Religion Among the Millennials

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released “Religion Among the Millennials” back in February, but I just came across the study this morning.  I haven’t had time to read through the full report yet, but there’s a very helpful 1-page overview I’ve embedded below (also available at the link above).

Here a few observations that I’m noticing off the bat:

  1. More people are “Unaffiliated” and yet the same amount attend a worship service “nearly weekly” as in the 90’s… but more people pray on a daily basis than ever!
  2. I’m not too concerned about the statistical change in those who say they are “certain God exists.”  Yes, the number has gone down since the 90’s, but it’s about the same as in the 80’s.  I could easily imagine someone answering this question differently depending on the day or week you ask them, since faith among Millennials is so subjective (rather than objective).  If anything, I’m surprised the number of those who are certain God exists is as high as 53%!
  3. So 53% of people are certain God exists… yet 82% believe in life after death?  This tells me that people are desperate for hope.  This is pure conjecture, but I imagine someone’s inner dialogue saying this: “Nothing I see or experience today tells me there is a God.  There might be, there might not be… but I believe things will somehow get better than this someday, even if it’s after I die.”  What a giant inroad to holding out the hope of salvation to a generation in search of hope!
  4. The Bible has held up pretty consistently despite everything else.  I hesitate on this question’s use of the word “literal.”  Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d answer this question.  I would probably answer “Yes,” because I’d assume that the question isn’t intended to have precise theological accuracy.  While I fully believe the Bible is the fully-inspired Word of God, there are many portions of Scripture that are intended to be read metaphorically or symbolically.  I’m not pointing this out to nit-pick details over the question, but the option “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word” sounds to me like it could be taken either as I have state above or to insinuate that the Bible as a whole is inspired, but not every part of it is inspired.  This is a theological issue, and I’m not so sure it’s right or fair to lump this crowd in with those who say the Bible is “a book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.”  These are two very different groups being lumped in together.

I hope to write a followup post next week after giving time to work through the full report.  Until then, what are the ministry implications that flow out of this study that you see?

3 thoughts on “Religion Among the Millennials

  1. Paul June 13, 2012 / 8:03 pm

    People drum up that the Millennial Generation is leaving religion, but that that is simply based on affiliation and not much more. We Millennials are nearly identical in belief in miracles, an afterlife, angels, demons, and time given to prayer as the previous two generations.

    As the Millennials get older and start settling down, I’ll guarantee you see affiliation increase as people start to turn to religion a bit more with a full-time job, family, and other obligations. It is my belief that the Church has done a poor job engaging Millennials on issues that the Bible clearly takes a stance on that we care about. Also, us Millennials are more skeptical of institutions and corruption probes than other generations — and the Church 1980s-Present has been hit hard on corruption, personal ambition of pastors/leaders, and cult personalities.

    Millennials are more likely than previous generations to think society as a whole should bear more responsibility caring for the poor and protecting the environment. There are 3,000 verses in the Bible about caring for the poor and needy and nearly 1,000 concerning the protection and preservation of the environment: the #1 and #3 most talked about societal issues in the Good Book. But where is the Church on these issues? Certainly very few engage with us about these issues or make a concentrated effort to bring Millennials into the Church.

    But when all said and done, the Millennials are nearly identical – if not surpass – previous generations when it comes to basic religious beliefs: a good and hopeful sign no doubt.

    Have a blessed day!

    • Pastor Mike June 19, 2012 / 12:00 pm

      Hey Paul, thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you – I think many Millennials will find their way to churches when they have kids, but I’m not sure if I really want to count on that. They’re getting married later, having more kids outside of marriage, and having fewer kids than previous generations… so while I generally agree with you, I’m still not too encouraged about that prospect.

      As a 32 year old, I’m kind of on the bubble between Gen-X and Millennials, so sometimes I identify more with those who are older than me and sometimes with those who are younger. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m always trying to play devil’s advocate, because I identify with both positions on different issues, even though I obviously agree with one more than the other.

      Ultimately, I think the Church will “win” or “lose” Millennials based on whether or not we will preach the Gospel and then clearly articulate how the Gospel transforms all of life (not just our “spiritual life”). What I see are many churches trying to jump on the “social issues band-wagon” to reclaim the younger generation, but we can tell it’s either not genuine or it’s no different from the message we hear everywhere else… so why bother. Our hope is in the Gospel… personally, for our generation, and for the Church.

      While I certainly agree that social issues are really important to teach on and address, I guess I’m wondering if you think social issues will really bring Millennials back into the church? I’m just not so sure…

      • Paul June 19, 2012 / 10:54 pm

        I think an activist Christian Church that takes Biblical stands on social issues that are not commonly taught or preached will certainly help bring Millennials into the Church. I just turned 20, and I know from friends to colleagues that having a Church that is concerned about the environment (a major Millennial issue we tend to care about), immigration reform (which I believe Jesus would support based on His teachings), etc., will bring a positive light to the Church in the younger generation’s eyes. It will certainly bring people into the Church. The environment is the third most discussed social issue in the Bible, behind helping one another and loving thy neighbor/everyone. Yet the Church is awkwardly silent and some outright oppose any efforts to protect God’s great green earth.

        However, I do agree that Churches completely jumping on the social bandwagon and forgetting about proclaiming the gospel and Jesus as the way, truth, and life, will cause a problem. Young people will come when they realize what their faith/religion says about the issues they care deeply about, they will not come if its just a social issues club with a Cross somewhere in the background. That is the problem with a majority of Mainline Churches IMO, they have forgotten about Christ, and have simply become social and political clubhouses telling members what to support and disagree with. Thus, many young(er) Christians are joining the more Evangelical Churches, and with them their concerns and beliefs – which will hopefully impact the Church in a positive way. I guess I’m a little more optimistic, but when push comes to shove, our spirituality is not that much different than older generations, other than “absolute” certainty that God exists and denominational affiliation.

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