A new five-year study on the Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 1993) has just been released by the Barna Group, a Christian research firm. It shows that young Christians – particularly those interested in scientific and creative fields – are leaving their churches. This is particularly true of more conservative congregations.
But why? The Barna Group has identified six major factors that are driving young people away from religion:
- Young adults and teens see their churches as overprotective, saying “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” and that their churches ignore “the problems of the real world.”
- Many find their connection to Christianity to be shallow, saying that church is boring, or that their faith “is not relevant” to their career or interests. 20% even stated that God seemed to be missing from their church experiences.
- Reason number three is a big one – many young adults feel a strong conflict between their religion and science. A full quarter of those surveyed believe “Christianity is anti-science,” and 23% have become frustrated with debating creationism vs. evolution. Three out of ten believe that their churches are out of step with the modern, scientific world. The research further goes to show that young Christians interested in science are struggling to reconcile their religious beliefs with their profession.
- Many also see their church’s views on sexuality as simplistic and judgmental. Most young Christians are just as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, despite holding more conservative attitudes regarding sexuality. 17% say they feel judged in church because of their sexual decisions. 40% of Catholics between 18 and 29 believe that the church’s teachings about sexuality and birth control are out of date.
- Many young Americans believe that Christianity is not open-minded or tolerant towards those of other religions. 29% feel that they are being forced to choose between church doctrine and their friendships.
- Finally, many of those surveyed admitted that they were unable to express doubts within the church. They felt unable to ask questions and receive satisfactory answers. 18% stated that their faith did not help them cope with depression and emotional problems that they experience.
In an article for Alternet, Elanor Bader interviewed some former evangelicals to get their take on the results. Brittany Shoot, a writer and activist, spoke about her own experience moving away from her church:
“When I was a child I was told that someone I cared about was HIV-positive. I somehow learned that he was gay and had contracted the virus through sex. There was such shame around the diagnosis. I knew that I shouldn’t tell anyone he was sick because they might shun me. Even as a kid I thought, ‘something is wrong here.’” Later, when Shoot was in high school, a friend disclosed his homosexuality. “You didn’t come out in the Christian culture we lived in,” she says. “He didn’t feel safe; we also knew that no church in the area would love and protect him.”
Shoot mentions that, while she no longer attends services, she finds many progressives’ bashing of religion to be harmful and counterproductive. “Most people who’ve moved away from evangelism still have family members who are religious,” she says.
It would be interesting to see if these young people are leaving Christanity altogether, or simply joining more progressive churches. Those numbers didn’t appear to be included in the report.
Photo credit: Barron Fujimoto