(Photo: AP / Detroit News, John T. Greilick)
Sugarcoated, MTV-style youth ministry is over, Time magazine reported. The current trend that is packing teens in pews: Bible-based worship.
Youth ministers have tried to engage teens in the church with a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging to initially attract the young crowd. The approach has successfully drawn a large number of youths to the pews. But it has failed to keep them there.
Research groups have tracked a dropping percentage of young adults still participating in church activities or attending church at all since their teenage years. A Barna survey showed 61 percent of people in the 20-29 age group had participated in church activities as teens but are now disengaged. Youth Transition Network coordinator Jeff Schadt preaches an even higher proportion of youths - as high as 88 percent - falling away from the church, especially when leaving the nest for college.
The sugarcoated Christianity that was popular in the past few decades was found to be causing growing numbers of kids to turn away from youth-fellowship activities and the Christian faith altogether, according to Time.
"The vast majority of teens who call themselves Christians haven't been well educated in religious doctrine and therefore don't really know what they believe," Christian Smith, a University of Notre Dame sociologist and author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, told the magazine.
"With all the competing demands on their time, religion becomes a low priority, and so they practice their faith in shallow ways."
Teen Mania, one of the nation's largest youth organizations, openly rejects the MTV culture. More than 200,000 teens just this year attended the organization's new Battle Cry stadium-worship events that feature top Christian music artists while grounding teens in Scripture.
Stadium events run like a Christian Lollapalooza, as Time described it, but founder Ron Luce knows the significance of a strong foundation in Scriptural teachings. He aims to raise up "serious followers of Christ" and his approach has been a huge success with teens and youth leaders.
Today's teens are more drawn to Scripture and desire to get a better understanding of what they believe.
One surprising finding that Fuller Seminary's Center for Youth and Family Ministry revealed in an ongoing study was that teens attend youth group because they like their youth pastor and to learn about God. Those reasons were listed by the majority of the surveyed students. The Barna Group found the top reason listed among teens for attending church was to "understand better what I believe."
Students also said they wanted to have more time for deep conversation and also desired more accountability in their youth groups. Games or other activities were not a desired priority.
Time reported churches now focusing more on Scripture and less on entertainment are actually growing. Youth attendance numbers are at least doubling at such churches as Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, Texas and Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.
And teens are happy with the traditional approach as they're understanding what it means to be a Christian.