OMG: It’s a multimedia generation

Teenagers and college-age young adults know all kinds of things others don’t: Cool, unheralded musical artists. Fascinating websites. Scintillating new books. How? They are so wired into one another – through smartphones, social media, email and instant messaging – that they seem to absorb information through their pores. And it’s clear many are looking for spiritual meaning outside their parents’ tradition.

The new buzzword for reaching out religiously to this group is multimedia – using music, videos, the web, print and more, often all at the same time. The feel is energetic and edgy. The theology ranges from conservative to liberal. Will these efforts help ground this generation in age-old faiths? Will it help them form their own traditions?

Why it matters

Young people may not want information so much as meaning. In most cities, congregations are using multimedia, lights and sound to appeal to this “Generation Net.” And ministries and outreach programs using cutting-edge technology are proliferating.

Questions for reporters

  • What are congregations in your area doing to attract teenagers and college students? What is edgy and new? What’s working?
  • Is religion flavored with hip-hop a trend in your region? What about geek-tinged hipsterism? Or alternative rock, or straight-out pop?
  • What religious web sites, webzines, blogs and other multimedia are teens favoring?
  • How does the presentation change the message?



  • Ignite Your Life

    Christianity Today publishes Ignite Your Life, a news and resource source for teens.

  • Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

    The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is a nonprofit group that tries to help parents and other adults better understand youth culture.

  • Christian Answers

    Christian Answers is a mega-site the provides biblical answers to contemporary questions. Contact through the website.

  • Jimmy Swaggart Ministries

    Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, headed by the Pentecostal pastor and televangelist, is an organization dedicated to carrying the word of God through minister Jimmy Swaggart’s sermons and lessons internationally via the internet.

    Contact: 225-768-8300.

Polls and surveys

  • National Study of Youth and Religion

    See summaries of research findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion, funded by the Lilly Endowment and based at the University of North Carolina. From July 2002 to March 2003, the researchers conducted a random nationwide telephone survey of 3,370 teenagers ages 13 to 17 and their parents, and followed that up with 267 in-depth interviews with teenagers in 45 states. Among the findings: Teenagers seemed remarkably conventional in their religious views, and there wasn’t much evidence of “spiritual seeking” or exploration. But even teenagers who considered religion important were not very articulate in talking about their faith – they have a hard time explaining what they believe.

  • Spirituality in Higher Education

    Read the results of a national study funded by the John Templeton Foundation on spirituality in higher education conducted between 2003 and 2010. The study was conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles and includes responses from thousands of undergraduates at diverse colleges and universities from around the U.S.

  • “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era”

    This 2004 survey of almost 1,400 youth ages 18 to 25 that included Christian, Muslim, Jewish youth and a mix of races and ethnicities – explored attitudes about faith, politics and volunteer service. It found a “strong and intimate” connection between religious faith and volunteerism. 56 percent of those surveyed volunteered in their community in the previous year, but only 14 percent did so regularly. The survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.


National sources


  • Cameron Strang

    Cameron Strang is president and founder of Relevant Media Group in Winter Park, Fla., which targets Christian “twenty- and thirtysomethings” across denominations.

  • Rob Bell

    Pastor Rob Bell is is the author of Love WinsVelvet Elvis, and Sex God, and is a coauthor of Jesus Wants to Save Christians. He is also featured in the first series of spiritual short films called NOOMA with spiritual teachings aimed at teenagers and college-age adults.

  • Tommy Kyllonen

    Tommy Kyllonen, who also goes by Urban D., is a hip-hop artist and lead pastor at the Tampa, Fla., Crossover Church. The church’s ministry is the hip-hop culture, and worship combines music, dance, visual arts and other media. He has recorded albums, performs concerts and has written a book about hip-hop and the church.

  • Paul B. Raushenbush

    The Rev. Paul B. Raushenbush, an American Baptist minister, is senior vice president at Auburn Seminary. He is the author of Teen Spirit: One World, Many Paths and wrote a teen spirituality advice column on in which he answered teens’ questions on subjects from the spiritual implications of tattooing to abstinence to interfaith dating.

