Omigod! It’s, like, a phone call from, like, God!
Flip open thy cellphone and listen. It’s your Creator calling.
When a nonprofit Christian media organization wanted to figure out how to get Scripture into the hands of more teenagers, it turned to one of teens’ favorite accessories: the cellphone.
“It’s something that they already carry with them,” said Michael Krause, development manager for Back to the Bible. Various studies show that anywhere between 60 percent and 75 percent of teenagers own cellphones.
Students who attend a Christian youth conference this weekend in Saratoga Springs can sign up to get calls “from God” on their cellphones.
Dubbed “411GOD,” the service is free to youngsters for 90 days as readers move through the Gospel of John, one minute a day.
Back to the Bible, which puts on a nationally broadcast radio show out of its Lincoln, Neb., headquarters, surveyed youths at last year’s Excel conference at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The group learned that teens could use some help connecting the Bible with their everyday lives, Krause said.
Bringing Scripture to their cellphones may help teens connect with one of Christianity’s central points: that the Bible is the word of God, and reading it is the same as listening to God talk.
“He talks directly to my life. It’s communication, just like getting a call on your cellphone,” Krause said.
This year’s regional Excel conference is the Nebraska organization’s first public launch of “411GOD,” which it hopes to introduce nationwide in the future, he said.
Teens will sign up for the calls to their cellphones — right now, 411GOD can’t do land lines or podcasts — during the conference that runs from Friday through Monday. They can pick what time of day they want to receive the call.
This weekend, they’ll receive Bible verses related to the conference theme, “Follow Christ: Surrender, Scripture, Service,” and the reading of the Gospel of John will start Monday.
Krause said Back to the Bible expects to continue the service after the first 90 days, but there likely will be a modest subscription fee.
About 10 voice actors will portray the characters in the Bible, speaking the dialog in the book of John rather than simply reading verse after verse, Krause said.
For example, Jesus’ words will be read by the same man through the whole book of John. Most of the readers are men, although there is one woman, he said.
Back to the Bible’s chief executive officer, Arnie Cole, will attend the conference, said Dave Lenehan, conference director who works for the Capital District Youth for Christ in Latham.
The regional conference is expected to draw more than 1,500 young people from New York, western Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, he said.
Many of them will stay overnight in Saratoga Springs, giving the city an economic boost, as most of the City’s Center’s conferences do. Lenehan said the conference attendees have completely filled the Saratoga Hotel and also booked rooms at other hotels in the city.
The nondenominational conference draws Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal and other teens, he said.
The conference has been held since 1986, and has been in Saratoga Springs for all but the first two of those years, when it was staged in Syracuse.
In the late 1990s, it drew more teens than it does now — about 1,850, Lenehan said.
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