How Many Atheists… Really?

Posted on: 09/29/09 3:01 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s interesting to me how often the subject of atheists has come up in conversation lately. Maybe it’s because I just re-read the final edit of my book titled CONNECT, a book that devotes an entire chapter on the type of kid I call the “No-Way-Kid,” a kid who is quick to tell you, “There is no way you’ll ever find me in church!”

Youth workers keep asking me about these types of kids. It seems that I’ve been hearing a lot of conjecture about the growing number unbelieving kids.

Notice the semantics there… I didn’t say “atheists.” We have to be careful with our word choice. If we were talking about atheists… the numbers are much smaller.

How many athiests are there really in the U.S. right now?

Do you want the quick answer? 1.6 percent. That’s right. Not even two percent. Check it out yourself on the chart on page 5 of this “Religious Landscape Study” from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Now, if we expand that definition to include anyone who is “unaffiliated” with any religion, then that percentage would grow to 16.1 percent. That includes atheists, agnostics and those who simply refer to themselves as generally “unaffiliated” with any faith.

If you want to take a closer look at young people specifically, check out the chart on page 40 from the same study. You’ll find that 25 percent of 18-29 year olds (the youngest group surveyed) claimed “unaffiliated,” with 3% claiming to be atheist and 4% claiming agnostic.

25% sounds a little bigger. Think about it. 25% of 18-29 year olds claim no affiliation with any religion.

This is a slight increase from previous data. David chimes in on this increase, looking at this study and others in this week’s Youth Culture Window article.

This isn’t our first article about this study. I referred to it in a blog about the changing U.S. religious beliefs, and David referred to it before in his article about shrinking church attendance.

I encourage you to check out those articles and studies first hand (each article links the original studies so you can investigate it yourself). Fascinating stuff!

Youth Ministry from the 60’s til Now

Posted on: 09/26/09 1:08 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m in downtown Los Angeles teaching at the National Youth Workers Convention… but I’m also recording a bunch of podcasts for you guys that will be appearing on our THE SOURCE PODCAST page this fall. I’m really excited about one that I just recorded this morning with Jim Burns and my dad (no comments about my Manchester United shirt, please). 🙂

We’re calling it the “Old School” podcast, not because they are both old, but because they shared some perspective of what it was like to be a youth pastor in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Better yet, they discussed some of the major lessons they learned as ministry methodology changed over the decades.

I hadn’t even thought about it when I put the podcast together… but it was a fun realization: this podcast features the youth pastors of the adolescent Doug Fields and Chap Clark. Jim Burns was Doug’s youth pastor when Doug was a kid, and my dad was a teenaged Chap Clark’s youth pastor. It was fun to hear a little about these young guys as young growing leaders.

I gleaned a lot from these two guys (Jim and my dad) as they shared about some of the major shifts in youth ministry, including the Jesus movement of the 70’s. It was interesting to hear about the emergence of a “discipleship” focus, and a shift toward relational ministry.

I asked them each what changes were most significant AND what ministry methods they think should never change.

Great wisdom and insight shared.

Coming soon on our THE SOURCE PODCAST.

Heading to Los Angeles

Posted on: 09/24/09 12:01 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Tomorrow morning I’m heading out to teach at the National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles, where it was 100 degrees yesterday. Good thing it’s a youth workers convention… we can wear shorts!

This convention is always a great time for me to connect with youth workers, as well as other speakers and authors. I hope to see some of you there.

My dad and I are driving down together (about 7 hours south… still beats getting on a plane! I fly across the country twice a month… if it’s in CA, I’m driving!!). In the last few years we’ve been teaching some of our NEW BREED workshops together and always have a good time. So I drag him to these conventions every once in a while just for fun. 🙂

I’ll be teaching two workshops at the convention:

1. CONNECT: Engaging One-on-One Relationships. This seminar is based on my upcoming book of the same title.

2. USING 10 MINUTE TALKS: Speaking to Generations with Short Attentions Spans. This seminar really teaches youth workers how to put together shorter, clearer talks, like the ones in my book of the same title.

If you’re going to the convention… be sure to stop and say “hi” at my workshops. I’d love to meet you face to face.

If you’ve not signed up for one of these three National Youth Worker Conventions yet, I’ll be at the Atlanta convention as well, November 20-23, teaching the same two workshops.

For our podcast listeners… we’ll be recording some podcast while at these conventions, so expect some great upcoming podcasts from us with speakers and authors that you’d love to hear from.

