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Another site, IslamiCity.com, offers a variety of activities for Muslim youth, including a Koran-recitation competition for users between the ages of 6 and 25. Their recitation is made available to other visitors in streaming format and ranked by a panel of judges. "Parents really want to encourage their children to participate," says Mohammed Abdul Aleem, CEO of the site. Before Sept. 11, according to Aleem, the site had about 400,000 unique users a month; now it's up to 1 million.
Online radio is another venue for spiritual content for kids. Founded two years ago, acaza.com is a Christian music site aimed at 12- to 24-year-olds. Relaunched in February, the station, according to general manager John Macleod, has had almost a fourfold increase in visitors. "The teen demographic has been neglected somewhat," says Macleod. The site has all the bells and whistles of other hipper-than-thou music sites, including snappy graphics, news about bands and discussion boards. Recent topic: compromised Christians (that is, those not committed enough to Christ).
Music has always been a great proselytizing tool, and Christian bands like P.O.D. have learned much from their secular brethren about selling themselves and their message. In look and attitude they are often indistinguishable from secular bands. P.O.D. even played on Saturday Night Live last month. "Kids have so many choices that when they buy something, it has to hit them on numerous
levels," says Ron Shapiro, co-president of Atlantic Records, P.O.D.'s distributor. "It's about the music and the message." A typical P.O.D. lyric is pointed but tries to avoid religious cliche: "Commit my life to rebirth, well respected, 'cause that's my word/I'm sure you heard, about a new sound going around."
Rabbi Davidson points out that if there's a downside to turning to the media for finding one's spiritual satisfaction, it may be the risk of creating a sense of isolation. "It's positive that youth are searching for something in their lives, but if the search is done alone, it separates kids from a wider religious community. One beautiful aspect of religion is that you become part of a religious family."
Enter Teen Mania. Combining teens' desire to belong to a larger group while also catering to their appetite for popular culture, Teen Mania started the Acquire the Fire rallies in 1991. The fast-paced live events, with light shows, music and dancers, offer a 21st century iteration of the Gospel and draw 5,000 to 10,000 kids each weekend. Ron Luce, head of the organization, aims to have something different happening onstage every five or six minutes, and each song or performance, skit, speech or video clip carries a Gospel message. Significantly, five or six minutes is about the length of two rock videos.
"We're communicating in a way that kids are used to receiving," Luce explains. Thus there's also a website that receives more than 9 million hits a month and a TV series that airs on Christian networks. Last month the organization's yearly convention, "Stand Up: The Invasion," drew an estimated 45,000 young attendees to Indianapolis. "The message was to invade the world with the love of God," says Luce.
Teen Mania wants to move teenagers beyond complacency, as it did with Jessica Ray. "Our attendance has grown 15% over last year. It's indicative of a spiritual hunger," says Luce. "We're not a bunch of hype. We're helping kids to feel real with God, and we're doing it in teenage language." And those who have the pierced ears to hear the message are listening in.