It's what you might expect at the cavernous RCA Dome in Indianapolis on a given Friday night: Excited teens stream steadily from buses and vans into what promises to be a signature event of celebrity acts, big-screen TV monitors, and a booming sound system that penetrates every corner of the stadium and then some.
But take a closer look. The crowd is clean-cut not much in the way of body-piercing or belly shirts here. Adult chaperones are sprinkled in among the teenagers. And the topic on everyone's mind is ... praising the Lord.
For a full weekend recently (see story, right), thousands of teens gathered to listen to evangelical messages about taking God seriously in their lives. En masse, they prayed and pledged, joined hands and wept. Some of it had a familiar ring: Change the clothing and the venue, and you might have thought you were eavesdropping on America's 18th-century Great Awakening and Jonathan Edwards's emotional preaching. Edwards urged eschewing "gratification of pride, or vanity"; Ron Luce, founder of the Teen Mania ministry, updated that by asking teens to rethink the value placed on popularity and money.
Teens' interest in spirituality has spiked noticeably in the past decade. For some, it's a personal quest best pursued individually and quietly. Others like small study groups. And more than a few vote for the rock-concert approach.
Many of those who attended said they were there for the sheer joy of togetherness. They'd draw on a new sense of unity when they went home. And ultimately, that's where the test will come: far from any crowd, amid bland pressures to conform in thinking as much as in clothing. As one observer noted: the big time is fine, but what matters is "the day-to-day trying to live out the Christian faith."