  • Kenda Creasy Dean

    The Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean is a professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also an ordained United Methodist pastor and co-founder of Ministry Incubators, a consulting group that works with pastors and faith communities to launch new ministries. She is the author of several books on youth ministry.

  • Chap Clark

    Chap Clark is a professor of youth, family and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and directs the seminary’s youth ministry programs. Clark immersed himself in the life of a public high school in Los Angeles County, working as a substitute teacher and conducting ethnographic research there, and convened discussion groups with teenagers around the country for his book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Baker Academic, 2004). He is an expert on youth, how they relate to religion and their religious development.

  • Suzanne Eller

    Suzanne Eller of Muskogee, Okla. is an author and speaker with a ministry to teens and college students.

  • Kevin Hickey

    Kevin Hickey is parish outreach director spokeswoman for Life Teen, an international Catholic youth ministry that produces videos and a website.


  • Rick Recht

    Jewish rocker Rick Recht of St. Louis considers himself an educator as well as a musician. He plays more than 125 concerts a year and has recorded several Jewish albums and one secular one.

  • Amy L. Sales

    Amy L. Sales is associate director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She has studied Jewish life on college campuses and the experience of teenagers at Jewish summer camps. She is co-author of How Goodly Are Thy Tents: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences (University Press of New England, 2003), for which she visited 20 summer camps in 2000.

  • Hayim Herring

    Rabbi Hayim Herring is President and CEO of Herring Consulting Network. Prior to this he was executive director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), an organization based in Minneapolis that worked to renew the American Jewish community through congregational innovation and leadership development. He helped conduct a study called “Shema: Listening to Jewish Youth,” examining the attitudes of Jewish teens in the Minneapolis area toward Judaism.


  • Abdul Malik Mujahid

    Abdul Malik Mujahid is a leader in Chicago’s Muslim community and chairman of, a web-based resource for Muslims with a teen section and multimedia products. He has written and spoken about the Islamic perspective on various political issues, including drug policy.

  • Amir Hussain

    Amir Hussain is professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is a former editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

  • Ted Swedenburg

    Ted Swedenburg is a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Arkansas. He has done research on popular music, including Islamic and Middle Eastern influences on rap and hip-hop music, and has hosted a world music show on the radio. He can speak about the impact that Muslim young people are having in the world of music.

  • Muslim Students Association

    The association seeks to provide a forum for the unification of Muslim students from diverse backgrounds. Its website contains a list of the association’s chapters on college campuses across the country. Contact through the form on the website.


  • Sarah M. Pike

    Sarah M. Pike is an associate professor of religious studies at California State University in Chico. She has written about New Age and neopagan religions and is working on a project about teens on the margins of American culture. She addresses Scientology in her writings.

  • Diana Winston

    Diana Winston is the director of mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She has taught mindfulness practices for more than 25 years and published Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness in 2010.

  • Lynn Schofield Clark

    Lynn Schofield Clark is Associate Professor in Media, Film, and Journalism Studies, and Director of the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver. She directs the Teens and the New Media@Home Project, which studies how young people use new media technologies. She also is the author of From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media and the Supernatural (Oxford University Press, 2003), which is based on extensive interviews with U.S. teens and considers how presentations of the supernatural in the media help shape the religious views of teenagers. She says there is a trend toward the “normalization” of psychic powers and mystical experiences reflected in contemporary television shows and movies.

  • Christian Smith

    Christian Smith is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He was co-principal investigator for the Youth and Religion Project. He is the author, with Melinda Lundquist Denton, of a book summarizing major findings from that study called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005). He has written widely on religious giving and is co-author of Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (2008).

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Dean Borgman

    Dean Borgman is the Culpepper Chair of Youth Ministries at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s urban campus in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also founder and director of the Center for Youth Studies, a national and global network of those interested in the research of adolescence and the youth culture. His areas of expertise include urban and cross-cultural youth ministry, the changing youth culture and counseling adolescents.

  • Stephen W. Pogue

    The Rev. Stephen W. Pogue c0-founded and led The Hip Hop Church, which holds services at Greater Hood Memorial AME Zion Church in New York City. He is now pastor of The Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mount Vernon, New York.

