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New Research About 20-Somethings
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According to Nashville-based LifeWay Research, Protestant churches are losing significant numbers of young adults. The August 7, 2007, edition of USA Today reported on a survey conducted by LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention. The organization surveyed 1,023 Protestants ages 18-30 who had said that they had attended church at least 50 percent of the time during high school. By the time they were 23 years old, 70 percent had stop attending church. Seven years later 34 percent had not returned even occasionally to church.

“Just over half (51%) of Protestant young people surveyed (both the church dropouts and those who stayed on in church after age 22) saw church members as ‘caring’ or had other positive descriptions, such as ‘welcoming’ (48%) or ‘authentic’ (42%).

“Among dropouts, nearly all (97%) cited life changes, such as a move. Most (58%) were unhappy with the people or pastor at church. More than half (52%) had religious, ethical or political reasons for quitting.

“Dropouts were more than twice as likely as those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental (51% for dropouts, 24% for those who stayed), hypocritical (44% vs. 20%) or insincere (41% vs. 19%).

“The news was not all bad:  35% of dropouts said they had resumed attending church regularly by age 30. An additional 30% attended sporadically. Twenty-eight percent said ‘God was calling me to return to the church.’

“The survey found that those who stayed with or returned to church grew up with both parents committed to the church, pastors whose sermons were relevant and engaging, and church members who invested in their spiritual development.”

Other researchers report similar findings. In a book to be released next month, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow says the proportion of young adults identifying with mainline church is “about half the size it was a generation ago.” The Barna Research Group is publishing a book titled UnChristian, which observes that young adults in their 20s are “significantly less likely to believe a person’s faith in God is meant to be developed by involvement in a local church.”

In short, people are looking for a meaningful faith—both for their daily life and their communities. The challenge is how to help our young people develop a personal relationship with Jesus.

INNOVATIONewsletter, August 30, 2007, The Center for Creative Ministry