Why Young Adults Stop Attending Church

It’s no news-alert that young adults, who once were regular churchgoers, have stopped attending–a trend that typically begins in their teen years.   Consequently, the religious group that is having the most expansion is labeled “Non-affiliated.”   The percentage of young adult Catholics who regularly practice their faith hovers around 25%.   Since young people are our future, such a trend, unless addressed, is very troublesome.

Why do young adults stop attending church?  The Barna Group  (cf. “Six Reasons young Christians Leave Church;”  September 28, 2011, appears on their website of The Barna Group (www.barna.org) recently studied this group and came up with the following reasons.

1.  Churches seem overprotective.  As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in.  However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.

2.  Teens and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.  Young people who stop attending church as young adults feel something is lacking in their experience of church.  One-third said “church is boring” and one-quarter say “faith is not relevant to my career or interests.”

3.  Churches come across as antagonistic to science.  The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%), and “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%).

4.  Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  One of the significant tensions for young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity, particularly as the age of first marriage is now commonly in the late twenties.

5.  They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.  Three out of ten young Christians say “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion feel they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”

6.  The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.  Young adults say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts.  They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense.  In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial.

–“Six Reasons young Christians Leave Church;”  September 28, 2011, appears on their website of The Barna Group (www.barna.org).

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Student Loans Derailing Dreams of Religious Life

While the precipitous decline in vocations to religious life seems to have bottomed out,  student loans, a serious and growing problem in our society (a $ One trillion debt, which exceeds credit-card debt), may be seriously impeding future vocations.  Many who are inquiring about religious life find that their negative wealth prevents them from pursuing  a life of poverty.  In essence they are too poor to take the vow of poverty!
CARA did a study of religious institutes (both men and women) and learned the following:
*  In the past ten years, religious communities have fielded 15,000 serious inquiries concerning religious life. 33% of those inquiries involved a person with student loans which averaged more than $28,000–close to the national average for recent graduates.
*  Among the institutes with several inquiries from people with educational debt, many were asked to delay their application (presumably until the debt is cleared), while 69% turned away at least one person because of student loans.
*  One in three persons formally applying to a religious institute had educational debt averaging $20,821.  In half these cases, they were not accepted because of the debt.
*  Two-thirds of the responding institutes have assumed some applicants’ educational debt, but for many it has become financially stressful.
* The financial strain will likely intensify.  More than half of the responding institutes that experienced this issue said the number of inquirers with student loans is increasing.
Educational Debut and Vocations to Religious Life: A report for the National Religious Vocation Conference, by Mary L. Gautier and Melissa A. cidade, February 2012, is available on the CARA website (cara.georgetown.edu/publications/publications.html)

Just Over Half of U.S. Adults Married… Catholic Church Weddings Down

Barely half of all adults in the United States–a record low–are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7),” according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center.  Compared to 72% of Americans aged 18 and older who were married in 1960, today just 51% are married.
The results are similar for Catholics.  A CARA Report (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) on Catholic marriage patterns that 53% of adult Catholics were married, 25% had never married, 12% were divorced, 5% widowed, 4% living with a partner, and 1% separated from their spouse.  Moreover, there were 8.6 marriages in the Church per 1,000 Catholics in 1972, but only 2.6 per 1,000 last year.
–“Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married–A Record Low: New Marriages Down 5% from 2009 to 2010,” released December 14, 2011, appears on the website of the Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org).