  • Lisa Miller

    Lisa Miller is Professor of Psychology and Education and Director of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University. She has studied the spiritual development of adolescents and has found that having a spiritual grounding – believing in a higher power – can help teenagers deal with crises, resist peer pressure and stay away from drugs and alcohol. Her work includes extensive study of adolescent spiritual experience and the ways in which family, community and policy can support spiritual development in young people.

  • William Dinges

    William Dinges is a professor of religious studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and an expert on American Catholicism. He says the growing divide between what is “religious” and what is “spiritual” has resulted in spirituality that lends itself easily to supernatural and paranormal phenomena. He is a co-author of Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice (2001) and can speak about the views of teenagers and young adults toward the Catholic Church.

  • Eve Rudin

    Rabbi Eve Rudin is Director of the Congregational School at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. Previously, she was Director of the Department of Camp Excellence and Advancement for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, as well as the Director of the URJ Kutz Campus for Reform Jewish Teen Life and the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) for the Union for Reform Judaism. The Union’s youth program offers leadership and social action programs (called Mitzvah Corps), summer camps and opportunities for Jewish teenagers to travel to Israel and connect online.

  • Jon Pahl

    Jon Pahl is an associate professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He has written about young people and violence and is the author of Youth Ministry in Modern America: 1930 to the Present (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), which examines youth ministry in four traditions: Lutheran, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and African-American.

  • Chris Boyatzis

    Chris Boyatzis is a developmental psychologist who teaches at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. He has studied religious and spiritual development in families, including how teenagers talk to their parents about religion. He’s also worked in an area he calls “God in the Bod,” looking at how young people’s spirituality affects their body image and tendency toward eating disorders.

  • Carol Lytch

    Carol Lytch is President of Lancaster Theological Seminary, a graduate school located in Lancaster, Pa. affiliated with the United Church of Christ. She is author of Choosing Church: What Makes a Difference for Teens (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

In the South

  • Frederick Edie

    Frederick Edie, a United Methodist minister, is assistant professor of the practice of Christian education at Duke Divinity School. He also directed the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation, which invites high school students to live for two weeks in an intentional Christian community at Duke.

  • Neil Howe

    Neil Howe is a historian and economist who writes about generational issues. He is co-author, with William Strauss, of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Vintage, 2000).  Howe and Strauss say Millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s, are optimistic, positive and engaged – they want to make a difference.

  • Rodger Nishioka

    Rodger Nishioka is an associate professor of Christian education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He is the former coordinator of youth and young adult ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Nishioka can talk about why many young people are absent from the pews and about what young people want church to be like.

  • Steve Matthews

    Steve Matthews was youth minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va for more than 15 years. St. Paul’s has been one of the partner congregations in the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

    Contact: 804-643-3589.
  • Carol Lytch

    Carol Lytch is President of Lancaster Theological Seminary, a graduate school located in Lancaster, Pa. affiliated with the United Church of Christ. She is author of Choosing Church: What Makes a Difference for Teens (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

  • Tex Sample

    Tex Sample is Professor Emeritus of Church and Society Saint Paul School of Theology. He lives in Kansas City, Mo. and is the author of Powerful Persuasion: Multimedia Witness in Christian Worship (Abingdon Press, June 2005).

  • Wesley O. Black

    Wesley O. Black, professor of student ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has written about diverse approaches to youth ministry and can talk about what works – and doesn’t work – in ministering to teenagers in churches.

  • Mark Regnerus

    Mark Regnerus is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has done research on the influence of religion on adolescent behavior, including the influence of teens’ religiosity on delinquency, whether they stay in school and what they think about sex, for example. Regnerus is co-author, with Jeremy Uecker, of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying (2010).

  • Patricia Howery Davis

    Patricia Howery Davis is author of Beyond Nice: The Spiritual Wisdom of Adolescent Girls (Fortress Press, 2000).


  • John P. Bartkowski

    John P. Bartkowski is a professor of sociology at Mississippi State University. He has conducted research on religion and families and can speak about how teens’ religiosity affects their involvement in risky behaviors, such as using drugs, and their social relationships, particularly dating patterns. Bartkowski is working on a book about Mormon teen religiosity and another on evangelical parenting. He co-wrote the book Charitable Choices: Religion, Race, and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era (New York University Press, 2003).

