Thousands of teens from across the state will converge on Macon this week with one common purpose: moving closer to God.

MOVE Conference, planned for Thursday and Friday at the Macon Coliseum, draws between 6,000 and 7,000 middle and high school students and their youth leaders every year.

Originally called the Youth Evangelism Conference, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been hosting the winter event since 1977, said Michael Ricks, the board’s youth ministry consultant. While it previously has been held in locations like the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the Classic Center in Athens, its home primarily has been the Macon Coliseum over the years, said Ricky Smith, the board’s state missionary.

“We want to introduce people to Jesus, show them there’s a better way of life than drugs and alcohol, and show them that they can be something great,” Ricks said. “I just hope that students take away the fact that there’s something more, and they can be a part of a movement to change the world.”

The large-scale conference is a mix of worship services, concerts and entertainment, Smith said. The 2016 lineup includes Christians musicians Francesca Battistelli, Trip Lee and Rend Collective; speakers Ed Newton and Jason Britt; special guest D.J. Shockley, former NFL and University of Georgia quarterback; worship leader Bethany Barr Phillips; Christian illusionist Drew Worsham; and a BMX show.

During breaks, attendees can grab grub from food trucks outside, hang out with friends in the exhibit halls and peruse displays on universities, ministries and more.

Churches of a variety of denominations attend the conference, bringing groups of two to 80 people, Smith said. Some churches have been attending for decades. The large-group format is something that students may not have the opportunity to experience elsewhere. It’s a positive experience that unites kids in their faith, Ricks said.

“It’s encouraging to see kids worshiping together from all across the state,” he said. “You come from a youth group of 20, and suddenly you realize that there are kids in Savannah that believe just like you do.”

As the former youth pastor at Briarwood Baptist Church in Watkinsville, Ricks brought groups of 10 to 30 students to MOVE for several years. He was looking for a winter event that was close to home and had a spiritual emphasis.

MOVE challenges students to have a relationship with Christ and progress in their faith journey, Smith said. The goal is to help them realize they have a greater purpose in life.

“I hope they hear the truth about Jesus, and they hear the truth about the gospel, and they are motivated to respond in a way that moves them from wherever they are in life now to a place where they look and live more like Jesus,” Smith said. “That transition, that movement, is going to be very individualized. It’s going to be different for every kid.”

Many teens walk away with a new perspective on life, and some even decide to go into ministerial work, he said.

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea

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