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I have good news for the sainted souls who serve on youth minister search committees at churches across the land. Your job just got easier.

To identify promising candidates, you only need to ask two questions. First, "Have you read Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers?"

If the answer is no, politely move on to another interview. If the answer is yes, your second question should be, "What are you going to do about it?"

No book in recent memory has as much potential to transform the practice of youth ministry as Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton's account of the findings of their National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). Smith, a committed Christian who may be his generation's most significant sociologist of religion, carefully designed not only an in-depth phone survey of 3,290 teenagers and their parents, but also crafted 267 in-person interviews. The results overturn nearly every piece of conventional wisdom about teens and faith.

There is no generation gap. The NSYR finds that youth overwhelmingly admire and practice the religion of their parents, just as other studies have shown that teens these days overwhelmingly admire and like their parents. The baby-boomer ethos of adolescent rebellion has disappeared—if, indeed, it ever was so widespread as the media would have us believe.

Teens like church. There simply isn't much hostility to organized religion among 13- to 17-year-olds, Smith and Denton find: "U.S. teens as a whole report that they would like to attend religious services even more than they currently do."

Teens are not "spiritual seekers." Vanishingly few have heard the phrase "spiritual but not religious," the mantra of baby-boomer, mix-and-match spirituality. ...

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April 2005

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