Fighting a deconversion trend among youth | WORLD
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Helping in their unbelief

TRENDING | Houston ministry uses drama to get teens to open up about spiritual doubts

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Helping in their unbelief
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IN A VIDEO CALLED “Doubt: My Deconversion,” a young man wonders if everything about his religion and belief system is wrong. He’s just viewed a social media post in which a young woman tells her audience that everything she was taught about Christianity growing up was “a lie” and that Jesus is “a myth.”

The video is part of a series from a ministry called Darkroom Faith. As if the culture weren’t hostile enough already, young Christians also face the deconversion trend, which curries likes and shares with courageous-seeming stories of people abandoning Christianity. Darkroom Faith is battling back, using the medium of film to build up young believers by addressing—instead of running from—hard questions about Christianity.

Founder and President Randy Templeton lives in Sugar Land, Texas, a growing and diverse city right outside of Houston. He came up with the idea for Darkroom after hearing other parents at his church, Sugar Land Baptist, express concern about the challenges teenagers face in what he calls “a post-Christian culture.”

Amid the constant influence of social media, students were hearing messages negating “everything they were taught about their faith.” Templeton and his creative team developed the 14-episode dramatic video series to get students to think about real-world scenarios that reflect the difficult situations they face in everyday life. But the episodes aren’t at all like Sunday school, where there’s almost always a right answer. Instead, they raise important questions without immediately giving answers.

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With installments such as “Science: I Guess I’m an Atheist,” “Bible: DM From God,” and “Suffering: Max Wants To End It All,” the videos present believable situations that are contemporary and relatable. Key themes center on the intersection of intellectual curiosity and the emotional experience of doubt. Stories focus on characters as they wrestle through uncertainties that mirror those of the intended audience.

In “Love: Emma’s Kinda Jealous,” the viewer is taken on a roller ­coaster of challenges regarding sex. One young man says, “Double Spoiler: I’m a virgin,” and then later says, “Sometimes I wonder how much is too far.” Jealousy, porn, and random creeps who send kids direct messages are all part of a mosaic of decisions young people face. In another episode, a young woman lets compromising photos of herself be released on social media—and her friend says “then things got really dark.”

It may be a sobering experience for parents and leaders to see the minefield of decisions that characterizes the contemporary world. In each episode, the drama is followed by a historical unpacking of the topic addressed, and then a Christian view of that issue. The goal is to prompt discussion among the students who watch. The program has invested over $1 million and three years of work in creating the videos, which include a printed curriculum and guidance for adults to engage with students.

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The ministry provides all these materials at no cost and says it has reached more than 160,000 students through 5,100 leaders. According to the ministry’s internal surveys, 8 in 10 leaders reported “significant improvement in student engagement and understanding of faith related topics,” with leaders noticing that the program increases attendance. Templeton says the first priority for the series was to reach student ministers, but his team is now developing materials for parents, Christian schools, and the Catholic community.

Darkroom Faith’s goal is to reach 1 million students by 2030. Templeton’s plans include working with the Jesus Film Project and “dubbing the video series into several new languages.” The ministry hopes to produce 4-6 new episodes to go along with the 14 already completed.

The goal is to break the silence of students and get them to talk about the questions and doubts that they hold but don’t feel comfortable expressing.

Yet Darkroom Faith has not been without its challenges. Templeton said some leaders wish the group offered more detailed Biblical responses to the questions discussed. “While we point them to the Biblical truth,” he said, “telling them exactly how they should land on an issue is counter to how this generation forms opinions and would stifle our desire to break the silence of their doubt.” Templeton says the episodes “were designed as an engagement tool, not as an educational tool” and that the ministry “made the student the protagonist in the episodes so that students who watch the videos see themselves in the characters.”

However, one theologically jarring moment occurs in the “Love” episode when an adult—amid a strong Biblical call for everyone to flee sexual immorality—says devoted Christians have “come to very different conclusions” about sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Darkroom says youth leaders have omitted the “Love” episode because it is not LGBTQ-affirming.

Darkroom’s videos will no doubt spark discussion among teens. But much depends on the Biblical fidelity of group leaders—and whether they guide those discussions toward steadfast orthodoxy or cultural compromise.


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