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What People Retweet

Posted on: 09/22/09 9:32 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The whole twittering phenomena has been interesting to watch. I’ve resisted, mostly because I think my tweets would be boring (I’m on a plane, I’m writing, I’m on another plane, I’m watching my kid’s soccer game, I’m eating hot wings, I’m freaking exhausted!).

But the Twitter craze continues to boom, even being a big part of the MTV VMA’s preshow this year. (Who is being Twittered about the most on the red-carpet?)

My dad just passed an interesting article to me from Fast Company, a magazine that stays on the cutting edge of successful business ventures. The article is about proven ways to get “Retweeted on Twitter,” highlighting what tweets people want to read and the most ReTweetable (RT) words and phrases. 

I found it fascinating how many of the methods go against what might seem to be popular practices, especially among tweens. For example: the article says to avoid tweeting about idle chit-chat, “boring” activities like just watching TV. Hubspot’s viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella (an avid Twitter-er who spent nine months analyzing roughly 5 million tweets and 40 million retweets) also suggested that Tweeters “Don’t Be Stupid,” knocking the traditional abbreviations and emoticons… you know, like 🙂 Successful retweets also have more punctuation (something most teenagers’ texting does not).


Click here for the entire article.

How Much Influence Does MTV Have?

Posted on: 09/19/09 9:33 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Two weeks ago I told you to set your TIVOs to record the MTV Video Music Awards, referring to the show as one of the top three “portholes into youth culture” you’ll see any given year. Last week I wrote my annual recap of the show, calling it the “biggest pop culture phenomenon of the year.”

Some of you might be wondering why I would cite this show and this channel (MTV) as such a vivid reflection of our culture (and potent influence to it). I mean… seriously. How many people actually watch this show?

Good question. Let’s look at the extent of this channel’s reach, and then, let’s peek at how we can respond like the Apostle Paul.

How many watched the awards on the 13th? 9 million on MTV alone. But if you look at the other channels the show was aired on, the show drew 26.9 million viewers on Sunday night on all three channels (MTV, MTV2 and VH1). But that doesn’t include the 5.5 million who watched it online the next day. These huge numbers make it the #1 viewed cable show of the entire year among people age 12-34 (You can read the whole breakdown of TV viewers here).

An MTV press release expanded on the 5.5 million people who visited the day after the awards, ringing up 53.4 million page views and watching 17.9 million video streams.

MTV General Manager, Kristen Frank commented, “On Sunday night, MTV and were really at the center of the pop culture zeitgeist. The Awards set high marks yet again this year both on-air and online, and we’re really seeing some unprecedented growth for our multimedia content in 2009.”

Hold on a minute… I have to go get my dictionary and look up zeitgeist. Ah, here it is: the ideas prevalent in a period and place, particularly as expressed in literature, philosophy, and religion.

Unfortunately, Kristen is correct. According to their press page, on-air, MTV is the number one rated full-day ad-supported cable network for young people ages 12-24. A few years ago Nielsen Media Research reported that MTV was the most recognized network among young adults age 12 to 34, watched by 73% of boys and 78% of girls age 12 to 19. (

What do all these numbers mean? It means that whatever MTV is slanging (look that word up here)… our kids are listening. That’s why we should probably follow Paul’s example in Acts 17 and at least become aware of the content of this award show, as well as the content of this network’s programming. Unfortunately, I think you’ll find yourself reacting the same way the Apostle Paul reacted in Acts 17 when he walked along the city of Athens and looked at all the idols the people worshipped. He was “distressed.” The New Living Translation describes his reaction as “deeply troubled.”

How do you respond when you are deeply troubled by the elements of our culture?

Hopefully, if you’re looking for how to respond, you’ll continue reading that same passage and see how Paul responded in a reasonable dialogue with the people in the culture. He “reasoned” with them, even citing inscriptions on their idols (vs. 23) and quoting their pagan poets (vs. 28).

I encourage you to do the same.

1. Be deeply troubled when you see these elements in our culture. Don’t get numb to them.

2. Don’t over-react. Instead, ask God to open doors for reasonable conversation with unbelievers. You can even use tools like our MUSIC DISCUSSIONS page or our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS to jumpstart conversations using these elements from secular culture.


Posted on: 09/18/09 5:14 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m in the airport on the way to Houston to teach my CONNECT workshop to youth workers from a group of area churches in Galveston, TX. I love doing this training workshop, equipping youth workers to connect with kids, specifically one-on-one for evangelism and discipleship.

It’s funny. I don’t remember a single talk my youth pastor gave when I was in high school. But I remember him picking me up from school and taking me to lunch. I remember early morning coffees with him.

Connecting makes an impact.

