Lifestyle Magazines Targeted at Young Audiences Find Religion

By Max Gross

Published September 12, 2003, issue of September 12, 2003.

When you spot your beau in the cafeteria, is he: A) Bullying the class nerd into “sharing” his dessert? B) Starting a food fight? C) Laughing at his table with friends? Or D) Sitting with the lonely new kid?

If you answered “D,” you have “a godly guy”— at least in the opinion of Revolve, the new bible for teenage Christian girls.

Revolve marks the newest merger between the popular media and religion. Revolve is a glossy magazine-style publication — on its cover are three laughing, acne-free teenage girls who would look at home on any copy of Cosmo Girl or Teen People — but don’t be deceived: Between the apple-cheeked models, beauty tips and quizzes (like “Is Your Boyfriend a Godly Man-in-Training?”) Revolve includes a complete copy of the New Century Version of the New Testament.

“We did a lot of testing,” said Laurie Whaley, a spokesman for Thomas Nelson, the Tennessee-based Christian publisher who put out Revolve. “We went out and asked [girls] how often they read the Bible. They said, ‘We don’t read it — it’s too freaky, too big.’”

Revolve researchers found that teenage girls were instead reading a tremendous number of lifestyle magazines. Revolve editors asked themselves: What about combining the content of the Scriptures with the format of a glossy magazine? They hired the Irish design firm Four 5 One to format the book, and over the course of more than 18 months they compiled quizzes, teen factoids and beauty secrets to accompany the basic text — although some teens will be disappointed to find that the beauty secrets focus more on “inner beauty.”

It is not the first time Thomas Nelson has published a New Testament for teens. “Extreme Teen,” a book-form Bible first published in 1998, is also intended for teens, but this is the first time it has taken on the magazine format. (Thomas Nelson is planning to produce a similar magazine-style New Testament for boys next year.) And so far the magazine has been extremely successful. In the past six weeks it has become one of the fastest-selling Bibles in the country.

Might this signal a new trend of religious publications aimed at teens?

Jewish Family & Life! a nonprofit Jewish organization that specializes in Jewish Web sites, just finished the prototype of its new Jewish teen magazine, JVibe. JVibe will also offer quizzes (“Are You a Natural Born Leader?”), polls (“How Have/Would You Handle It If a Friend Made an Anti-Semitic Joke In Front of You?”) and a cartoon Jewish superhero, “Kick-Butt.” JVibe has not announced a definitive launch date nor a firm publication schedule.

Like Revolve, JVibe is dedicated to delivering a religious message to teens. “There is a dramatic drop-off in what we call communal stickiness after the bar/bat mitzvah,” said Yossi Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life! According to Abramowitz, only 20% of Jewish teens are still active in Jewish life by their senior year of college. “You go from the heights [before the bar mitzvah] where 70% to 80% are engaged at some level and then there’s this terrible fallout.”

But unlike Revolve, JVibe won’t simply take traditional Scripture and wrap it in a glossy package. JVibe, instead, will be a more typical periodical with regular features — but with a religious bent.

“It’s different from Revolve in that we heard clearly from Jewish teens they don’t want anything preachy,” Abramowitz said. Jewish teens are “not likely to be tricked. Just because you’ve put out a flashy, Cosmo-looking cover doesn’t mean you’re going to see through [to the] ultimate” point.



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