Drew Dyck is the author of Generation X-Christian. He was interviewed a month ago on Patheos. I skimmed it and marked it for later reading and finally got around to looking at it again. His analysis is on target:
There are three things that make this generation different. First, young adults today are dropping religion at a greater rate than young adults of yesteryear, “five to six times the historic rate,” according to sociologists David Putnam and Robert Campbell. Second, young adulthood is not what it used to be—it’s much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely. Third, there’s been a shift in the culture. Past generations may have rebelled for a season, but they still inhabited a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture. For those reared in pluralistic, post-Christian America, the cultural gravity that has pulled previous generations back to the faith has weakened. So I’m not banking on an automatic return. I think it’s a scandal that these young adults are adrift spiritually and missing from our churches.
Nicole Havelka says much the same. The idea that young people will return to regular church-going when they get married and have children is probably a relic of an early generation when such things did happen, even among baby-boomers. We now live in a post-Christian culture in many respects, and churches cannot have the power to attract young people who were never members or participants in the first place.
We should acknowledge that young adults are not going to return to church (or visit for the first time) without some effort on the part of our local churches. We can offer substantive programs to help young families and single adults form their new adult faith. We can reach out to college students. We can be sensitive to the needs of our communities and tailor our ministries to meet those needs.
From Amy Thompson Sevili who is ordained in the ELCA and serves as Assistant to the Bishop in the Metropolitan DC Synod:
Many young adults I encounter have some childhood connection with church, are open and curious about religion, and even profess to “believe” in God. They visit congregations in an effort to satiate their spiritual appetites. But they report that the food the church provides doesn’t nourish them, and the church seems fairly unwilling to change its menu.
So they try other options. Yoga centers, “spiritual” retreats, “spiritual” books, long conversations at Starbucks — anything they think will satiate them spiritually. More often, however, they just remain famished and empty. I met recently with a woman who said she had tons of questions but no one to talk to about them. Most of the people she knew were either “totally religious” and believed themselves to have all the answers, or they were “totally unreligious” and thought people who asked such questions were stupid. She confessed she “believed in God” and that she had even attended many churches in the area, but nothing clicked. Over and over again this D.C. young professional, who was otherwise upbeat and doing well in the world described herself as spiritually alone.
This doesn’t seem quite right. Young adults are out there asking questions, professing belief in God, and seeking some kind of spiritual community — and church pews are empty.
Meghan O’Gieblyn writes abut her experience with the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) culture, growing up conservative Christian in the 90s:
Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.