Millennials & the Church: What does the research tell us?

Look around a typical Sunday morning congregation and chances are you won’t see many college students.  Is this a new trend?  Is it getting worse?  What do we really know about college kids and their religious practices and beliefs?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has done some extensive research on Americans and religion, interviewing 35,000 adults and reporting on their religious beliefs and practices, as well as social and political attitudes.  The resulting report, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, includes a full section on the religion among Millennial age group (age 18 to 29). 

There is, somewhat predictably, good news and bad news.

The report subtitle categorizes Millennials as “less religiously active than older Americans, but fairly traditional in other ways.”  Specifics issues  include:

  • One in four (25%) in this age group are unaffiliated with any religious tradition, describing themselves instead as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”
  • Nearly one in five (18%) in this age group say they were raised in a religious tradition but are now unaffiliated with any particular denomination.
  • More young adults in this age group are unaffiliated now than young adults were in recent decades.  (Compare the current 25% with Generation X at 20% in the late 1990s and Baby Boomers at 13% in the late 1970s.)
  • Less than half of adults under age 30 said that religion was very important in their lives.

There are, of course, some brighter (or less dark?) spots:

  • Among the Millennials who claim affiliation with a religious tradition, the intensity of that bond is as strong today as in previous generations.
  • Young adults in general attend religious services less frequently than older adults but this generational difference is fairly small between young and older adults with a strong religious affiliation.
  • Millenials engage in a number of religious practices (reading Scripture, prayer, and meditation) less frequently than older adults; however, these numbers are in line with what Gen-Xers and even Baby Boomers reported at the same time period in their lives.
  • More than three-quarters (76%) of young adults believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. Interestingly enough that percentage is almost identical in older age groups (77%).
  • More than half of young adults (55%) think that churches should speak out on social and political issues.  (49% of older adults said the same.)

There is much more information available on the Pew Forum website on this topic!  The Millennial report concludes with the following recommendations for further reading:

Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell (2009)

After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow (2007).

And this in a review of this last book from Publisher Weekly: “Wuthnow argues that our society provides lots of structural support for children and teens, but leaves younger adults to fend for themselves during the decades when they’re making crucial decisions about family and work.”

Food for thought indeed…..

Thanks for reading!

P.S. You may have noticed that I’ve added a blog roll.  (It was a bit of a challenge for me and I’m rather proud of the accomplishment.)  I’ve started with just a few Episcopally relevant blogs/sites.  If you have recommendations for more, please let me know!

2 Comments on “Millennials & the Church: What does the research tell us?

  1. Interesting research-thanks for sharing! Good to keep in mind that statistics can change-and we can make it happen!

    • Absolutely! Thanks for writing. It’s good to know there are more of us out there! 🙂

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