The True Love Waits abstinence-until-marriage movement has recorded numerous milestones since its launch by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The first True Love Waits national celebration took place in July 1994, when more than 210,000 covenant cards signed by teens were displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. More than fourteen years later, an estimated 2.5 to 3 million youth have signed commitment cards pledging sexual purity until their wedding day, and that number continues to grow worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of commitment cards from youth throughout the world have been displayed at several events, including the 2004 Olympics in Athens. And more than one hundred organizations have adopted the use of True Love Waits to promote sexual abstinence.
Despite the progress, much work remains to be done, cofounder Jimmy Hester said. True Love Waits is a youth-based international campaign that utilizes biblical principles and positive peer pressure to encourage those who make a commitment to refrain from premarital sex and to challenge their peers to do the same.
Hester noted that the United States "still has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the industrialized world, resulting in severe economic and social costs, not to mention the personal pain early sexual activity places upon teenagers and their families."
Each year over the life of True Love Waits, the ministry's leadership has provided themes and direction for churches to help students live their lives in purity. For 2009, LifeWay has released a gender-appropriate flipbook, Complete: A Life of Purity that can be used by youth leaders as a Bible study tool to engage students in conversation about the moral challenges they face.
Later this year, a new study, Pure Parenting: Teaching Your Teen Why True Love Waits, will be available for churches to use to support parents in their role as primary spiritual developers of their students.
True Love Waits also is expanding its reach in other parts of the world such as Africa, where honoring a commitment to remain abstinent until marriage is literally a matter of life and death. In Uganda, True Love Waits has been a catalyst for bringing people together around the abstinence message in schools, youth groups, communities, and other places. In the years that followed TLW's introduction in Uganda, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, which in parts of the country was above 30 percent, dropped to the current rate of 6.7 percent. Some leaders there say that this turnaround has literally saved a generation.
In February 2009, a LifeWay team will spend two weeks in the Philippines to work with the True Love Waits movement there and evaluate possible ways to expand in that country as well.
This spring, adult and student leaders and shapers in the sexual abstinence movement will consider the future direction of True Love Waits for coming generations. While the message of True Love Waits remains the same, youth leaders and parents are constantly challenged in the most effective ways to communicate with students and encourage them to maintain their commitment to abstinence until marriage.
"It is important for churches to realize that confronting sexual issues in today's world requires more than a one-time event or emphasis," Hester said. "Students need ongoing education and encouragement if we hope to continue to make progress in our culture.
"Although times and cultures change, God's plan for sexual purity remains the same," Hester said. "True Love Waits continues to be an important tool to guide students in living lives of biblical purity."
In 2004, the Heritage Foundation released a study indicating that abstinence programs such as True Love Waits dramatically reduce the rate of out-of-wedlock births. The study, which tracked the effects of virginity pledges six years later, found that young women who take a virginity pledge are at least 40 percent less likely to have a child out of wedlock and twelve times more likely to be virgins when they marry, compared to young women who do not make such a pledge. The Heritage Foundation findings were consistent with a 2001 study by The American Journal of Sociology that reported teenagers who pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage are 34 percent less likely to have sex than those who do not pledge. Researchers conducting the study noted the delay effect is "substantial and almost impossible to erase." The pledge works, the study suggests, because it creates an "identity movement" or "moral community" that provides peer support for the teen.
More recently, a June 11, 2008, article in USA Today titled, "Teen survey shows virginity pledges can work," noted, "Virginity pledges do deter some teens from having sex, according to a study by the RAND Corp. that surveyed teen virgins over three years to see whether they stayed that way. Of 1,517 adolescents ages 12 to 17 in 2001 when the research began, teenagers who vowed to remain virgins until they were married were less likely to be sexually active than others who didn't make a pledge."
These and other studies challenge the generally negative assessment of abstinence programs reached by some researchers. While studies about teens' sexual behavior sometimes have contradictory findings and conclusions, the true measure of success is changed lives. True Love Waits often receives correspondence such as this letter from Caroline in Colorado Springs:
"I was part of the [Washington] D.C. '94 event, and first made a commitment to abstinence until marriage …. Although it was not easy … I can say it was definitely worth the wait and we have no baggage in our marriage because of past partners or troubling diseases.
"Ironically, my cousin Emily was in Athens, Greece, this past summer  …. [She] was part of the True Love Waits event, and signed her own card as well …. So from one of your first events to your most recent event, you are touching lives and encouraging teens. I know at least five to six in my youth group who are now married and were virgins when they married and signed that pledge!"
The Five Commitments of True Love Waits
To God – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
To Yourself – Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
To Family – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5).
To Friends – Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
To Future Mate and Children – Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).