Saturday, June 29, 2002

Young people find a welcome

Psalty entertains; pop singers inspire

By Erica Solvig,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Like many teen-agers, Melissa Woods has two, almost-distinct groups of friends: the ones from school and the ones from church. And while the 16-year-old Princeton High School junior makes her Christianity known to her school friends, she sometimes finds it difficult to talk with them about religion.

Psalty the Singing Song Book hugs Catherine Crowe, 6, of White Oak, during Kids Fest at Sawyer Point June 1. Psalty will be at this morning's Kidz Gig.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        “If I CAN tell they're uneasy about it, I just drop it,” she says. “I don't push it on them.”

        But she's very open about the topic with her friends from Tri-County Assembly of God in Fairfield, where the Waterline youth group meets Wednesday nights — and while attending the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Billy Graham mission this weekend.

        Organizers have put together events to attract young people like Melissa and her peers, as well as younger children, especially today.

        This morning's 90-minute Kidz Gig, which starts at 10:30 a.m., is a musical presentation for younger children. The message will be shared by Psalty the Singing Songbook, a popular character in Christian literature.

        Tonight's concert for the NeXt Generation will attract teens and other young people. Well-known Christian musicians Kirk Franklin and dc Talk will take the stage at 6:30 p.m.

        The Rev. Mr. Graham has long been trying to broaden the audiences for his evangelistic message.

        But setting aside large parts of the missions for such youth events is a relatively new concept, says the Rev. Rick Marshall, director of missions. Psalty joined the Graham event in the early 1990s, and the teen concert debuted in 1994 in Cleveland.

        Youth-focused services is a trend that Mr. Marshall has seen in churches nationwide during the last 10 to 15 years.

        “If we don't touch the next generation, we will become extinct in one or two generations,” he says.

Reaching out to kids

        Bill and Liz Smith are youth leaders at New Harmony Baptist Church in Milford. Mrs. Smith said churches need to do more to reach out to young people who need more spiritual guidance to face the struggles in their lives.

        “I would love to see churches be more interested in the youth and show more concern,” she says. “I don't think there is near as much as should be. But I don't think there ever will be.”

        A study released this year by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that almost half of the more than 2,000 teens ages 11-18 attended church at least three times a month. The study also reported that more than 80 percent of the teens thought that religion is important in their lives.

        Despite these numbers, it is difficult for teens to stay true to their faith on a daily basis because of peer pressure. Mrs. Smith says her teens often express their struggles in their regular prayer sessions.

        “In our Sunday morning class, we will take a half hour just to do our prayer and praises,” she says. “They just have so many concerns in their heart.”

Secular competition

        Pastor Joanne Sizoo of Norwood Presbyterian Church says her congregation of 75 active members has little youth participation.

        “It's a real challenge,” Pastor Sizoo says. “It's easy to entertain kids right now and it's difficult to "compete' with all the different events for the really over-scheduled young people right now.”

        Fourteen-year-olds Rachel Olney and Kari Strittholt of Mount Healthy say they have both been made fun of because they attend church. Kari says they usually just shrug off the comments and explain that they like church.

        But sometimes that can be difficult.

        “I guess a big problem is peer pressure,” Rachel says. “You just want to try to be cool and do what they're doing.”

Click through photo gallery
Audience relishes chance to witness historic giant
Excerpts of Graham's sermon
What you need to know about today's services
- Young people find a welcome
Slow donations threaten shortfall
Star of Christian music hurts for her hometown
RADEL: Don't limit your prayers to stadium
Mission Memories
Stadium only one mission location
Bengals stadium shop does brisk business
Liquor stores, bars slow despite crowds
Complete Mission details in our special section