. The WHIPPED CREAM is the fluffy emotions. The CHERRY is the smallest and last step—the physical relationship after marriage.

SESSION TWO: “Together we purely love God.” Pastor David Hetzer preaching.

Session Two will be an entire session on the need to stay pure, particularly when approaching this topic of dating. With purity under attack from all angles, the temptations only rise when 2 young people with supercharged hormones start dating without first laying some rules on purity. Pastor Hetzer will determine the specifics of this session (Scripture passage, outline, etc.).

SESSION THREE: “Together we purely love God.” Pastor Hetzer preaching.

Session Three will be a session devoted to what the minibook focuses on: loving GOD more than anything else in life and letting HIM be the one to direct your life. With God as the focus, dating works. When 2 young people are devoted to God and completely surrendered to Him, God will bring their lives together in marriage in His timing. Pastor Hetzer will determine the specifics of this session, but he will fall narrowly within the confines of loving God as the biggest goal of the session. Rather than focusing on dating, all Christians should rather focus their entire lives on loving God. If our love for God is big enough, all the other issues will fall into place (“…on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets), including who and when we will date.

Overall, we want the teens to come away making these decisions:

  • I want to love God with all my life
  • Since I love God, I want to be pure
  • Since I love God, I only want to date WHO He has for me
  • Since I love God, I only want to date WHEN God directs me
  • Since I love God, I only want to date HOW God leads me

Decorations: (Wendy Rench) All the decorations, inside and out, will focus on the ice cream sundae session. The platform will be an ice cream parlor, and the outside will have a giant hand like on our printed materials. The ice cream sundae will signify the dating process and the hand will signify the goal of dating: purely working toward a happy family in love with God.

Skits: (Jared Burkholder) The skits can be different this year. Since it’s a dating theme, we will not have to be as closely tied to each session as we have before. I was thinking we could even do a Woo Trilogy idea with water splashing and lots of laughter. This year’s PR will be lighter than last year, and I want to keep the dating “feel” but allow the content of the day to help them see HOW and WHEN to date.

Dating is not the enemy… timing is. Teens SHOULD date… just not while they are teens. They need to know HOW to date some day in the future, and that’s what this PR is all about.

Since dating is not the issue, we can poke fun at it a little through the skits. Skit details will be determined by Jared Burkholder.

Driving It Home

Because everything surrounding the Preaching Rally drives the theme home–the preaching, the skits, the music, the graphics, the decorations, and the gifts–the attendees come away so impressed by the truth that it is hard to forget. To this day, I still have people referring to our Preaching Rally as “The Surrender Rally” or the “Gender Matters Rally.”

And I’m okay with that. It means “Mission Accomplished,” in my book.