In the Midwest

  • Phil Jackson

    Pastor Phil Jackson conducts hip-hop worship services at Lawndale Community Church in Chicago with the Firehouse Community Arts Center, which seeks to “uncover and develop the gifts and strengths of North Lawndale’s youth and young adult residents.”

  • Andrew Careaga

    Andrew Careaga is the author of eMinistry: Connecting With the Net Generation (Kregel, 2001). He is executive director of marketing and communications for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri and has been a volunteer youth pastor at Salem Faith Assembly Church in Salem, Mo. Contact on Twitter @andrewcareaga.

  • Paul Hill

    Paul Hill, formerly a Lutheran parish pastor, was director of the Center for Youth Ministries at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa and is now executive director of Vibrant Faith Ministries in Minneapolis He has been a church camp director and helped plan national events for Lutheran youth, and specializes in ministry with teenage boys.

  • Rhys H. Williams

    Rhys H. Williams is a professor and chair of the sociology department at Loyola University Chicago. He has done research on immigrant college students, including their attitudes toward religion and spirituality. He was also co-director of the Youth and Religion Project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, which did field work in the Chicago area to see how religious institutions can meet the needs of teenagers and young adults.

  • Jeffrey Kaster

    Jeffrey Kaster is an adjunct professor of theology and directs the Youth in Theology and Ministry Program at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. – a program that many of the teenagers who attend it call “God camp.” Students come each summer to learn more about theology and the Catholic faith. Kaster also has written about what Catholic teens need to know about sex and homosexuality.

  • Roland D. Martinson

    Roland D. Martinson is a professor of children, youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He has written books on parenting and youth ministry and has been involved with the Faith Factors project, a longitudinal study of the factors that lead young people who are Lutheran and Baptist to remain involved with their faith traditions.

  • Stephen Warner

    Stephen Warner is professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was co-director of The Youth & Religion Project, funded by the Lilly Endowment. The first phase of that project involved talking to college students of different religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds about their experiences with their religions. A second phase involved observations of youth-oriented events in more than 50 Chicago-area religious institutions. In the third phase, researchers accompanied Christian, Hindu and Muslim families to their religious institutions to understand better how these institutions served their needs.

  • Godfrey Mullen

    The Godfrey Mullen works on the Youth Liturgical Leadership Program offered by the Office of Vocational Development at the St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind. The program works with high school and college students and sponsors “One Bread One Cup” conferences to bring Catholic teenagers to a deeper understanding of the liturgy.

In the West

  • Fred Lynch

    Fred Lynch, a youth evangelist, is the former youth minister at City on a Hill, a nondenominational congregation in Albuquerque, N.M., and founder of UrbNet, the Urban Youth Workers Network.

  • Richard W. Flory

    Richard Flory is a sociologist and senior director of research and evaluation for the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. He studies religious change, the spiritual practices of young adults and religion in Los Angeles. He is the author of Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism and  The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape.

  • Mark Yaconelli

    Mark Yaconelli is co-founder and former director of the Youth Ministry & Spirituality Project at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He has worked to develop a contemplative approach to youth ministry and can talk about adolescent spiritual development, youth ministry practices within mainline churches and teenagers’ responses to ancient disciplines such as silence and solitude, as well as contemplative practices such as lectio divina and centering prayer. Yaconelli says the question he’s heard young people ask most is: Do you know how to stay alive?

  • Kara Powell

    Kara Powell is an assistant professor in youth and family ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and executive director of the seminary’s Center for Youth and Family Ministry. She has worked in college and youth ministry and is co-author of the youth curriculum “Good Sex” as well as “Help! I’m a Woman in Youth Ministry.”

  • V. Bailey Gillespie

    V. Bailey Gillespie is a professor of theology and Christian personality and executive director of The John Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. He can talk about Valuegenesis, a major study of Seventh-day Adventist youth in North America.

  • Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook

    Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, an educator, historian of religion, and practical theologian. She is currently professor of practical theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology, and professor of Anglican Studies at Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont. She is the editor of Disorganized Religion: The Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults (Cowley Publications, 1998). She can discuss LGBT youth and religious education, the ways LGBT youth connect sexuality and faith, and coming-out issues.

Related source guides