Drew Dyck
posted 11/19/2010
Christianity Today

More than in previous generations, 20- and 30- somethings are abandoning the faith. Why?


Some striking mile markers appear on the road through young adulthood: leaving for college, getting the first job and apartment, starting a career, getting married—and, for many people today, walking away from the Christian faith.

A few years ago, shortly after college, I was in my studio apartment with a friend and fellow pastor's kid. After some small talk over dinner, he announced, "I'm not a Christian anymore. I don't know what happened. I just left it."

An image flashed into my mind from the last time I had seen him. It was at a Promise Keepers rally. I remembered watching him worship, eyes pinched shut with one slender arm skyward.

How did his family react to his decision? I asked. His eyes turned to the ground. "Growing up I had an uncle who wasn't a Christian, and we prayed for him all the time," he said wistfully. "I'm sure they pray for me like that."

About that time, I began encountering many other "leavers": a basketball buddy, a soft-spoken young woman from my church's worship team, a friend from youth group. In addition to the more vocal ex-Christians were a slew of others who had simply drifted away. Now that I'm in my early 30s, the stories of apostasy have slowed, but only slightly. Recently I learned that a former colleague in Christian publishing started a blog to share his "post-faith musings."

These anecdotes may be part of a larger trend. Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity. A faithful response requires that we examine the exodus and ask ourselves some honest questions about why.
Sons of 'None'

Recent studies have brought the trend to light. Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), one stood out. The percentage of Americans claiming "no religion" almost doubled in about two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn't confined to one region. Those marking "no religion," called the "Nones," made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Bible Belt. The Nones were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of Nones came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as "de-converts."

Other survey results have been grimmer. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book American Grace, released last month. They reported that "young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago)."

There has been a corresponding drop in church involvement. According to Rainer Research, approximately 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the age of 18 and 22. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be "disengaged" by the time they are 29. Barna Group president David Kinnaman described the reality in stark terms:

"Imagine a group photo of all the students who come to your church (or live within your community of believers) in a typical year. Take a big fat marker and cross out three out of every four faces. That's the probable toll of spiritual disengagement as students navigate through their faith during the next two decades."

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm skeptical of the rate of de-conversions that they cite in the article. I suspect that many of these young people will eventually return to the fold, and indeed many of them (such as the example of the one who believes in Jesus and other spiritualistic entities) haven't really left. I don't see how one could classify all those Wiccans as "Nones" either, since it seems that they've found a religion to their tastes.

But I'll be interested to see how this develops over the next couple of decades. I'm just not that optimistic that it will amount to much.
While at first glance this trend seems promising, it should not be forgotten that in most cases people do go back. There is a great deal more going on in the churches than simply preaching and Sunday school. Ideas and bonds get reinforced by the social support structures far more than they are reinforced by the message itself. Unless those of us that have recovered from religion can help provide a healthy support structure to those leaving the church, it is very likely that most of them will return.
What's the correlation between education and deconversion? Anyone have stats on that?
I'm pretty sure we'll see places with the better education and education rates have lower...everything. Including huge gaps in religious affiliation.
Which of course would explain why the Xtian right tries to decimate education at every turn.
Something to think about here, if my theory proves correct.
Education is literally at the fingertips of all but the most poverty stricken families.
Everyone has internet. Everyone has access to information. Not all of it is true. Not all of it is tested, but for those that are naturally curious and naturally intelligent, it's easy enough to suss out facts from garbage.
Pretty soon our elementary education should focus on discerning fact from fiction. Books and repetition will fade out as unnecessary when every subject imaginable is easy to learn about. LEARNING HOW TO LEARN will take the place of archaic practices and rituals.
I hope.
I really hope.
Perhaps then we'll see religion fall down and die all together.
As several people have noted, religious participation tends to wax and wane. When kids hit adolesence/young adulthood they are likely to become "leavers." If/when they marry and have children, they are likely to return when the kids are young so that the kids can get what they feel is necessary moral instruction. When their kids become "leavers," the adults often do too until old age and the prospect of death looms...then religious involvement hightens again!

Even with those who are "involved" in religion, I think for a good number it's more the sense of community and support rather than the actual religious content that is important and meaningful. I honestly think that most religious institutions could "bag" the religious message, focus on general morals and values and fostering a sense of support and love among people and have the same rate of involvement. I really doubt all people of "faith" believe in, are really knowlegable about, or even really care about the religious content as much as they do the other "perks."
Yeah.. I totally agree there.
It would be so easy to become a UU or other tolerant religious follower. Just for the sense of community, the social aspects, ect.
Now if I could just swallow that nagging voice that tells me it's all bullshit, I'd be set!
I think that's a good think about sites this...at least we do form a "community" of people with whom we feel a kinship and there is support and belonging-without the bullshit! :)


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