LAFAYETTE - A sermon at Flatirons Community Church might dissect a song from Coldplay or Foo Fighters. Or it might trace Anakin's journey to the dark side in Star Wars.
The nondenominational Lafayette church and others like it are turning to pop culture, hip-hop and Hollywood to draw in teens and one of the most difficult-to-reach population segments - college students.
In a national study by the University of California at Los Angeles last year, large numbers of college freshmen - four in five - reported an interest in spirituality. But experts say formal participation in religion, such as attending services, drops off significantly in the college years and remains low until around the time young adults build their own families. Religious organizations intent on attracting teens and twentysomethings say they're trying to tap into that spirituality with modern, multimedia messages that are "relevant" to today's young adults.
"We do a ton of secular music - Avril Lavigne, even Eminem - and we get flak for that stuff sometimes," said Curt Cavnar, Flatirons spokesman. "But the idea is we're trying to bring church into the world where people live, not ask them to come into something stark and cold and foreign to them.
"We're competing against concerts, events, studies, partying, hanging out with friends, and jobs. So to get them for an hour on Sunday, wow, you'd better be appealing and relevant."
About 20 percent of the church's 4,000-member congregation is made up of college students, Cavnar said.
Despite being part of the young crowd there, 19-year-old Betsy Burnett - a junior at the University of Colorado who grew up in Lafayette - said she's a rarity on the Boulder campus because she goes to church regularly.
"It's the first time in your life you have a choice of what to do, and people are trying to prove their independence," she said.
First Presbyterian Church in Boulder draws more than 700 college students to Tuesday night ministries geared toward young adults.
Joseph Penta, who was president of a Christian fraternity at CU before graduating last spring, spent his Tuesday nights there.
"At an age when you question everything, I wanted to be a part of that but at the same time grounded in my beliefs," said Penta. "My faith was my own, not forced on me, so it wasn't a matter of breaking free from authority."
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