August 27, 2007

American Youth Walk Away From Church

I do hope that humanity will eventually perceive religion for what it is (i.e., irrational belief that causes great harm), but I am not naive enough to think I'll live to see this happen. Instead, I expect the influence of religion to gradually decline. This decline will be far from linear, as periodic religious revivals are to be anticipated. Still, I cannot help celebrating each indicator of such a decline.

A recent survey by LifeWay Research, a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, shows that Protestant churches in America are losing increasing numbers of young adult congregants. According to USA Today,
Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.
What makes this particular survey especially important is that the sample consisted young adults who attended church regularly during high school. That is, this was a sample of people more likely to be devoted believers than one would expect from a general population sample. For a group like this to be leaving the church in increasing numbers is certainly encouraging.

Not surprisingly, the survey has the Baptists scrambling to hold on to their congregations. They appear to interpret the findings as indicating that they need to change what they are doing to be more attractive to the youth they are losing.
"It seems the teen years are like a free trial on a product. By 18, when it's their choice whether to buy in to church life, many don't feel engaged and welcome," says associate director Scott McConnell.
Yet, the results of the survey suggest that their problems go far deeper than can be fixed by superficial changes to how they deliver their services.
Just over half (51%) of Protestant young people surveyed (both the church dropouts and those who stayed on in church after age 22) saw church members as "caring" or had other positive descriptions, such as "welcoming" (48%) or "authentic" (42%).
It appears that a big part of the problem is that these youth are not particularly impressed with the Christians with whom they have been attending church. This does not lend itself to the sort of easy fix the church likely has in mind. Many have experienced the hypocrisy of the Christian faithful for themselves and decided they want no part of it.

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