Hundreds of area young people celebrated their shared Christian faith in Denison on Friday and Saturday as part of an entertainment festival geared toward young worshipers.

The non-denominational Texas Youth Festival was held at the Texoma Event Center and hosted by Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church. The event featured live musical performances by faith-based bands, comedy and improv shows and guest speakers. Organizers estimated that at least 400 people attended the festival during its two-day run.

“When you think of church, you might think of the old stand-by hymns that we sing, but this is different,” Mt. Pleasant pianist and festival organizer Kimberly Bowen said. “This is Christian rock music and entertainment that appeals to the younger generations. It’s on their level, it’s high energy and it’s what they relate to.”

Bowen said her church modeled its inaugural youth festival on the annual and widely attended Arkansas Youth Conference, held several hundred miles away.

“Arkansas is a little far from our area, so we thought about how great it would be to have an event like that around here that we can market to the Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana region,” Bowen said. “We made it so that it was open to all teens and we’re hoping that we can grow the event even more next year.”

The festival organizer said many churches often tailor services and outreach events toward adults and that can leave children and young people with a weaker connection to Christianity.

“We think a lot about elders and we just tend to overlook that younger sector of the population,” Bowen said. “And sadly, they’re the ones that really seem to have to struggle in life today. They have a lot of social pressure and many have to deal with bullying and family troubles. We just see this as a way that we can reach out to them and help them secure a future that’s brighter than all the negative things in the world.”

Despite the distance from their home in Arkansas, Danyelle Foster and Abigail Windham traveled to Texoma for the festival along with 15 of their fellow teen worshipers.

“I think they feel this is a place where they can really get involved in the worship,” Foster said of the young participants. “If they were in a church, they might be a little worried about what the adults might think of them. They might feel a little more judged or misunderstood on whatever they’re going through. But here, it’s safe.”

Windham said that feeling of safety allowed the members of her group to be vulnerable and to open up, both to each other and to their higher power.

“When we were praying last night, a lot of our teens got really emotional,” Windham said. “We had one who is newly saved and it’s just been a really eye-opening experience.”