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WASHINGTON - Michael Stipe may have been losing his religion in the early nineties, but according to a new study, his Generation Y predecessors may be trying to find theirs again. A study commissioned by the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, a Jewish group, found that many young Americans want to develop a connection with religion, but can’t relate to adult-dominated traditional practices.

The results of the study, which polled more than 1,000 people between ages 10 and 18, were released in January and show that two out of three young people say religion and faith are important to them. Of those, 92 percent want a stronger connection with their religion and 43 percent of those are unsure how to connect.

Organizations like BBYO are addressing these statistics by creating forums for young people to discuss their faith. BBYO recently launched “b-linked,” a Web site where young people can connect with other teens with similar backgrounds and beliefs.

“I think the approach that we’re taking, and that parents could consider as well, is that you have to provide a fertile ground for teens to figure it out for themselves,” said Matthew Grossman, BBYO’s executive director.

Young people want to find a “meaningful connection” to religion, said Grossman, but they must find that connection on their own.

“If we spoon feed it to them, it’s less likely that it will resonate with them,” Grossman said.

Adam Kornetsky, a 17-year-old high-school senior from Sharon, Mass., is president of BBYO’s New England region.

“In my experience, I really think that for the most part, kids do want to have a connection with their religion,” he said. “They often struggle with that.”

Religious organizations must compete with school, family, friends and even commercial products to get teens’ attention, Kornetsky said.

“It’s really important that different religious groups try to market towards teens,” he said. “There’s so much out there competing for the teen’s attention these days.”

Young Life, a national non-denominational Christian youth organization, is another organization looking to help teens connect to religion. Many of the middle-school and high-school students who become involved are interested in learning more about faith but question conventional manners of worship, said Sarah Knott, a Young Life spokeswoman.

“Our prime targets are kids that normally wouldn’t step foot in a church,” Knott said. “We’re all about befriending kids and walking beside them in life and meeting them where they are in life.”

Tom Combes, who works at Young Life, said any religion that wants to connect to young people must foster “trust relationships” with them and provide them with adult mentors.

At Young Life, “we just kind of create a relationship of trust where we say, ‘Here’s Christianity, what does this mean to you?’” Combes said.

Some leaders of faith-based groups also think that using technology is an important way to foster a relationship between people born after 1980 and their faith.

“This generation – popularly defined as Generation Y – is very influenced by technology,” Grossman said. “They have the world at their fingertips. They have no barriers and no boundaries … that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.”

Kornetsky agreed. “It’s the best way [to connect]. Everything is on the internet now,” he said. “Unfortunately it’s gotten to the point where everything has to go virtual. I think some things are lost in the translation.”

Another recent study making the connection between Generation Y and technological advances is titled “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era.” The study focused on a slightly older population, more than 1,300 18 to 25 year olds. The study was commissioned by Reboot, a Jewish organization that works to make centuries old traditions resonate in modern times. Of the group studied, 27 percent said religion and God were a central part of their daily lives, and 27 percent said organized religion played little daily role. Forty-six percent said they were uncertain.

Generation Y is also exposed to many more religions than their parent’s generation. Only 7 percent of 18 to 25 year olds say most of their friends are the same religion, Reboot reported.

The Reboot study points to “a generation of individuals” looking to define their own faith, rather than simply accept what their parents tell them is correct.

“The survey paints a composite picture of a generation who are seekers far more than they are drifters – a world away from their portrayal as stereotypical automatons we so often imagine as receiving their values directly from Paris Hilton or Justin Timberlake’s PR spokesperson,” Reboot stated.


- By Kate Cooper  Medill News Service

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