I finally have put my research on this subject into print. My book CONNECT is actually due to hit the shelves this December. YS/Zondervan finished up the cover- check it out! (If you’re going to buy the book, we’ll offer a special deal on this book on our site soon- we’ll throw in something free like always)

I’ll be teaching this workshop (the 2 hour version) at the YS National Youthworkers Conventions as well. Those going to Los Angeles for that convention… I’ll see ya there next week. I’ll also be teaching in the Atlanta one in November.

One of the best parts of this training is a little exercise we do with sticky-notes. I provide youth workers with a tool that helps them be pro-active about connecting with kids for spiritual growth. I give every leader a bunch of sticky notes, then I ask them to write down the names of individual kids on each sticky note and stick it to a chart where they think that kid is spiritually (a spiritual inventory). This tool helps most youth leaders realize several things: 1. They don’t know their kids as well as they thought they did (where is Morgan spiritually? I’m not sure!) 2. It helps them realize the needs these students have.

I love this training. It’s a lot of fun seeing adults get excited about connecting with kids!

To Save a Life

Posted on: 09/15/09 11:16 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m going to be completely honest. Don’t get mad at me for saying this… but I’m not a big fan of most Christian movies.

Trust me, it’s not because they’re Christian. Heck, I’m a believer. I would love for Christian films to be good. My distaste exists simply because many Christian films have been put together by people with great hearts, but not a lot of skill in the area of film making. (just because a restaurant is owned by a Christian, does that necessarily mean the food tastes good?)

WIth that in mind… I recently screened a Christian film written by a youth pastor, a film that I actually liked!  So I wanted to pass my two cents on to all of you. The film is called To Save a Life and will be in theatres this January. But the film makers are doing screenings for youth pastors and churches all over the country (see a list of screenings here) now. You’ll definitely want to catch one of these screenings (see a youth pastor promo video of the film here).

My two cents:

When the filmmakers asked me if I would screen their film, inside I thought, “Oh man. I hope this isn’t another Extreme Days or Left Behind. But I didn’t want to be closed minded, so I gave it a shot. I figured, I’d give it 15 minutes. If it stunk by then… I’d hit eject.

So I gave it a shot.

Not only did I not eject the film after 15 minutes… I don’t think I looked at my watch once.

The cinematography was surprisingly good. It only took me about 90 seconds to realize that. In addition, the story really captured me as a youth worker. I think you’ll find To Save a Life an authentic glimpse into the thoughts of many unbelievers.

The synopsis:

Ever since Jake Taylor was a kid, he was the type of guy you couldn’t help but like. For Jake, life is good. He has friends, fame, a basketball scholarship, a future and the hottest girl in the school. Not much to get down about, right?

Enter Roger Dawson. He’s Jake’s childhood best friend before Jake’s popularity goes into high gear. Miserable and mad over being on the outside of Jake’s, or anybody’s inner circle, he’s tired of being pushed aside by everyone. He walks onto campus with a gun in his pocket and pain in his heart, and makes a tragic move.

Jake is devastated at what Roger has done. And something in him changes. In seeking answers in his own life, one question plagues him the most… Could I have saved him? He is now deeply compelled to reach out to the students who are on the fringe of acceptability by the school’s upper crust. But he finds reaching out to the undesirable threatens his world. He may lose his own friends, his scholarship, his dreams and even his reputation to do it.

Let me not lead you astray, this isn’t the best movie I’ve seen. The film has its flaws (at times I wondered if they tried to cover too many issues in the film—I fear that some might call it preachy). But I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, especially the raw look at the typical American youth group. All too real.

As the story unfolded, I really grew to like the lead, Jake. He was very real. Audiences saw the conflict between just having compassion and acting on it. It’s a real struggle that kids experience.

The youth group scenes were REALLY good. In my Do They Run When They See You Coming? book I gave a similar glimpse of a youth ministry through the eyes of an “unchurched” kid. I’ve used these kinds of stories for years in my student evangelism workshops. This film does the same thing, really capturing that moment through the eyes of the “visitor.”

And a funny side note: the writer made the pastor’s kid the evil nemesis. Classic! (Since he and I are both PKs) Probably not too far from the truth. The writer really understands youth ministry today, revealing both the good and the bad. You’ll meet a couple very real committed kids, and then you’ll meet plenty of “stagnant” kids. A great snapshot of today’s youth groups.

When I finished screening the film, I immediately wanted to see how Christian teenagers would respond to this call to compassion. The message of reaching out on campus is inescapable.

