Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I was 13 years old when I first heard about Teen Mania. I had just joined my church's youth group, and the youth pastor told us about a Christian youth rally coming to Pittsburgh called Acquire the Fire. My first ATF experience was incredible (at least I thought so at the time)...I grew up simply in a small western-Pennsylvania town, and that ATF convention in 1996 was the first time I remember that I could really feel the presence of God. They were the most emotionally intense two days I had had in my entire life until that point. I remember leaving ATF that evening feeling as though my world had really changed...I had been a Christian before Acquire the Fire, but now I was "on fire," and I was going to go out and stop watching television, listening to secular music, start getting people saved, and go on a missions trip!
Things got extremely difficult for me when I returned home from my missions trip. Teen Mania does very little to prepare kids to return to the "real world" after being part of a Global Expedition. I had many strong emotions when I returned from my trip, but I didn't feel like anyone could really understand what I had just been through and wouldn't really be able to relate. I had talked to pretty much everyone I knew about my trip before I left in an effort to raise money, so of course everyone was asking me about it when I got home. I felt guilty saying anything negative about the trip to people who had donated to help me go, so I covered up my emotions and usually just smiled and said "Oh, it was great!" or something like that.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
Acquire The Fire (ATF) youth rallies are held in large arenas in major cities all across the United States nearly every weekend of the year (except for the summer months). Teen Mania says these live events are all about getting teens fired up for God. Complete with music, live drama, videos, and live teaching, these 2-day conventions draw-in tens of thousands of teenagers every year. The events are expensive to produce, especially because the typical ATF involves lots of pyrotechnics and sophisticated lighting & sound systems. But Teen Mania Ministries has defended the cost of the event, saying it is worth it because teens have genuine encounters with God during these weekends. Indeed, many kids do report making first-time commitments (or re-commitments) to Christ at these rallies, and some have even credited ATF for "changing their lives."
Unfortunately, at Acquire The Fire there is also a heavy emphasis on recruiting kids for other Teen Mania programs. Starting early in the first session and continuing all weekend, people attending Acquire The Fire are literally presented with dozens of advertisements for Teen Mania's Global Expeditions and Honor Academy programs. Slickly-produced videos featuring attractive interns as actors make Teen Mania's programs look like the adventure of a lifetime and help to generate interest. Then Ron Luce speaks from stage about needing to completely dedicate your life to Christ, and he has just the suggestion to help you do it--sign up for another Teen Mania program!
All weekend long, the message is pounded home that the "most radical" Christians go on short-term missions trips or sign up for the Honor Academy internship. Teens are encouraged to really pray about whether or not God is calling them to sign up for one of these programs, and if they "feel" any sort of inkling that He might be, they are encouraged to visit a booth and talk to a current Teen Mania staff member or intern. From there, it's a high-pressure sales routine like you wouldn't believe. Interns gush about how wonderful Teen Mania is, and how great & fun missions trips are--or how much God will change your life at the Honor Academy. Somehow, they fail to mention the serious health & safety issues, not to mention the strict rules, involved with these programs. Teens are encouraged to fill out applications for these programs on the spot, before talking to their parents about it. TMM discounts the application fees "just for this weekend" and offers to bill teens for the fee later if they don't have the money on hand.
The recruiting tactics get even more intense specifically for the Honor Academy, Teen Mania's free workforce. Juniors & seniors in high school are offered a free pizza lunch in exchange for sitting through a one-hour presentation about the Honor Academy. Don't underestimate how powerful this is as a recruiting tactic for lower-income, inner-city teens. Teens are encouraged to sign-up to attend a free "campus preview weekend" at Teen Mania's headquarters in Texas, just to see if the Honor Academy "might be something they like." Throughout the weekend, Teen Mania gathers as much personal contact information as they can about potential recruits so that they can keep marketing these programs to teens well-after Acquire The Fire has packed up and moved to the next city.
Make no mistake about it: missions trips and the internship program make up a very large percentage of Teen Mania's income for the year, and the organization's existence depend on keeping these programs chock-full of paying customers. A single teen that goes on a Global Expedition represents anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 of revenue for TMM, and a first year intern brings in a whopping $8400 worth of income for teen mania (much more if the recruit joins the "Center for Creative Media" program). Teen Mania has massive bills to pay, and the pressure is on to keep the recruits coming and the money flowing in.
At Acquire The Fire rallies, recruiting goals meet a presentation of the gospel, which results in a dangerous and damaging climate for teenagers. Attendees get all hyped-up about "living their lives for God" by stunning, multimedia stage shows, and then their level of commitment as a Christian is tied to whether or not they sign up for one of Teen Mania's other income-generating programs. Teen Mania openly refers to participants in the Honor Academy as "the cream of the crop" and "elite warriors," preying on young people who just want to live for Christ and need some guidance about how to do that. This is great for Teen Mania's bottom line, but not so great for teenagers. Some teens make it through Teen Mania's programs just fine, but others not so much. When a teen's sense of self-worth and spiritual well-being are tied to their level of success in an organization, and they happen not to fit-in there, damaged and broken lives are the inevitable end result.
Friday, April 2, 2010
- You could write a letter to Teen Mania and tell them how they hurt you.
- You could start to speak up about your negative Teen Mania experiences whenever you hear someone talking about the organization.
- You could talk to your pastor, and the pastors of other churches, about your experience with Teen Mania and why you think it is a dangerous place for kids.
- You could write a "Letter to the Editor" of your local newspaper whenever Acquire the Fire comes to town.
- You could politely decline a request by a teenage missionary or intern to donate to Teen Mania, and tell them why you are doing so.
- You could Tweet or post on Facebook and explain to people how Teen Mania damages kids lives.
- You could organize a protest at an Acquire the Fire or BattleCry event, or just go give kids more information about what Teen Mania is really all about.
- You could even start a blog! (Sorry, I had to.)
Thursday, April 1, 2010
When trying to figure out how to confront a large organization like Teen Mania, the task can seem daunting and it is easy to believe that nothing you do will be able to make a difference in the long run. But it can help to look at it as trying to dismantle a large machine. You might not be able to stop a car with brute force, but if you start ripping stuff out from under the hood piece by piece, you can be pretty sure that eventually the car will stop.