In 2005 two sociologists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, published a book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, reprinted 2009). They conducted a comprehensive study of religion and teenagers, and discovered a newly dominant creed that they called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager's life.
They lay out five points of MTD:
1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
See the Wikipedia entry here.
This helps us in working with teens, to realize the larger context of the civil religion of American youth in general. Then we can hopefully be able to teach a more biblical view of the gospel and life to our young adults.
Some assessments worth reading:
Ross Douthat calls MTD "the Oprahfication of Christianity".
Here's CNN on MTD: "If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust. Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about."
And finally, Albert Mohler: "The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, 'I believe there is a God and stuff,' this hardly represents a profound theological commitment."