As America’s institutions are suffering a confidence crisis, it would seem to be a perfect opportunity for a stable religious institution to ill the void that so many today are longing for. But people are losing confidence there too. A Pew Research Poll reveals 44% of Americans have left or switched the faith they grew up with.
Naomi Schaefer Riley may have the answer religious leaders are looking for in her new book “Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back.”
Krystal Ball: Has this generation left the church more than previous generations?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Right so this is an interesting question, there are a lot of academics and religious leaders out there debating if this is really new territory. And I think it is for a specific reason, the age of marriage is going up at an unprecedented rate. The average age for first marriage for women is 27, for men it’s 29 and if you have a college education it’s even older than that. So what you’re seeing is this long period we call emerging adulthood where people are away from the families that they grew up with, and they haven’t started families of their own yet. That period can be ten, fifteen years. And you have to assume and what’s happening is people are out of the habit of religion for a very long time and they might not come back.
Krystal Ball: There’s trends of millennials moving to cities and urban environments because they want that community, so is this a trend that religious institutions can tap into?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: It is and I think a lot of this generation is distrustful of the mega-church model of everyone drive 20 miles to the big church across town, cause the pastor’s great, the music great-instead I think they’re going more small scale. This generation is one the smallest generations of car ownership of any generation in recent memory. It’s a throw back to they grandparents generation.
Krystal Ball: If this trend continues and we see the drop of religion in young people, what do you think the implications are for society?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: I think they are somewhat worrisome, right now in America you have this amazing religious diversity. You have a spectrum all the way from the most religious to the lease religious, and I think people sort of go back and forth they go in, they go out. There’s a lot of religion switching that goes on, people find the church of the synagogue that’s right for them. What I worry about with this drop off trend among the younger generation is that you’re going to get total polarization. It’s going to be an all or nothing sense of religion. And I don’t think that’s great for the country. I appreciate the diversity and the spectrum that we have and I think it’s going to be a problem if the ultra religious verses the ultra seculars.