History of RYS
Reformed Youth Services has been serving its member churches since May 1, 1996. The concept of RYS originated at Seventh Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, MI in the mid-1990’s. At the time, many Reformed churches in the midwest were concerned that their young people were lacking youth ministry from a distinctly Reformed perspective. A variety of different Reformed churches were contacted about supporting this new endeavor and an encouraging number pledged their support, both spiritual and financial, towards the ministry of RYS. In October of 1995, Cornerstone URC agreed to be the supervising consistory for the ministry. A steering committee was set and a six-person board was subsequently elected. The pastor of Cornerstone was appointed the chairman. Our first director, Ed DeGraaf, was appointed by the RYS board on April 17, 1996. Thirteen charter member churches committed to supporting the ministry. Since the ministry’s inception, our member churches have emphasized the necessity of the organization functioning under the authority of a specific consistory.
Membership in RYS is by church, not youth groups. RYS views its member churches as partners in its ministry. Every member church is eligible to nominate potential board members, who serve designated terms. No more than one person from a church is permitted to serve on the board and/or committee at a time to encourage widespread participation from our member churches.
We confess, in accordance with Belgic Confession Article XXX (published 1561) that God has established officers in the church to see that “true religion may be preserved, and the true doctrine everywhere propogated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by spiritual means.” While RYS is certainly not a church, neither are we a parachurch organization. The founders of this youth ministry recognized the benefits of having someone ensure that true religion and doctrine would always be the marks of RYS and who could provide spiritual correction if needed. No better overseers could be found than the overseers Christ himself appointed for the government of His church. Our hope is that such oversight will ensure that our ministry will not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14 NKJV).
To those ends, the founders of RYS desired to have the overseers Christ has appointed at Cornerstone URC to oversee Reformed Youth Services also, so that RYS might be a work that would always edify the covenant youth and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Opinions may differ about whether such rigorous accountability is necessary. But this organizational structure, with God’s blessing, has served RYS well since its inception and by God’s continued grace has resulted in consistent, reliable and orthodox teaching.
In 2001, RYS held its first national youth convention at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. Since then, more than 11,000 youth, sponsors and staff have attended this signature annual event. Regional high school retreats in the states of California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington have been held annually with member pastors speaking on a variety of biblical topics. Almost 7,000 students and leaders have participated in these weekend events across the country. RYS has held a midwest junior high retreat since 1999, with more than 2,000 sixth, seventh and eighth-graders and their adult leaders in attendance. Two LOGOS (which means ‘the Word’) young adult retreats/conferences have been offered to our post-high adults annually since 1998. Approximately 2,200 singles have attended these 45 events. The STEP (Summer Teen Evangelism Project) program was hosted by member churches from 2000-2011, with almost 100 professing high school students participating in this two week evangelistic program. We praise God for using all these vehicles to build up the faith entrusted to us by the saints of old.
Since 1996, our membership has grown from 13 to 85 member churches in 23 states and provinces in the United States and Canada. A majority of our member churches are United Reformed congregations, but we also have members from the CRC, RCUS, OPC and other independent reformed churches. We thank the Lord for leading these like-minded congregations to partner with us and pray that RYS and its member churches will always be used to bring God glory. Soli Deo Gloria!