Today's Youth Embrace Faith

August 21, 2002 | By Virginia de Leon

A new generation of Christians will be among the masses expected at this weekend’s Franklin Graham Festival.

These are hip kids who celebrate the Gospel with rock and pop music, who wear T-shirts and bracelets with the acronym “WWJD” (“What Would Jesus Do?”).

Fervent and fresh-faced, they weren’t even born when Graham was ordained a minister in 1982. In fact, many don’t know a lot about Franklin Graham’s dad, the world-famous evangelist Billy Graham. But these teens read the Bible every day. They like going to church and attending youth group meetings. They find solace in prayer.

“A lot of us are really focusing on our relationship with Christ,” said 16-year-old Carl Pierce, a junior at Lewis and Clark High School. “We want to be devoted to God and to serve him.”

Dubbed “the millenials,” Pierce’s generation has been described by researchers as more spiritual than their older Gen X siblings and less individualistic than their baby-boomer parents.

Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the book “Millenials Rising,” portray them as confident, collaborative youths with a refreshing optimism lacking in the stereotypical Gen X slacker.

They’re teenagers who know how to have fun, but they also have good hearts and are willing to serve others, said Dave Campbell, youth pastor at Post Falls Fellowship Bible Church.

“The young church is excited,” said Derek Cutlip, chair of the festival’s student committee and leadership facilitator of Believe Student Ministries. “There’s an enthusiasm and zeal in these students who are hungry to have Jesus Christ in their lives.”

This young group of Christians have helped define Franklin Graham’s festival. Instead of Billy Graham’s traditional, hymn-filled crusade, the modern-day revival is a flashy, multimedia affair with the feel of a rock concert.

Like the crusade, the festival still focuses on saving souls, but the outreach is clearly aimed at millenials and their peer group.

Throughout the weekend, the festival will feature bands and musicians who are popular with young people and even among non-Christians: Third Day, Paul Overstreet and Jaci Velasquez. On Saturday afternoon, youths can participate in gladiator jousting, bungee runs and other extreme games.

The festival also caters to the youngest Christians with a Saturday morning kids’ fest featuring the superhero Bibleman.

As part of a warm-up to the festival earlier this year, more than 9,000 teens flocked to the Spokane Arena for the “What’s Up?” concert featuring bands such as Audio Adrenaline.

The earsplitting music that reverberated that night sounded like the kind played by mainstream bands, but the lyrics contained religious messages and Bible passages. In between performances, speakers invited the youths to come forward and be saved by accepting Jesus Christ.

Many of the young people who went to the concert ended up attending a series of ministry classes offered at area churches, Cutlip said. They’re also the same teens who have been asked by their pastors to bring their peers, especially those who don’t attend church. It’s easier to ask a friend to go to a concert than hear a preacher, said 17-year-old Noah Couser, a senior this fall at Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene.

Franklin Graham’s persona also helps draw the younger crowd.

While the elder Graham wore suits and ties, Franklin Graham dresses more casually in polo shirts and jeans. On the cover of his autobiography, “ Rebel With a Cause,” the heir to Billy Graham’s ministry looks even cooler than Garth Brooks, dressed in his trademark cowboy boots, jeans and leather jacket. Some youths also identify with Franklin Graham’s troubled past as a rebellious teen who drank and defied authority.

Young people are turning to God in droves, especially as they seek a purpose in life, youth pastors say. Ten years ago, student-led ministry groups were unheard of at school, Campbell said. Now, every high school in the region has a Bible club, Cutlip said.

Youth pastors say this generation has seen it all—violence, crime, the breakup of the family. They’ve witnessed the trauma of the Columbine shootings and the terrorism of Sept. 11. In their search for meaning, God becomes an easy answer.

“My faith gives me direction,” said Couser, who spent his spring break at a Mexican orphanage as part of a church youth group mission.

Although the millenials are just as ardent about God as previous generations, many describe their faith as a “relationship” as opposed to “religion.”

“Honestly, we’re sick of religion,” said Karyan Tomson, 17 and a member of the festival’s student committee. “Religion is a routine, it’s something you do on Sunday. This is about my relationship with God, my best friend.”

Tomson, a Deer Park resident who will attend Moody Bible Institute Northwest Center in Spokane, said she talks to God through prayer every day. She also tries to live her faith through service, whether it’s helping others or just taking out the garbage and making breakfast for her mom.

Josiah King, 15 and a home schooler in Newman Lake, turns to his Bible when he’s looking for answers. No matter what kind of trouble he’s facing, he’ll simply open the book and find a verse that’s applicable to his life.

Religion is “an every day, every hour, every minute” experience for these students, said Campbell. “They’ve taken ownership of their faith. It’s not because their parents are making them do it.”

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