Home » Winterfest or Challenge Youth Conference (CYC)…my take.

Winterfest or Challenge Youth Conference (CYC)…my take.

This is the first year I have ever attended the Winterfest conference in Gatlinburg, TN. Previously I attended the Challenge Youth Conference (CYC) which was held in Gatlinburg as well (now in Pigeon Forge). Both are conferences geared toward teenagers and both are events lead by those in the churches of Christ. Winterfest (1988) is a lot older than CYC (Not sure of its inception) but both conferences are identical in their focus to unite Christians to the central message of Jesus.

I am probably unique in the sense that all I experienced was CYC and this was my first year to attend Winterfest. What I wanted to do is offer some objective statements of similarities and differences and then allow those who read share their comments as well. Too long I have heard that Winterfest was the “liberal coC” event and CYC was the more “conservative coC” event. You know my distaste for those terms (read here) so I wanted to be a bit more objective.


  • Both have acapella singing.
  • Both have speakers solely from the churches of Christ.
  • Both have vendors from Christian universities.
  • Both use drama and videos to aide in the lesson or theme in some capacity.
  • Both take collections to help with missionaries, non-profits or camps.
  • Both have speakers who use a plethora of scriptures to support their lessons.
  • Both have concessions available during the lessons that drive me insane.
  • Both take the Lord’s Supper on Sunday.
  • Both equip youth ministers with a weekend that will challenge their teenagers.
  • Both have students rededicate their lives and some are even baptized.


  • Winterfest utilizes a praise team with one man leading the team whereas CYC just has a song leader.
  • Winterfest will have some lifting hands and clapping in worship whereas CYC does not (corrections?).
  • Winterfest equips the youth minister with weekend devotionals and additional material whereas CYC did not (they may now…anyone know?).
  • Winterfest did not extend the invitation but CYC does (or did).

That’s it unless I missed something. The whole weekend at Winterfest my wife and I kept thinking it would be some envelope-pushing-liberal-crazy-fiasco weekend. It wasn’t. They were very similar and I left feeling uplifted and challenges just like I would if I attended CYC.


Both can benefit your group depending on the anatomy of your church. I think we need to look past the “clapping, holy hands” issues and just ask the question, “Which event will bless our group more?” It should not be a CYC vs Winterfest argument because both give glory to God. Can we not just celebrate where God is presented and lives are changed removed from comparison? If the majority of your church has a problem with clapping and praise teams then it would be wise for you to attend CYC. One is not better than the other and we should leave space at the table for varying opinions.

I think anywhere our God is praised and his name is lifted up is a sacred place to me. Click To Tweet

So whether you are hearing Lonnie Jones make an amazing illustration from a SWAT team or Jeff Walling expounding on a nuance in Scripture, God is praised. Whether you are singing “Clap Your Hands” or “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” our God is getting the victory.

What are your thoughts?


Supplemental Reading:


  1. Nathan says:

    I grew up going to winterfest and then went to CYC for many years. CYC began in about 1999. You make some great points and I agree with you on most everything
    I use to love to hear jeff Walling. He is a great speaker, but a few years ago he made some comments about instrumental music that I disagreed with and think are in disagreement with the Bible. I think if we are not careful when students hear such a dynamic speaker they may lack the judgement to not follow other things the speaker may teach as well. Got a feeling a challenge may be coming. I am ready.

    • Robbie says:

      You’re absolutely right about having a lack of judgment and learning to discern what they hear. Regardless of your stance about IM I think it’s more important to teach kids how to discern instead of removing them from any context in which they disagree. There were some speakers I disagreed with at CYC but they challenged me (pun intended) to dig deeper in the word. I think a sign of maturity is when people who disagree with each other about minutia can still call each other brother and sister at the end of the day.

  2. Peggy says:

    This year (2017) was our first time at Winterfest and CYC after moving to the Mid-west. We had heard the liberal/conservative labels and went to see for ourselves. We did notice the songs for CYC being ‘from the worship songbook’ vs WF was more ‘youth rally’ songs. Not sure what normally happens in the Mid-west but we noticed a definitely more mellow worship atmosphere at CYC and much more enthusiasm at WF. I discussed with my teens how too much enthusiasm can come across to adults as irreverent, which might by why CYC is so much more somber in tone.

    In 2017 there was a rock band playing at WF while the teens filed into the auditorium. It was loud and obnoxious according to my teens.

    WF had a much better layout where the crowd was much closer to the stage and screens. CYC had long rows and sections and those in the back were so far away they might felt detached from the event. We saw a lot of teens not paying attention in the back at CYC.

    Both events lacked any interactive time where teens could meet other teens from other churches, which I thought was a glaring omission. There should be a time for two or more youth groups to get together to discuss the lessons, or at a minimum have some ice breakers, so youth can meet folks from other churches. I’m sure all the teens would love to hear new perspectives from other teens or other youth ministers instead of the same old opinions from teens in their own group.

    This was our first time around this many Christian teens. Church events in the Pacific Northwest are lucky to have 150-200 teens! Both events were very enriching spiritually and we felt SO blessed. Those in this part of the US don’t realize how good they have it.

    • Robbie says:

      Great thoughts and I appreciate your updates. It was because of the lack of intimacy that our church decided to go with having our own winter retreat. Other churches do a great job with Winterfest and CYC but we felt too rushed and like cattle go into a worship stall.

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