I gathered a group of teens and tweens in my living room and screened it again, this time following the film up with questions. The sheltered kids in the group were a little surprised by some of the raw elements of the film (nothing profane, just the fact that a Christian film showed kids partying and doing what high school students do at parties). They all were really challenged by the film’s authenticity and call to reach out to people outside our normal comfort circles.

So from a youth worker’s perspective… the film was brilliant.

I just trained a group of student leaders on this very subject a few months ago. We specifically talked about what happens when “people walk in the door to our youth room.” Then we talked about the student that will never “walk in our door.” How do we reach out to them? I think this film showed that struggle, and the balanced approach youth ministries need. The film isn’t all about “coming to youth group.” We see believers inviting kids to church, but we also see a Christian who has the guts to walk up to people where they were (a kid at the lunch table, at his house playing video games, etc.)

Keep your eyes out for this film. It probably won’t be winning any awards… but it well worth seeing. Furthermore, it will be a great discussion piece for your Christian students.

Kanye Truly “Heartless”

Posted on: 09/14/09 12:54 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Sunday night millions of teenagers watched The MTV Video Movie Awards to catch a glimpse of the best artists of the day… unfortunately the most of what they caught was the “worst of them.” Kanye was sure at his worst.

If you haven’t read the headlines by now, Kanye did one of his dumbest moves yet live on the show, leaving Taylor Swift in tears. As I sit here and write this blog only hours after the event, articles are already appearing like popcorn all over the internet, filled with new news of Kanye’s rude antics, his removal form the awards, and now his weak apology.  (Sigh.)

I was watching the show Sunday night, my annual glimpse of one of the biggest pop culture phenomenon’s of the day. (As you know, ever year I encourage you to set your TIVOs and watch the show. The day after the awards, I write an article sharing my two cents on the show- ours will appear on the front page of our site late Monday in the Youth Culture Window magnifying glass.) Early in the show, shortly after Katy Perry’s disgusting crotch grab (that’s actually describing it mildly), Kanye West revealed his true self once again with an out of control outburst, walking on stage when Taylor Swift was awarded Best Female Video. Kanye took the mic from her during a pause in her acceptance speech and said, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” Beyonce looked a little confused, and slightly flattered. Boos began echoing throughout the room, disapproving of Kanye. As West left stage, applause began again for Taylor. A stunned Taylor stood there with a horrified look on her face. She never got to finish her speech.

Kanye’s name was mentioned a few times later in the show as a nominee for other awards– a majority of the crowd booed whenever Kanye’s name was mentioned (actually flustering Diddy to stumble over his words).

My heart broke for Taylor Swift. Kanye’s actions were, dare I say, “Heartless.” As this article put it,

“But his verbal attack against Swift had a more vicious tone. According to a tweet from Jay-Z’s DJ, Neil Armstrong, Swift and her mother were seen backstage crying afterward; Beyoncé brought Swift onstage for another chance at her acceptance speech later in the show. Various celebs have lashed out against West on Twitter, including Pink, who had to be escorted away from the rapper by security.

For those of you read our Youth Culture Window article about Kanye last year, his actions Sunday night might not have surprised you. His “apology” wasn’t much of a band aid. Kanye’s blog reveals a little regret as he apologizes to Taylor. But he turns to defend himself by claiming he was just being “real.”

Yeah… a real jackass! (There I go again!)

Catch the whole Youth Culture Window article about the 2009 VMAs here.

Learning from Chris Brown

Posted on: 09/10/09 3:38 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Any regular user of our free youth ministry resources knows that we like to use pop culture as a jumpstarter for discussion. (You may remember discussions we’ve done like the one about “Judging Others” when Susan Boyle was on “Britain’s Got Talent,” or our discussion on “Choices and Their Consequence” when Miley regretted her decision to take some risque’ pics. Hmmmmmmm.) This week we just launched two new discussions that we’ll be featuring on the front page of our site next week (I’m just giving you blog subscribers a sneak peek!) One of these new discussions from our Spiritual Growth Agendas page is about self control, using the Chris Brown incident to launch the discussion and Bible study.

Most of you have heard the buzz about Chris breaking the silence on Larry King last week. We’ve taken this interview and written a lesson about it, with small group questions, scripture and a wrap up. Here’s a snippet:

Main Point of Discussion: Because we all have a sinful nature, we all have the potential to act in terrible ways.  That’s why it is critical as Christians to defeat the inclinations of our flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit

The Background:
R&B singer Chris Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault after a widely publicized incident with his former girlfriend, Rihanna. A second felony charge of making criminal threats was dropped.

On August 25, 2009 Brown was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community labor.

Brown breaks his silence to CNN’s Larry King in his first TV interview since assaulting Rihanna.

