Mark Yaconelli, director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality at San Francisco Theological Seminary, has an astonishing answer: Although the media age is not exactly in its infancy, churches still "have to find out how to cope with it."
The Barna findings show up what seems like a strange inconsistency: Most of a sample group of teens - 56 percent -- said they attended church-related activities at least twice per month in their childhood.
Yet although 26 percent stated they received some general information about God or the life and teachings of Christ, "we find that most of them have neither accepted Christ as their savior nor altered the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions in life," pollster George Barna reported.
Yaconelli, who runs one of the most creative youth ministries in the United States, confirmed these findings. To Yaconelli, the issue is really how biblical stories can compete with the powerful tales told by billboards, television, the internet, videogames and Disneyland.
"The Church and parents are really very naïve about that," said Yaconelli, a Presbyterian.
It's easy to blame the kids. However, Yaconelli defends them: They are not really hostile to the Christian worldview; they simply have to be re-introduced to it, he insists. Given the present media environment, this has to be done not in a didactic but an experiential way.
Observers from ten mainline denominations will be converging on Washington State to see how Yaconelli does it. They'll observe a youth leadership camp where 70 teenagers learn the whole story of Jesus Christ in three weeks - not just by reading it, but also by experiencing it in a contemporary context.
Take the story of Christ's temptations. Like Jesus, the kids will be taken into the wilderness. But then, equipped with cameras, they will be taken into a city to face and record real temptations - pretty young girls trying to sell the latest computer model, for example.
This way the teens will "walk right into the Bible, which comes to life for them. They realize that its stories are about today's realities," Yaconelli told United Press International Thursday.
"We can't all become Amish," he went on, meaning that it would be unrealistic to eschew the secular world. "Instead we have to create our own media."
There is something else that can be done: You don't have to expose your children to television and videogames at a tender age. Yaconelli proposes an alternative - instead of allowing his own two kids to watch TV, he tells them a story every night.
"They are five and seven years old now," he said. "When they are teenagers, they will engage the realities around them on a different level." Unlike 90 percent of American kids, they will indeed have a Christian worldview.
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