Non-denomination religion gaining ground with youth

Programs now promote simple Christianity

HIGHLAND HEIGHT, Ky. - Traditionally, those who practiced a religion often identifiedfirst and foremost with their church affiliation.

Methodists, Baptists, Catholics and Lutherans each held theirown identification. Today however, denomination seems less criticalin the United States and maybe even less relevant as the numbers inmainline Protestant denominations slide. Even the largestdenomination, the Roman Catholic church, has seen little growth andSouthern Baptist Convention, the nation's second largestdenomination and long a reliable generator of church growth, saw adecline in membership for the third year in a row, according to areport issued this week by the National Council of Churches.

Non-denominational churches are more popular than ever amongyouth. Young people who are drawn to religion increasingly classifythemselves as nothing more than Christian, rather than by churchname.

Christ in Youth is one such group promoting the melting pot ofChristianity.

For more than 40 years, CIY has spread from its humble roots inJoplin, Mo. to become a national youth ministry. The group reachesmore than 70,000 middle-school students each year, and holds 95programs in 21 different countries.

Fast-paced music, dramatic productions and inspiring speecheshighlight the productions put on CIY, which has toured arenas andconcert halls throughout the United States since 1998.

"We're trying to reach out to as many kids as we can with ourmessage, so we fall under the broad category of Christian," saidCIY's junior high marketing coordinator Corina Ferguson. She added,however, that very few Catholics attend the events.

The group's current Believe Tour is especially popular with theyoung crowd, as evidenced by the increased attendance figures eachyear. The group's show this weekend at the Bank of Kentucky Centerin Highland Heights is already pulling in 500 additionalreservations from last year.

"Some churches are certainly bringing more students thanothers," Ferguson said. "Southeast Church in Louisville is set tobring up 360 students. Some churches have brought as little asthree."

Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky should be well represented atthe event with more than 4,500 students from the region expected toattend. Anderson Hills United Methodist will add 18 students to thetotal. Youth pastor Brian Ferry said the excitement among the youngpeople has been brewing for months.

"It's one of the only big things we do all year," said Ferry."(The event) does a great job relating to the kids. They feel likethey're a part of something huge with so many others who think likethem. They may not feel this way at school"

Relating to others certainly has appeal, but perhaps the reasonfor the anticipation is simpler: it's just plain fun.

"We're making a late night of it," said Parkside ChristianChurch student minister Matt Robinson. "This is our fourth straightyear and nobody ever gets bored or disengaged."

Robinson and Ferry are taking a combined 63 students to theBelieve Tour.

"One of the high points of the trip is always the group time,"said Robinson. "We hit IHOP the night before; we'll own IHOP onFriday night."

It's quite common for local churches to house those who havetraveled out of state for the weekend retreat as well. ParksideChurch will have about 100 people sleeping there Friday night.

Non-denominational programs like the Believe Tour may be oneexplanation for the blending of religion, but the numbers speak forthemselves.

Twenty one of the top 25 church denominations reported a loss inmembership in 2011, according to the Yearbook of American &Canadian Churches report issued earlier this week.

Consequently, 15 percent of all U.S. churches identifiedthemselves as nondenominational this year, up from 5 percent adecade ago.

Church denominations may be a dying breed altogether as anewgeneration of worshipers identify themselves only as Christian andwhen they attend church, attend those churches that aren't alignedwith any denominational label.




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