Too many young people are growing up without a religion, says Joe Davis, who has made it his mission in Howard County to help fill that void.
As area director for Young Life Ministry of Howard County, he introduces high schoolers to church.
"If we can really turn around one kid, then we've really been successful," Mr. Davis said. "It's amazing how many kids talk about having no interest in God."
Young Life is part of an international organization. The local group started in Howard County in 1968 to reach unchurched high schoolers, said Mr. Davis, the only paid staffer. Today, there are about 150 teen-agers involved from the county's eight public high schools.
The nondenominational group is supported by Mount Zion United Methodist, Chapelgate Presbyterian and other churches.
Leaders say they do not preach to students or tell them to go to church. Instead, they shepherd the high school students through weekly Bible study and club meetings, Mr. Davis said.
For example, Young Lifers meet at members' homes to sing songs from "Johnny B. Goode" to "Amazing Grace," perform skits and learn about the Bible.
"It's a para-church organization for kids disinterested in [church] or who have fallen through the cracks," Mr. Davis said.
"It's a good place to go," said Carey Beth Anthony, 16, a junior at Glenelg High School who joined Young Life last summer.
"There's no pressure to do anything bad like drink . . . It's wholesome. It's good fun," she said.
The Young Life groups draw their members from schools in the same parts of the county. Volunteer leaders build relationships with students at after-school events. Students from the different schools gather for various activities, including an annual banquet.
"Young Life gives you a place you can feel comfortable being yourself," said Benjamin H. Colvard, 17, of Ellicott City.
He began attending the meetings four years ago after his older sister introduced him to the group. "It's made me a better person," he said.
Rick Alvarado, 18, of Oakland Mills, a local songwriter, was to perform an original song at an annual benefit concert to raise money for Young Life programs. The concert had been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. yesterday at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, but was canceled because of the weather and has yet to be rescheduled.
John and James Mackin, 22-year-old twins, who joined Young Life in 1985, also were scheduled to perform their original Christian raps.
"We grew up in Columbia interested in rap at that time," said James, who said the rap genre "started getting a little unclean."
James said the brothers heard a Christian rapper and "that's the first time we got the idea we could use rap with Christian lyrics . . . It's definitely coming into its own."