SEVIERVILLE, TENN. — When Scott Carter started the Hearts On Fire Youth Conference with about 150 students in 1986, he never imagined what it would become.
Last year, more than 11,000 students and their leaders filled the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge for a dynamic weekend of worship. This year’s lineup includes groups like Mercy Me, Finding Favour and The Skit Guys. Speakers include Dave Edwards and former University of Tennessee football player Inky Johnson.
Even though the conference has grown considerably over the years, the goal remains the same as it was three decades ago.
“Hearts on Fire exists for two reasons,” said Carter, associate pastor for youth at First Baptist Church Sevierville, Tenn. “First of all, it’s an evangelism conference to bring young people into a relationship with Christ. Number two, it’s to encourage every believer into a deeper walk—to let the Holy Spirit fan that flame.”
And that is exactly what has happened. Since its inception, thousands have professed faith in Jesus Christ or have been renewed in their walk with the Lord through the conference.
Carter recalls lives changed like a young man named Gregory Palmer. Not long after he was saved at a Hearts on Fire conference, Palmer was killed in a car accident. Palmer’s parents were so thankful for the impact HOF made in his life that they buried him in his conference t-shirt and attended the conference the next several years. Many more, like Palmer, have forever been changed by their experience at HOF.
Anthony Kendall, a youth pastor at First Baptist Church Indian Trail near Charlotte, N.C., and a former member of Carter’s youth ministry, brings his teenagers to HOF because it is centered on Christ and the gospel.
“From the worship band, to guest music artists, to the speakers, Hearts on Fire exalts and honors Christ,” Kendall said. “I have had students saved at Hearts on Fire. I have had students called to ministry at Hearts on Fire. I have had students challenged and equipped in their walk with Christ at Hearts on Fire. Simply put, God is still using Hearts on Fire after all these years to call teenagers to follow Jesus.”
Past speakers have also given thanks for the way God uses the conference.
Tony Nolan, a speaker at last year’s conference, said, “I have thousands of youth leaders asking me to direct them to a conference that will really change the hearts of their students. Hearts on Fire is that conference. It’s not just money well spent, it’s resources well invested.
“I say ‘invested’ because you will receive a return back into all the hard work you’re already doing every week in your students’ lives,” Nolan added. “This event transforms your students’ hearts to go back home and be totally into the passion and the mission of your student ministry.”
Reaching young people has always been a passion for Carter who was saved at age 15 at Calvary Baptist Church in Oak Ridge. Carter said he had a wonderful pastor and youth pastor who invested in him and took him visiting with them. As he began to pray about what to do with his life, he clearly sensed the Lord telling him to spend his life in gospel ministry reaching youth.
While serving at Parkway Baptist Church in Knoxville, the Lord led Carter and some other youth ministers to organize a conference for youth. At that first conference, held in Crossville, a storm knocked out the power. Even though a lack of electrical power meant they didn’t have microphones or lights, Carter said the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way.
Since then, HOF has been held in North Carolina and, for many years, in Gatlinburg. After outgrowing Gatlinburg’s conference center, HOF moved to the new LeConte Center conference facility in Pigeon Forge last year. His vision is to one day see 20,000 in attendance there.
Carter says he is thankful to serve at a church like First Baptist Church Sevierville that is so supportive of the HOF ministry. Many members volunteer to work as greeters, work tables and serve as counselors.
This year’s event will be held Nov.20-21. For more information or to register for HOF, visit heartsonfireministries.org or call (865) 776-2629. (Baptist & Reflector)