He talks about what happened the night of the assault, the infamous photo of a battered Rihanna and his feelings for her today.

Introducing the Clip:
Today I want to show you a clip from the interview with Chris Brown on Larry King Live.  As we watch it, pay close attention to Brown’s tone and wording when he talks about the incident.


(we link the entire CNN clip on the discussion page)

Key Interview Dialogue:

    King: What do you think caused you to be violent? I mean, you have to think about it. Everybody — we all think about ourselves — why did I lose my temper, why did I get angry over this?

    Brown: I mean, that’s relationships. I wouldn’t say it’s O.K. I think, just in relationships in general, there’s chances where you lose your temper or like arguments get heated or whatever the case may be. I’m not saying domestic violence is a part of relationships.

    I feel like that we’re young. We’re both young. So nobody taught us how to love one another. Nobody taught us a book on how to control our emotions or our anger. I’m not trying to fall on the fact that I’m young. I’m just saying it’s a lot of stuff that I wish I could have changed that night.

    King: When you hear about all the things that the police and the reports say you did, how do you react to that?

    Brown: I’ll just look at it and like, “Wow, like, I’m in shock. Because, first of all, that’s not who I am as a person and that’s not who I promise I want to be.

    King: Do you remember doing it?

    Brown: No.

    King: You don’t remember doing it?

    Brown: I don’t. It’s like it’s crazy to me.

    King: You’re a great dancer, a great singer, you’re popular, you’re known all over the world. Do you ever say to yourself I screwed up?

    Brown: Every day. Every day. I think this is probably — like I said, it’s probably one of the worst moments of my life. And I always wish like I could take it back. And every day, it’s just something that sticks in my mind. And I’ve said countless times how sorry I am to Rihanna, and I just accepted full responsibility. But it’s just one of those things I wish I could have relived and just handled totally different.

Transitional Statement:
You probably noticed several interesting things during the interview, one of the most prominent to me is the connection to something that is true for all of us in this room- which is the fact that we all have a side to us we’d rather not admit to having.

Divide into Small Groups…

You can access this entire discussion peice here.

You can access that discussion and our new discussion about being “Changed by Christ,” discussing the tragic death of D.J. AM. … both on our Spiritual Growth Agendas page.

Parents… Start Talking About It

Posted on: 09/9/09 4:44 PM | by Jonathan McKee

We’ve all heard the depressing statistics about sexual activity and unprotected sex among youth today. The question is, “What can we do about it?” According to this article below…

“Start talking.”

I love it. It’s been great seeing various media sources talk about the positive results of parents talking to their kids about real issues. (Not to mention other reports of kids actually enjoying time spent with family)

I’m referring to an article in my own Sacramento Bee yesterday titled Teens and Sex: Can We Talk? The article reveals some recent California statistics about how many kids are having sex, and what parents can do about it. (If you think California is vastly different– be sure to check out the national stats from the Center for Disease Control… I think you’ll be surprised).

Here’s just a snippet:

Children are engaging in sex at younger ages than in the past, experts say, and research indicates that about 40 percent to 50 percent of 15- and 16-year-olds in California are having sex.

Combine that with a steady increase in sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers and a rising teen birth rate, and you have a growing need for parents to educate their children.

“Comprehensive sex education really makes a difference,” said Dr. Glennah Trochet, Sacramento County’s public health officer. “People always think teens aren’t influenced by their parents, but studies show that what their parents tell them, especially if they are very clear, really does influence young people.”

Sacramento County has essentially had an epidemic of chlamydia and gonorrhea among 15-to-24-year-olds for the past nine years, she said.

About one of every 25 females and one of every 80 males ages 15 to 19 in Sacramento County had a reported case of chlamydia or gonorrhea in 2008, according to the state Department of Public Health. And those are only the reported cases, said Trochet, who explained that people may go for years without knowing they have a disease.

Sacramento County ranked fourth and third in rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, respectively, among California counties last year.

“Young people are having unprotected sex, and we need to do a better job of sex education and maybe getting kids to delay sexual activity,” Trochet said.

Birth rates among 15-to-19-year-olds also rose to 38.8 per 1,000 in Sacramento County last year, up from 37 per 1,000 in 2006, mirroring a national trend.

Given those statistics, what’s a parent to do?

Start talking.

That’s good advice. I teach a parenting workshop again this weekend… and that’s really a big part of the advice I give parents. Get into their world (that means learning about youth culture), dialogue with them (I share how to do that here), build a relationship with them, and begin building lasting values.

(ht to Lori- thanks for the article baby!)