NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Millions of twentysomething Americans, including those who were active in the church during their teens, have not made a commitment to church a priority in their lives as they move beyond the college years and into the workforce, a recent study by the Barna Research Group indicates.
The study, released Sept. 24, also said twentysomethings are far less likely than older adults to donate to churches, serve as volunteers or read the Bible but do admit they pray to God often.
In an American culture focused on individualism, some of the most crucial decisions made by people from age 20 to 29 — such as whether to finish college, what career to pursue, where to live, whether to get married — are being influenced by people’s desire to determine their own personal fulfillment and purpose in life apart from the traditional sources of Christian input, the study said.
Only 3 out of 10 twentysomethings attend church in a typical week, compared to 4 out of 10 of those in their 30s and nearly half of all adults 40 and older, Barna found. And just 22 percent of those ages 25 to 29 — those most likely to have transitioned from education to the workforce — attended church in the past week.
For those who were active in church as teenagers, from high school graduation to age 25 there is a 42 percent decrease in weekly church attendance and a 58 percent drop from age 18 to 29. The study said that represents about 8 million twentysomethings alive today who were active church-goers as teenagers but who will no longer be active by their 30th birthday.
“Christianity is not going to whither away among twentysomethings — more than 10 million are active church-goers and very committed to the Christian faith,” David Kinnaman, vice president of the Barna Research Group and director of the study, said in a news release. “But the real issue is how churches will respond to the faithquakes that are reverberating through our nation’s young adults. The notion that these people will return to the church when they get older or once they become parents is only true in a minority of cases.
“More importantly, that reasoning ignores the real issue: Millions of twentysomethings are crystallizing their views of life without the input of church leaders, the Bible or other mature Christians,” Kinnaman said. “If we simply wait for them to come back to church later in adulthood, not only will most of those people never return, but also we would miss the chance to alter their life trajectory during a critical phase. And, besides, what church couldn’t use the infusion of energy, ideas and leadership that young adults can bring to the table?”
Only about 30 percent of twentysomethings donated to a church in the past year, compared to 61 percent of older adults who did so. In addition, Bible reading levels are about 33 percent less among twentysomethings than among older adults.
Just one-third of twentysomethings claims to be absolutely committed to Christianity, compared to more than half of all older adults, the research showed.
Twentysomethings also tend to feel overlooked as potential leaders in their churches, the study said, as just 4 percent of young adults currently serve as a lay leader at their church. Even so, people in their 20s and 30s are more likely than older adults to consider themselves leaders and are more open to the training which would make them better leaders. The research found that because young adults are busy, skeptical of churches and unwilling to commit to classroom-style training without hands-on leadership opportunities, mentoring is the most appealing method of leadership development for their age group.
Despite the decline in commitment to Christianity among twentysomethings, the Barna study found that more than 80 percent said their religious faith is very important in their life and nearly 57 percent claimed to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life. The fact that 75 percent of twentysomethings surveyed said they had prayed to God in the past week indicates they have a desire for personal spiritual experience, the study said.
The data in the Barna study was collected from telephone interviews with several nationwide random samples of adults from January 2000 through May 2003. The research group interviewed a total of 14,091 adults, including 2,660 adults ages 20 to 29.