Christians adopt a different kind of 'Halo' to draw in teenagers

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Evangelical Christian groups in the US have seized on an unlikely recruiting tool to attract teenagers to the church: a violent, shoot-'em-up video game.

Church groups across the country are increasingly holding special "Halo" gaming nights for youngsters, tapping into the phenomenal success of the Microsoft Xbox video game series, the third instalment of which was released last month.

Organisers of church youth centres were among those early buyers who made "Halo 3" the fastest-selling video game of all time, with sales of $300m (£150m) in its first week.

Teenage boys and young men are among those most difficult for church leaders to reach, and many pastors believe it is worth allowing fans to play on church premises.

Jane Dratz, of the teen outreach mission Dare 2 Share, says the game can also be used to stimulate debate.

"Halo is all about saving the galaxy from an invading force of aliens," she wrote on the organisation's blog. "... Saving the world is Jesus' mission and message."

The use of the game as a recruiting tool is vehemently opposed by some Christians. "If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it," James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told The New York Times.

"My own take is that you can do better than that."