Religious Activity, Teen-Style

by Linda Lyons, Education and Youth Editor

Gallup Youth Survey data indicate that, rather than sleeping in on Sunday morning while their parents head out to church or synagogue, teens turn up at regular religious services at virtually the same rate as adults. In the most recent survey, 45% of American teens* and 44% of adults** reported that they had attended church or synagogue during the last seven days.

Other survey questions looked more closely at what exactly teens do at their places of worship. Twenty-one percent (21%) of those aged 13 to 17 said they have participated in religious activities and events during the past two weeks, in addition to regular weekly services. Of that group, 37% attended youth group meetings, 10% attended dinners or picnics, 7% attended Bible, Torah or Scripture study, and 6% attended retreats or camp programs***.

Youth fellowship programs were by far the most frequently cited extracurricular activity at churches and synagogues. When teens were asked in a 1998 study^ why so many wanted to become involved in these small groups, 82% said they wanted to learn more about religion, 73% said their parents encouraged them to join, and 71% wanted a place to talk about what's important to them in their everyday lives. Teens do like to talk, (witness the popularity of cell phones and online instant messenger services) but when asked in February 2001^^ about the needs of young people today, 74% of teens said they needed to be "listened to -- to be heard."

Dr. Al Winseman, a United Methodist minister and Gallup's Global Practice Leader for Faith Communities, confirms that teens benefit most from the religious ideas presented in an interactive, group-oriented format. "… today's teens are not a 'sit and listen' generation. They need to participate," Winseman said.

And what are teens doing during the regular weekly sermon? Apparently, they are not listening. Of those teens who attended services in the past week, most (84%) recall the delivery of a sermon but 55% of them couldn't recall the message of that sermon. According to Winseman, "…effective youth groups communicate the message in a language and medium that the kids can relate to. That's why most kids tune out most sermons -- they don't want theological jargon, they want the message in a language they can understand."

*Findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 454 teen-agers, aged 13 to 17, conducted July through September 2001. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5%.

** Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,024 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 17-19, 2000. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

***Numbers of teens who participated in additional activities are small. Findings should be interpreted with caution.

^Findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 504 teen-agers, aged 13 to 17, August through November 1998. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5%.

^^ Findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 501 teen-agers, aged 13 to 17, conducted December 2000 through February 2001.

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